The coronavirus pandemic has spawned wave after wave of new hobbies and interests. During the lockdown and social distancing of 2020, people embraced everything from bread making to bicycling to TikTok videos.
Everyone had a lot more time on their hands and they discovered new podcasts, like Chuck Corra and John “Big John” Isner’s “Appodlachia,” which is an ongoing conversation, discussion and rant about all things Appalachian.
“Appodlachia” launched in mid-December 2019, just a few months ahead of the spread of COVID-19. But during an election year and a year that saw the film adaptation of “Hillbilly Elegy” drop on Netflix, it became one of the podcasts of the moment.
Corra and Isner started the podcast a year after Isner ran for election in District 59 of the West Virginia House of Delegates as a Democrat.
The Parkersburg natives have been friends for years.
“John and I had known each other since high school,” Corra said. “We were roommates in college for a while.”
Corra helped manage Isner’s campaign, but public office eluded Isner. He lost.
“It was a super red district,” Isner said. “And kind of uphill all the way.”
But the race generated conversation. People were talking about issues important to the region.
“After it was all through, these were still issues we still cared about,” Isner said.
They continued talking and began developing the podcast as a way to keep their conversation with the public going. They were talking about more than policy and politics — including culture and commentary about Appalachia, particularly things like J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” which they argued misrepresented Appalachia.
“The podcast serves as a platform to sort of present a counter narrative to the typical stereotypes and misconceptions about Appalachia,” Corra said.
Appalachia, he said, has a reputation for being backwards, uneducated, racist and very conservative.
“These are things perpetuated by the entertainment media,” he said.
“Hillbilly Elegy” supported that narrative, but they said it’s a false narrative. Issues in Appalachia are far more complicated than how they’re portrayed. Film and television production companies can use broad brushstrokes that paint a very narrow image that covers up the rest of the picture.
Isner explained, “The misconception is that people from Appalachia are all the same, that it’s all whitewashed.”
“We’re not all impoverished,” Corra said. “And poverty shouldn’t define us.”
Appalachians also aren’t all Caucasian, aren’t all conservative Christians, don’t share the same backgrounds or even the same accent.
“There’s just an astounding amount of diversity,” Isner said. “We weren’t even aware of it.”
They try to share as much as they can.
The podcast has brought in a range of voices to talk about all kinds of issues, including government officials like Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and Senator Sherrod Brown from Ohio.
They’ve also spoken with Meredith McCarrell, co-editor of “Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy,” and author and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Chris Hamby, who wrote “Soul Full of Coal Dust,” about the resurgence of black lung in Appalachia.
But it’s not all serious all the time. The podcast has delved into the Mothman and the Flatwoods Monster, and shared laughs with comedians Drew Morgan and Steve Hofstetter.
“Appodlachia” is a small operation and they’ve been learning as they go.
Corra said, “We started with some fairly cheap microphones running into our computers. Everything is pretty basic. Nothing is insanely expensive and we’re learning to improve quality.”
Isner and Corra don’t record their podcast in the same room. Corra lives in Northern Virginia, part of the DC-Metro area, where he works in policy research.
Isner is in Shepherdstown, where he’s a project manager.
The podcast hosts strive for honesty and humor.
The language can get a bit rough. They’re opinionated, unapologetic and unafraid of dropping the F-bomb, but they’re not interested in polish so much as authenticity. They put their hearts into it.
Isner said, “The podcast has been a real outlet for me, something I look forward to doing at the end of a long week.”
“Appodlachia” isn’t a financial powerhouse, but they do sell podcast-related T-shirts, stickers and mugs through their website appodlachia.com, and listeners can support them through a Patreon crowdfunding site.
They give back, too, and keep lists of small, Appalachian-based businesses and restaurants. On the “Appodlachia” website, there’s a link to a Spotify playlist for Appalachian musicians.
They say the lists are to help build community and support other Appalachians.
In the coming months, Isner and Corra hope to have more high-profile guests willing to talk about Appalachia, including government officials and artists, but they also just want to talk to other Appalachians who aren’t always represented.
“We want to talk with people with disabilities and the indigenous,” Corra said.
Still, they’re not against talking to celebrities. They’re just a little picky.
“Our big dream guest would be Tyler Childers,” Corra said.
“Appodlachia” is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Google Podcasts and Podcast Addict.
It can also be watched on YouTube. For more information, visit appodlachia.com.