The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Manchin has a national platform. But there’s one place he goes when he wants to talk to West Virginians.

Hoppy Kercheval is the host of “Talkline,” a statewide radio talk show in West Virginia. (MetroNews)

It was on “Fox News Sunday” with its big national footprint that Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) dropped the bombshell that he was a “no” on the Democrats’ Build Back Better legislation, but it was the next day on a West Virginia radio show that Manchin offered his juiciest comments.

On “Talkline,” which is based in Morgantown and carried statewide on 24 stations, Manchin said that Democratic Party leaders “figured surely to God we can move one person. Surely, we can badger and beat one person up. Surely, we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough they’ll just say: ‘Okay, I’ll vote for anything, just quit.’ Well, guess what, I’m from West Virginia. I’m not from where they’re from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive.”

And it was on “Talkline” where Manchin added this intriguing tidbit: “I just got to my wit’s end and they know the real reason, what happened. They won’t tell you and I won’t tell you.”

“Talkline” is hosted by Hoppy Kercheval, who is truly, as advertised, the dean of West Virginia broadcasters. A 1977 graduate of West Virginia University with a degree in broadcast journalism, Kercheval, 66, cut his teeth as a reporter at Morgantown’s WAJR — still his home base — eventually becoming news director. In 1993, he started his daily talk show, where from 10 a.m. to noon each weekday, he grills newsmakers and holds forth on state and national issues.

During my years working in West Virginia GOP politics in the early 2000s, I quickly learned that “Talkline” was required listening. As an occasional guest, I found Kercheval to be a tough, fair and knowledgeable interrogator with no agenda other than practicing good journalism.

Kercheval describes his personal politics as “moderate to conservative,” but for the most part he’s fiercely independent. His state overwhelmingly voted twice for Donald Trump, but Kercheval was never a fan. He told me last week that during Trump’s presidency, “I didn’t talk too much about him or national politics.” That changed after Trump refused to accept the election results, leading to the Jan. 6 uprising at the U.S. Capitol.

“It was a breaking point for me,” Kercheval said. He took to the air to voice his displeasure, which “put me at odds with my audience” resulting in “a mountain of criticism.”

WVRC Media, parent company of “Talkline,” is owned by John Raese, long a prominent figure in state GOP politics. But Kercheval runs his show without interference, he said. He writes a daily commentary and, in keeping with the times, streams a video podcast of his show. It should be bookmarked by anyone interested in Manchin’s thought process.

Over his years as a state legislator, secretary of state, governor and U.S. senator, no one has been a more consistent guest on “Talkline” than Manchin. After Manchin rocked the political world with his “Fox News Sunday” stunner, Kercheval immediately lined him up for the next day’s show.

“You know, [Sen.] Bernie Sanders said Manchin was going to have to explain himself to West Virginians,” Kercheval told me. “Well, that’s what Manchin wanted to do. Joe Manchin is pretty in touch with his constituents. … I think he comes on my show because he’s very comfortable. He knows he’s talking directly to West Virginians.”

Throughout his career, Kercheval has covered numerous stories that gained national attention, including mine disasters and floods. He has moderated, by his estimate, “a half dozen or more gubernatorial and U.S. senate debates, hosted election night coverage for over four decades, and broadcast live from the State Capitol [in Charleston] during legislative sessions.” On covid-19, Kercheval strives to provide “reliable information” and advocates “best practices to try to help the state through the pandemic.” He also contributes to the sports coverage of his beloved WVU.

He has occasionally appeared on national outlets, including last week on CNN to discuss his Manchin interview. But Kercheval is an example of journalists who prefer to work in “flyover country” — often in their home states — while making contributions to the Fourth Estate that are every bit the equal of their better-known national counterparts.

“This is a great place to work,” said Kercheval. “It’s a small state. It’s not hard to know who the players are. You don’t have to go through two or three layers to get to them. I don’t know what could be better than what I have here.”

And right now, he’s got the luxury of such a familiar subject commanding the national stage.

“I have never seen anything like the Manchin stuff,” said Kercheval. “And having access to him when he is involved in such critical decisions has been fascinating.”

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