Nearly 100 years ago, Dr. Lela G. McConnell founded Mount Carmel in Breathitt County, Kentucky, an elementary and high school focused on the Christian faith. Since then, the school grown from serving area children to also drawing international students from countries like South Korea, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Honduras, Japan, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and more. After the success of Mount Carmel, in 1931, they founded Kentucky Mountain Bible College just up the road from Mount Carmel.
Several years later, out of an old log cabin on the campus, Mountain Gospel hit the air, becoming one of the first radio stations in Eastern Kentucky. If you visit their station today, it is a trip through time. You can see much of the original equipment from when they started in 1948, standing in stark contrast next to the sophisticated technology used today.
Seth Stevenson, the General Manager for the station, met with us in May to talk about how the station has changed in 75 years, and their plan for the coming years. With five employees, they maintain a suite of programs featuring gospel music, bluegrass, and paid airtime for local church services.
In the course of their history, Mountain Gospel has played a pivotal role in serving Breathitt County and surrounding communities. During the pandemic, they added a video studio where local bands could come and put on live online concerts, helping them generate income and a sense of community sorely needed throughout COVID-19. And last year, Seth kayaked into the station when their entire road was underwater after the July 2022 historic flood in order to get information out from FEMA, Samaritan’s Purse, and other emergency services.
As with many businesses and organizations in Eastern Kentucky, the declining and aging population is a challenge for the station. They currently rely mostly on donor support and some advertising. Seth described how the push toward online radio has landed them an international audience with listeners from Canada to Brazil. They hope to continue to explore online audiences, and add offerings, such as podcast space rental or other needed services, as they look to their future.
Seth is currently applying to work with a Mountain Association consultant to develop a strategic plan for the next phase of Mountain Gospel. We are also scheduling an energy audit for the station to help look at ways they can save on their high utility bills!