Radio Days

When I was growing up in New York I used to go to sleep with a transistor radio, listening to WINS 1010, All News All the Time- You give us twenty minutes we'll give you the world.

We were a radio household. My dad carried a radio with the football game on out to the yard when he washed storm windows. My mom listened to Chopin on a classical station while she graded papers at the dining room table.

I never heard public radio until I came to Alaska, 19 years ago. In Anchorage, KSKA was the best station. I loved the newsy Morning Edition, the Iditarod sled dog race coverage and the way NPR's Susan Stamberg asked all the hard questions, nicely.

When we moved to Haines (pop.2,400) the only station on the dial was the public radio station, KHNS.It was different than Anchorage's mostly national news and classical music format. KHNS was, and is, a community radio station. One size trying to fit all. The radio plays in the grocery store, the Post Office, pick-up trucks and fishing boats.

KHNS has national programs like Morning Edition, The World and All Things Considered, but in-between volunteers play rock & roll, big band tunes and country music. Five times a day the hosts read Listener Personals - messages to people who live outside the city limits and don't have telephones. Things like; "Tina, call your mother in Wyoming Saturday night between 8 and 10" or "Guy- the engine is fixed, be at the dock by four."

I had been in Haines a few weeks when I walked over to KHNS one morning and asked if I could volunteer. I figured I'd file records, make coffee, maybe answer the phone - do whatever it was these radio celebrities needed done. I met the kind man behind the voice that had been keeping me company and filling me in on all aspects of life in this small town, from the weather, tides and hours of daylight (we count the minutes gained in the lightest of summer days and the minutes lost on short winter afternoons) to garage sales and community potluck suppers.

When I told him I'd like to volunteer he asked me to host the Monday night jazz show - in three days. He'd show me how. I couldn't believe it. I could be on the radio? It was too good to be true.

It's safe to say that my life changed completely after that. Eventually, I worked at at KHNS, doing everything from hosting the country show to producing news features.

My family grew and I stopped working full-time and began writing commentary for KHNS, the Alaska Public Radio Network, then nationally for Monitor Radio and now NPR.

KHNS has also changed a lot from '80s, when new oil money from Alaska's North Slope helped pay for equipment and an eight-person staff. These days KHNS is almost all-volunteer.

A retired college music professor who wears bow ties hosts the classical music show. A middle-aged flower child with waist length hair hosts a weekend show call 'The Talking Circle' where three or four guests speak extemporaneously on the week's topic while passing around a rock, in Native American tradition. High school kids play hip hop after school.

So as fall rains move in from the coast, I'm not dreading winter, rather I'm looking forward to hearing my friends and neighbors on the radio all mixed up with familiar voices from across the country and around the globe.

In October, I'll listen with everyone else in town for the local election results. Later there will be snowbound Saturday afternoons with Garrison Keillor, away high school basketball games broadcast from gyms in places like Metlakatla and late night news from the BBC in London.

And I'll continue to volunteer at KHNS Friday mornings, playing music and talking about events around town, because our quirky little public radio station makes living here better.

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