Kevin Willis

News Director

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio.  He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition.  

He is a broadcast journalism graduate of WKU, and has won numerous awards for his reporting and feature production. 

Kevin grew up in Radcliff, Kentucky and currently lives in Glasgow.

Ways to Connect

SPEDA

The Somerset community is celebrating the official groundbreaking of a new distillery with strong ties to the U.S military.

Horse Soldier Bourbon was founded by retired members of the U.S Special Forces who were among the first soldiers to enter Afghanistan after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony took place on the 20th anniversary of the day those soldiers crossed into Afghanistan.

According to Horse Soldier Bourbon Chief Operating Officer Scott Neil, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck reached out to them two years ago about starting a distillery in Pulaski County.

Neil said when he and his fellow soldiers looked at a map to see where Somerset was located, they realized they already had a connection to the region.

“What made it especially interesting, it was on Lake Cumberland, and when 9/11 happened, we were on the Cumberland doing a training exercise,” Neil said. “So it kind of spoke to us as probably the right place for the rest of our lives, so we decided to pursue building in Somerset.”

Hayley Lynch, The Nature Conservancy

A partnership of state and federal conservation groups is celebrating the largest lock and dam removal in Kentucky history.

The removal of Green River Lock and Dam # 5 in Butler County has been in the making since 2015, with local government, environmental, and business groups pushing the effort.

A crew from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been working since June at the site, using heavy equipment to slowly remove the lock chamber where boats have passed through along the Green River.

An event Monday at the site of the dam was supposed to mark the beginning of the removal of actual dam, but that was postponed due to the rainy weather. 

David Phemister is the director of the Kentucky chapter of The Nature Conservancy, one of the groups that’s advocated for the removal.

Flickr/Creative Commons/TaxCredits.net

A new program is aiming to help Kentuckians with substance abuse issues land—and keep—jobs.

The effort is called the called the Kentucky Transformational Employment Program, or KTEP, and includes several state business, government, and health care groups.

Normally, if an employee tests positive for drugs, they’d be immediately fired. Businesses participating in KTEP will work to get employees struggling with addiction issues into a treatment program, with the goal of having that employee eventually return to the workplace.

LaKisha Miller is the Executive Director of the Kentucky Chamber Foundation, one of the groups that’s part of the effort.

“Through KTEP, what employers are now able to do is they’re able to say, ‘hey, let’s go ahead and pause the employment process at this point’”, Miller said. “We’re now able to say, “we’re going to connect you to treatment, I want to be able to get you some help, and then let’s facilitate the process of getting you back safely to work.’”

Kevin Willis | WKYU

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman says adults have talked a lot about how the pandemic has impacted the mental health of K-12 students.

What’s too often missing, she adds, is the voices of the students themselves.

As part of an effort to reverse that trend, Coleman was in Bowling Green Wednesday for the first in a series of in-person and virtual meetings with students across the state designed to give young people the opportunity to express how they’re struggling under the weight of the uncertainty, anxiety, and stress related to COVID-19.

“We’ve heard a lot of talk over the last couple of years about mental health and how it’s affecting students. But we haven’t heard from students. It’s been an adult’s interpretation, or assumption, of how students feel, and why they feel that way, and how to help them,” Coleman told WKU Public Radio.


Thinkstock

A state lawmaker from Bowling Green is taking a second shot at convincing the General Assembly to pass a comprehensive student loan reform bill.

The measure pre-filed for the 2022 legislative session by Democratic Rep. Patti Minter would ban deceptive practices by student loan providers, and increase oversight of the student loan industry.

The same bill failed to pass during this year’s session.

Minter said her time as a history professor at Western Kentucky University has given her insight into how predatory lenders target desperate students. She told WKU Public Radio a former student she knows who’s been out of school for ten years is a cautionary tale.

“They've only paid $700 in 10 years toward the principle of the loan. The rest is interest,” Rep. Minter said. “Because what this person had done, without knowing it, was to sign up for a predatory, adjustable interest rate student loan that literally they’re paying nothing but interest for years.”

Ryan Van Velzer

A southern Kentucky health department is among the many groups across the nation preparing to give COVID-19 booster shots later this year.

The U.S. Surgeon General announced Wednesday that Pfizer and Moderna booster shots have been approved for the general public, starting the week of September 20.

Third doses of the vaccine are already available for anyone who is immunocompromised, and who is at least 28 days past their second shot.

Julia Davidson is the director of nursing at the Barren River District Health Department, which serves eight counties including Barren, Simpson, and Warren. She said anyone getting a third shot will get the same brand of vaccine they’ve already received.

WKU

Western Kentucky University is reinstating an on-campus mask mandate due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases across the state.

President Timothy Caboni sent an email to faculty and staff Wednesday afternoon that said everyone on WKU’s campuses will be expected to wear a mask while indoors starting Monday, Aug. 9.

Caboni said that he knows the news will be a disappointment to some, but that he hopes masking will increase the chance for a normal semester in light of the surging number of Delta variant cases of coronavirus.

“WKU’s highest priority has always been the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff,” Caboni said in the email. “Vaccines remain one of the strongest deterrents to viral transmission and serious symptoms or complications. If you have not yet been vaccinated, please schedule an appointment with GGC WKU Health Services by calling (270) 745-2272.”

First Christian Church of Owensboro

A combined effort featuring business, health, and religious groups is resulting in a drive-through COVID vaccination clinic in Owensboro.

The Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce is hosting the event Thursday, Aug. 5,  in the parking lot of First Christian Church on J.R. Miller Blvd., from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Staff from the Green River District Health Department will be offering the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, and the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

The clinic comes at a time when Kentucky’s COVID incidence rate map shows more than half of the state’s counties are in the red zone, including Daviess and nearby Hancock, Henderson, McLean, and Ohio.

Candance Castlen Brake, CEO and President of the Greater Owensboro Chamber, said boosting the region’s vaccination rate is in everyone’s interest.

Flickr/Creative Commons/OpenFile Vancour

The Muhlenberg County Health Department is providing free Naloxone kits and training for those wanting to learn how to help people who have overdosed on opioids.

Carolyn Bullock works at the health department, and says the nasal kits are designed to be an easy and quick way for family, friends, and first responders to provide life-saving help to someone who overdosed.

“It attaches to the same part of the brain as the opioid, so it blocks their effect for about 30 to 90 minutes, and gives you time to get them emergency help, and it reverses the symptoms that would otherwise lead to death.”

Those wanting to learn how to administer Naloxone can attend one of two virtual information sessions being offered by the health department on Thursday.

Bullock says those wanting the training and naloxone kits can attend the virtual sessions without giving their name. Those who complete one of the training sessions will have a free naloxone kit mailed to them.

First Christian Church of Owensboro

While many parts of Kentucky, and the nation, are reporting lower demand for COVID-19 vaccines, one partnership in Owensboro is offering a drive-through vaccination clinic Thursday.

The partnership includes the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce, Green River District Health Department, and First Christian Church.

Chamber President Candace Castlen Brake says she’s hoping this clinic is as successful as the previous one her group sponsored.

“The last one we had, the health department team had to go back and get more J&J’s,” Brake said, referring to the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. “Because a lot of men were coming to get the single vaccinations, and they could do it there, and if they had a little bit of anxiety, it was more private, because they got to sit in their car.”

Molly Tayler/Facebook

A string of heavy storms has led to a demonstration of community support for its local animal shelter.

The heavy rain that hit southern Kentucky early Tuesday morning led to an evacuation of the Glasgow-based Barren River Animal Welfare Association.

Staff members, city workers, and volunteers moved 40 animals—including dogs, cats, and rabbits—out of BRAWA.

“Everybody is safe, nobody was injured, and most of them never even got wet,” said BRAWA board member and volunteer Molly Taylor.

She said there was standing water throughout the facility when volunteers arrived to see the damage.

Scott Chacon via Flickr Creative Commons

The uneasy issue of genocide is in the news. 

President Joe Biden on Saturday became the first U.S. President to call the killing of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during WWI an act of genocide

Someone with a keen interest in the subject of genocide is Marko Dumancic, an associate professor of history at Western Kentucky University, who teaches courses on the subject. 

He's giving a talk on Monday, April 26, to the Owensboro Area World Affairs Council called, "Never Again, and Again, and Again: Debating and Recognizing Genocide in the 21st Century." 

He spoke to WKU Public Radio about whether the world has gotten any better over the decades at recognizing genocide as it's happening, and intervening. 


WKU Public Radio

The audio file that accompanies this web post contains some examples of the outstanding work produced in 2020 by WKYU reporter Rhonda Miller. 

You'll hear sound from Rhonda's stories focusing on some of the many ways the COVID-19 pandemic impacted life in our region last year, including reports about how businesses handled pandemic restrictions. 

You'll also meet a career advisor who has gained a reputation across southern Kentucky as someone who creates countless"sucess stories" by placing out-of-work individuals in some of the area's hardest-to-fill jobs. 

Rhonda also reported on the plight of a local coal mine for sale, and the platform of a U.S. Senate candidate who rose to state and national prominence after being considered a longshot.

Thank you for considering this entry in the category of Radio Reporter for the 2020 KBA Impact Awards. 


WKU

Western Kentucky University has placed a fraternity on interim suspension after one of its members was arrested and charged with rape.

A statement emailed to WKU Public Radio Friday afternoon by WKU Media Relations Director Bob Skipper came after the school’s police department released the arrest report involving the incident at the Sigma Nu fraternity house.

Fraternity member Benjamin Massingille, 21, of Tompkinsville, was placed under arrest Monday, and has been charged with 1st degree rape; 1st degree sodomy; and 1st degree unlawful imprisonment, after a woman reported Massingille attacked her following an early-morning argument on Feb. 27.

According to the arrest report, a friend of the woman told police she received a text message from the woman saying she was “in distress and that she was being assaulted”.

Ryan Van Velzer

Kentucky is preparing for the likelihood of big snow and ice accumulations this week, with the heaviest snowfall likely to hit starting early Monday afternoon.

Some parts of central Kentucky are expecting to get up to eight inches of snow, with snowfall rates exceeding one-inch-per-hour in parts of the commonwealth.

The National Weather Service also predicts that up to half-an-inch of ice accumulation could occur through tomorrow, in an area of the state south and east of a line from Tompkinsville to Richmond.

Another winter storm system is expected to hit the region Wednesday night, bringing more snow and the potential for added ice.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet crews will be focused on maintaining mobility on the interstates, parkways, and highly-traveled routes.

Pages