Football, Poetry And The Hazards Of Radioactive Waste, Inside Appalachia


This week, one of the NFL’s oldest franchises began right here in Appalachia — in Portsmouth, Ohio.

And for some workers in the natural gas industry, unregulated, radioactive waste is part of the job.

We also revisit one of our most popular stories from 2022. It’s all about Appalachia’s contribution to America’s great pizza wars.

You’ll hear these stories and more this week, Inside Appalachia.

In This Episode:

The Growing Crisis Of Quality Care For Mothers

Rural hospitals across Appalachia have been struggling. Some have closed down altogether, while others are shrinking the number of services they provide. People wait for months, and then have to drive hours, just to get to specialists. And it’s particularly bad for pregnant women and new mothers.

Over the summer, we learned about maternal health care deserts from a reporter in western North Carolina. But this is a problem across Appalachia. West Virginia recently lost a hospital birthing center. In a region where it’s already hard for mothers to obtain health care, these closures make the critical shortage of care for mothers and infants even worse.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting reporter Amelia Knisely investigated the story.


Nicole Nichols
Nicole Nichols, 31, and her 6-year-old daughter.

Another Potential Danger From Natural Gas

Coal isn’t the only industry that affects workers’ health. So does natural gas. The industry has surged in Appalachia this century, as fracking has revolutionized how drillers get natural gas. But some of the materials used in fracking are radioactive — and they’re not always regulated.

Investigative reporter Justin Nobel has covered the natural gas industry from Louisiana to northern Appalachia. He has a new story for DeSmog Blog that looks at how workers at a facility in eastern Ohio are exposed to radioactive oilfield waste.

We asked Nobel about this new story, and how it grew out of his previous work.

Not Just An Appalachian Voice, But An Affrilachian Voice

When poet Frank X. Walker looked up the word “Appalachia” in a dictionary 30 years ago, he saw it defined with the phrase “the white residents of the Appalachian mountains.” As a man of color, he says, that shook him. So Walker coined a new term with his writing group: “Affrilachia.” He wanted to show readers that our region is made up of more than one race.

Frank X. Walker’s latest work is a children’s book, called “A is for Affrilachia.” It uses the alphabet to focus on people of color who grew up in Appalachia.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s News Director Eric Douglas spoke to Walker about poetry and his new book.

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Cover art for a new children’s book by Frank X. Walker.

Football Is Appalachian, Too.

Appalachia’s connection to professional football has always been a little loose. Lots of pro players have come out of Appalachia, but depending on how you view regional boundaries, there’s really only one Appalachian NFL team — the Pittsburgh Steelers — who have a pretty big following here in the region.

But it turns out, at least one other professional team has Appalachian DNA — the Detroit Lions. That franchise began as the Portsmouth Spartans in Portsmouth, Ohio, just across the river from Kentucky.

Sports fan and West Virginia Public Broadcasting Government Reporter Randy Yohe had the play-by-play.


Our theme music is by Matt Jackfert. Other music this week was provided by Mary Hott, Josh Woodward, the Hillbilly Gypsies and Dean Martin.

Bill Lynch is our producer. Our executive producer is Eric Douglas. Kelley Libby is our editor. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. Zander Aloi also helped produce this episode.

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Inside Appalachia is a production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.