PA's Own Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, W.Va.'s Frosty the Snowman, and KY's Calls From Home


We’ll hear some of the Christmas messages that were broadcasted into high security prisons this week on the Calls from Home radio program. The holidays often bring back memories of years past, and this is especially hard for those with a family member or loved one who’s passed away. And we’ll hear about a former marine in West Virginia who’s now helping people pull themselves out of poverty. You’ll find these stories and more this week, Inside Appalachia.


This scraggly 50-foot Christmas tree in downtown Reading, Pa., became a symbol for a town hit by tough economic times to rally behind. Credit: Ben Allen/ WITF

It Just Needed A Little Love: An Ugly Spruce Ties A Town Together

Reading, Pa., is one of the poorest cities in the country. So when a shabby-looking, 50-foot Christmas tree went up in the middle of the city’s downtown around Thanksgiving, many saw it as a metaphor for the city’s troubles. Ben Allen of WITF has this very special story.

Jack Rollins

Credit Wikimedia Commons
Jack Rollins

West Virginian Responsible for Classic Christmas Song, Frosty the Snowman

The man behind the lyrics of Frosty the Snowman, Peter Cottontail, and Smokey the Bear is none other than West Virginian, Jack Rollins.

We Explore the Story Behind Itmann, W.Va.

Often on our show we hear tales about how a town supposedly got its name, only to then find out the history books prove the legend to be simply a tall tale. Today, we’ll put our host Jessica Lilly’s hometown to the test: Itmann, West Virginia. We’ll find out if the story she believed as a child about Itmann is true.

Two Children Teach Their Father to Remember His Favorite Thing About Winter

What’s the Best Thing About Winter? The Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier says, “The first snow of the year brings a special sound out of my two daughters. It’s a little like the sound they make when they get something unexpected a surprise scoop of ice cream, or a new bike. But snow on the ground, after a year without, induces a different sort of sound. You hear breath filling their lungs, and a long pause while it stays there.”

Hip Hop From the Hilltop, Calls From Home

Not all families are home for the holidays. There are soldiers and sailors who are deployed all over the world during the season. And then there are families with loved ones in prison. Family members can’t always visit – while inmates can’t always get time on a phone line on Christmas eve or Christmas day. This can be especially true for families of inmates in high security prisons. And many of these prisons in rural Appalachia, like the Red Onion State Prison in southwestern VA, aren’t accessible by public transportation.


Courtesy Photo

But families of inmates in seven prisons in central Appalachia are able to connect to their loved ones through a radio show, called Hip Hop from the Hilltops, Calls from Home. WMMT broadcasts the show from the Appalshop studio in Whitesburg, KY on Monday nights from 7-10. The producer takes music requests for the first couple of hours, and from 9-10, families leave recorded messages for their loved ones in prison. Calls From Home is broadcasted live from the WMMT station in Whitesburg KY every Monday night 9-10:00 pm.


Credit Jean Snedegar
Jake Harriman

Ex-Marine Now On A Very Different Mission

Jake Harriman is a Preston County farm boy who grew up to become a leader in the fight against one of the world’s biggest problems:  extreme poverty. Harriman is one of three leaders in science and business profiled in the upcoming documentary Inspiring West Virginians, airing Dec. 29 at 8 PM on West Virginia Public Radio.

Will Climate Change Threaten Appalachian Ski Slopes?

Snowcapped mountains in parts of Appalachia create beautiful scenes and a playground for skiers. Ski resorts are opening across the region like Snowshoe, and Winterplace in West Virginia, Ober Gatlinburg in Tennessee, Big Boulder and White Tail in Pennsylvania and more. But according to a report by The Allegheny Front‘s Julie Grant, Climate Change could seriously threaten Appalachian ski resorts.

Book Review: Set In Appalachia, This Rewarding Story Collection Is ‘Rich And Strange’

Ron Rash is a poet, novelist and short story writer whose signature subject is life in Appalachia, past and present. A large collection of the short stories, called Something Rich and Strange, set in Appalachia, has just come out. Book critic Maureen Corrigan contributed this review for a recent episode of NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Music in today’s show was provided by Andy Agnew Jr., Jake Schepps, The Sweetback Sisters, the Glennville State Bluegrass Band, and the Black Twig Pickers.

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