View from Out West: Sounds like community

Photo courtesy of Clark Fair. Community radio service sounds comfortingly familiar.

Photo courtesy of Clark Fair. Community radio service sounds comfortingly familiar.

By Clark Fair

For the Redoubt Reporte

Ang’niq anutiiq elpenun
ang’niq anutiiq elpenun
ang’niq anutiiq Aurora-rluq
ang’niq anutiiq elpenun.

Shortly after I moved to Dillingham and began posting photos from here on Facebook, one of my former Skyview students, Aurora (Heames) Galloway, sent me a message. She wanted to let me know that Dillingham’s public radio station was her all-time favorite, that she had spent part of every summer from age 9 to 29 commercial fishing near Naknek, and that she had listened to KDLG so often over the years that she had memorized the song at the beginning of this column.

“I know how to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ in Yup’ik because of that radio station,” she wrote. “And Jimmy, who always sang it at the end of each show.”

Well, Aurora, Jimmy’s rendition still concludes every episode of that particular program. In fact, the “Happy Birthday” song is sung at least once every weekday on KDLG during the live call-in show, “Open Line,” which is essentially 60 minutes of commercial-free birthday wishes, anniversary shout-outs, buy-sell-and-trade opportunities, job listings and opinions on local issues. Similar to “Bushlines”-type programs throughout the state, “Open Line” is fast-paced, down-to-earth, and easily one of KDLG’s most enduring and popular shows.

And honestly, listening to it is somewhat addictive, with all its sweet, homey voices, unadorned affection and good intentions.

“I’d like to wish happy birthday to Bobby over in Togiak. Happy birthday, Bobby! This is your Auntie Sarah. I love you. And I’d like to say hello to my cousin, Lorraine, in Manokotak. I’ll see you for Thanksgiving.”

But there’s more than “Open Line” when it comes to KDLG, as Aurora can attest.

“You can learn how to speak Yupik, and (in the summer) hear the phrase ‘Good luck, and good fishing!’ a million times,” she said, “I stream it sometimes. It’s the best!”

When I was growing up in Soldotna, KSRM was the only homespun choice for peninsula residents.

KSRM hit the radio waves with its own local programming in the late 1960s. Conservative-minded and innovative John Davis, who was hired in 1968 as the radio station’s general manager, pushed hard to connect with local listeners, who previously had relied only on Anchorage-based broadcasts for their news, music and entertainment.

Under Davis’ influence, KSRM, the call letters for which originally stood for “Solid Rock Ministries,” introduced the central Kenai Peninsula to “Tradio” in 1969 and “Sound Off” in 1970. While as a kid I found both of those programs irritating and irrelevant to my pursuit of comic-book intellectualism, I had to admit that they served a purpose in the community.

Where else were local politicos and promoters going to find a voice? Where else could neighbors gripe in an open forum? Where else could they question the intelligence of bureaucrats? Where else could residents offer commentary on — or add to the gossip about — the happenings of the day?

And where else could someone so swiftly and so reliably dispose of old wind-row fencing, fresh hay bales, a 35-horse outboard Johnson, and a used ATV perfect for road hunting?

Davis also offered peninsula residents local weather, sports and news, often culled from the pages of the local newspaper, particularly the Peninsula Clarion, which began in 1970 and quickly supplanted the older Cheechako News as the paper of preference.

When I was a Clarion reporter in the early 1980s, the other journalists and I often sat over morning coffee and scoffed at the “thefts” perpetrated by the radio station. At the same time, we also listened intently for fresh information that we might pilfer, promising to flesh out the facts and make them more newsworthy somehow.

As a teenager, I used the Anchorage stations for popular music and KSRM to listen to broadcasts of Peninsula Oilers baseball games and high school sports. On snowy mornings when I was young, my family used to listen for traffic updates — to see how bad the roads might be or whether school might be canceled or delayed.

In Dillingham, there is no daily newspaper — other than the Anchorage Daily News, which is hardly local and has no Southwest focus. There is one weekly paper, the Bristol Bay Times, which serves the entire region from King Salmon west to Dutch Harbor. Consequently, the dearth of print media easily makes KDLG, both the AM and FM versions, the most constant and reliable source of real news around here.

Between the two stations, Dillingham residents can listen to local and bay-related news at 8 a.m., noon and 5:30 p.m., or read the stories on the station’s online site. KDLG also features “The Yup’ik Word of the Day,” starring Molly Chythlook, each weekday, and the weekly “Bristol Bay Field Notes,” “Bristol Bay Fisheries Report” and “Bristol Bay Sports Roundup.”

KDLG understands its constituency and supplies what it wants and needs.

For those who prefer the more gossipy side of things, there is the Facebook page called the Dillingham Trading Post, which contains occasional rants and allegations, despite being designed mainly for buying and selling everything from 5-gallon buckets of fresh lowbush cranberries ($300) to enough mesh to make two good smelt nets ($100).

But overall, it’s KDLG that is the news source of choice, and it has been that way for many years.

“I never got to actually go to the station because we were busy (and across the bay),” Aurora wrote, “but I would have totally been a groupie if I could have! I loved to listen in the summer and hear the escapement updates and openings, and imagine all the tired fishermen listening, too, hoping to be open, but also needing rest badly.

“One time,” she continued, “I was in New Mexico traveling, and I chatted with some dude at a bar. He said he had fished for two years out of King Salmon, and we ended up singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to each other in Yup’ik. It was a linguistic/traveling/Alaskan love fest.

“KDLG brings people together.”

Clark Fair, a resident of the Kenai Peninsula for more than 50 years, is a lifetime Alaskan now living in Dillingham.

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Filed under Almanac, radio, View from Out West

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