WKMS and PRX Present "Middle of Everywhere," New Podcast Amplifying Rural Voices and Stories

Oct 26, 2020

WKMS, in partnership with PRX's Project Catapult and with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, present a new bi-weekly podcast, Middle of Everywhere. Hosts Austin Carter and Ariel Lavery explore the hidden gems, stories, and secrets of life in rural America often overlooked by coastal and urban media. Carter and Lavery speak with Tracy Ross about their brand new series that aired today.

Middle of Everywhere is now available on virtually all podcast streaming services. From the podcast's website:

"Middle of Everywhere shares big stories from the small places we call home. Rich with examples of tribalism and kinship, skepticism and idealism, defeat and triumph, we tell stories of life in rural and small town of America. Hosts Ariel Lavery, a transient American who has settled in small town Murray, Kentucky, and Austin Carter, a Murray and rural-life native, take the pulse of an overlooked geographic news and entertainment region. They provide a connection for those who have left, but still identify with small towns, and explore the growing appeal of rural life."

"We started this process with the intention of applying to the PRX Project Catapult program," Carter begins. "As a small rural station, we felt like a lot of the time, rural communities and the voices in those communities aren't amplified in the coastal and urban media. We knew we wanted to do something that was related to amplifying those rural voices and that rural experience."

"Through the Catapult Project program, we refined that idea as we went through training," Carter continues. "We were lucky enough to be a part of it and go through twenty weeks of training with PRX. Then they were able to help us refine that idea into something that was going to be desirable for people to listen to. It took a while to get there, a process of over a year, but I think it made the final product that much more interesting."

Carter and Lavery had to work overtime in the early days of Middle of Everywhere. Not only was the duo embarking on a massive project, but they also needed to learn how to work with one another. "Austin and I didn't know each other at all before this process started," Lavery says. "We jumped right into this. I'm formerly a professor of art at Watkins College -- that's my background. Working with students has been really great. But your colleagues, you know on a very professional level. Working with Austin, I'm really getting to know the ins and outs of his creative genius and where he's really good and where he might struggle, and I might need to come in. Learning those kinds of details about a person has been a fascinating process."

"More than anything, the thing that has gotten us to a point where we're able to communicate efficiently is the practice of doing it and getting in the studio together and recording, talking about things. I think we've made great strides in that department," Carter adds. 

Although Middle of Everywhere focuses on the rural "fly-over" states of which Kentucky is certainly a part, one of the podcast's hosts grew up in much different surroundings. "I was born in California," Lavery explains. "My parents and I moved to Colorado when I was six, so I really grew up on the front range of Colorado right outside of Boulder. I was in very classic suburban America. I had no experience of living in a small town until I went to college at Indiana University for a year. After that, I kind of bounced around the country...I've lived in six or seven different states...rural areas...urban areas...but I finally landed in Murray two and a half years ago."

Carter (who some might recognize as the host of Morning Edition) has called western Kentucky home all his life, and he hopes to dispel some of the bleaker stereotypes often associated with this region of the country. "Thinking that people are unintelligent or inclined to marry their cousins or don't wear shoes...I think anybody who knows Kentucky knows...there's so much more that is rich and wonderful and interesting and goes beyond that narrative of people in rural places being close-minded. I hope we can dispel some of those straight-out hurtful myths, but then I also hope we can give people a better idea about what rural life is really like and what small towns really are."

"I'm generally the kind of person who likes to dig deep into a topic and come out learning something that I've never learned before," Carter continues. "The podcast has been an amazing opportunity to exercise that inclination. I hope people really enjoy that experience as much as I do of getting to learn something in a fun way -- not being beat over the head by a particular bit of information."

The first episode of Middle of Everywhere, "The Mystical Ellis Mad Stone," is available now and centers around early Kentucky settler Joseph Perkins Ellis and his mystical stone that had been passed down in his family for generations. Ellis' faith in this "mad stone," along with their Baptist convictions, propelled them to make a good life for themselves and their community in the face of a devastating disease like rabies, which the stone was believed to heal.

Coming up next is a story called "I'm God" about an 82-year-old man who lives in Independence, Kentucky, who went through a four-year-long lawsuit to get the license plate "I'm God" with the state of Kentucky. There is also an episode diving into culinary traditions of Native American, African American, and local communities coming out around Thanksgiving. 

Carter and Lavery are open to suggestions for stories by the public. To submit an episode idea, contact the team via their Facebook page or by e-mailing middleofeverywherepod@gmail.com.

"Engage with us on social media. We're going to be pretty active on Facebook and Instagram at the handle @middleofeverywherepod. Tell us what you think about stuff. We'd love to start building up some interactions with listeners about what they like and how they're feeling about what they're hearing," Carter concludes. 

Middle of Everywhere will release a new episode every two weeks. More information on the podcast, the team, and their stories can be found by visiting their website