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West Kentucky Coal: Places, People, and Power

Austin Ramsey, WKMS

This documentary originally aired Sunday, September 1st, 2013.

In 2013 for the first time in over 50 years West Kentucky coal mines produced more than their eastern counterparts. Coal companies employ more than 4,000 people in 10 west Kentucky counties, and more than 90% of Kentucky’s power comes from this ancient mineral. But there is much more beyond these numbers. In the coming hour we explore West Kentucky Coal and its people, places and power in this WKMS News Documentary. 


In our first story, Chad Lampe and Austin Ramsey head 800 feet below western Kentucky, to Warrior Coal’s Cardinal Mine #2 to uncover what miners do and why they do it.

Then, Whitney Jones speaks with Mike Foster, a retired miner from Greenville, Kentucky, about a less-than-desirable legacy of his career in the coal mines: black lung.  And she discovers that if he could, Foster would go back in a heartbeat.


Todd Hatton begins this segment with a look at Paradise, Kentucky, the small Muhlenberg County community lost to the coal companies and to the Tennessee Valley Authority.  We’ll also fact-check John Prine to see how his classic song “Paradise” stacks up against what happened to the town.

Then, John Null visits a coal mine reclamation project in Madisonville to answer the question: when all the coal’s removed from a mine, what do you do with the land?

Austin Ramsey goes to school in Webster County to see how they’re are using state taxes on coal to their benefit, helping to diversify their economy and ease their dependence on a declining underground mining industry.

And finally, Whitney Jones goes to a clinic, funded by government grants, that treats the chronic problems miners face after their career comes to an end.


Chad Lampe begins our final segment with a story about how coal fuels not only electric power, but political power... and political rhetoric.

Chad then speaks with Rick Fowler of the Sierra Club’s Pennyrile Chapter to get the perspective of a “reasonable” environmentalist.

And we round out the documentary with a look at coal’s place in our technological future.

Chad Lampe, a Poplar Bluff, Missouri native, was raised on radio. He credits his father, a broadcast engineer, for his technical knowledge, and his mother for the gift of gab. At ten years old he broke all bonds of the FCC and built his own one watt pirate radio station. His childhood afternoons were spent playing music and interviewing classmates for all his friends to hear. At fourteen he began working for the local radio stations, until he graduated high school. He earned an undergraduate degree in Psychology at Murray State, and a Masters Degree in Mass Communication. In November, 2011, Chad was named Station Manager in 2016.
Todd Hatton hails from Paducah, Kentucky, where he got into radio under the auspices of the late, great John Stewart of WKYX while a student at Paducah Community College. He also worked at WKMS in the reel-to-reel tape days of the early 1990s before running off first to San Francisco, then Orlando in search of something to do when he grew up. He received his MFA in Creative Writing at Murray State University. He vigorously resists adulthood and watches his wife, Angela Hatton, save the world one plastic bottle at a time.
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