“It’s coming up to 8.30 in the morning,” patters Tarence Ray on WMMT Mountain Community Radio in Kentucky. “This is usually about the time we read off from our community calendar but . . . unfortunately for you, I do not see a community calendar around me.” A few weeks ago, I tuned into a new internet station, Global Breakfast Radio, which follows the sun around the world, streaming any local morning show for ten minutes, then moving on. Radio Chaparristique in El Salvador merged blithely into to La Chimalteca 101.5 FM in Guatemala, which eventually gave way to WMMT – where I have stayed ever since, a cereal-piled spoon poised in mid-air.
It might have an air of slapdash bonhomie but I’m beginning to think that WMMT is the most organised and amusedly subversive little operation in American broadcasting history. Heard across the Appalachians, it uses over 50 volunteer local DJs, from high-school kids playing pop-punk to local miners doing a stint at the weekends. This is an area riddled with exploitative industrial practices – coal and gas companies accused of poisoning water wells, the expansion of enormous prison complexes into rural areas – and the station runs everything from features on fracking and call-in shows for miners suffering from work-related pneumoconiosis (“black lung”) to bluegrass marathons; it was once raided by the police when a teenager snuck on and played a particularly vulgar tape by disputatious comedian Andrew Dice Clay.
“Unfortunately for you, I still do not see a community calendar around me,” continues Ray, in his freewheeling way, as though he’s just knocked the cap from a beer bottle and, elbow on the table, is drinking from the jagged neck. “Maybe we can wing it? I could get really personal and just interject my own dates and events . . .” A 26-year-old legal aid worker whose Twitter feed mentions Bolshevism, Ray’s slyly omnivorous good humour is typical of WMMT. Wherever you might be across the world, it’s the one thing no station can fake. “For example, I have an eye doctor appointment,” shrugs Ray. “If you all want to see me get my eyes dilated and examined, then hit me up! But first, here’s Bettye Swann with ‘Don’t You Ever Get Tired of Hurting Me’.”