Photo courtesy of Aurora (Heames) Galloway. Aurora (Heames) Galloway and Jeff Heames, fishing in Bristol Bay. Galloway, originally from the Kenai Peninsula, says that public radio is vital for fishing families to stay in touch in Alaska.
By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter
Aurora (Heames) Galloway, one of my former Skyview students, recalls a summer long ago when Dillingham’s public radio station, KDLG, assisted with an emergency involving a “family matter.”
Because they had been so busy commercial fishing, Aurora, her father and their crew had missed the announcement on the radio, but they were alerted to the problem when a neighboring fisherman motored over in his skiff to give them the news: Back on the Kenai Peninsula, Aurora’s mom needed to speak to Aurora’s dad as soon as possible. Since fishing families and crews over all Bristol Bay had been listening to the same broadcast, she said, “We were instantly surrounded by supportive community.”
On the trip ashore, Aurora and her father received several more waves and shouts from fishermen wanting to make sure they’d heard the message. At the cannery with the nearest telephone, more concerned folks stopped by to offer assistance and encouragement.
“When he returned with the news (that Aurora’s uncle had died), there were people there waiting,” she said. “Waiting to split off their crews if needed to help us out, or waiting just out of curiosity and friendship.”
“I think just (my mom) being able to do something to contact us was a huge relief,” Aurora said. “She was able to leave a message at the radio station, and my dad was on the phone with her in about an hour — far from the days we normally went between calls home. (But) I think for me the value was really that we all were hearing the same thing at the same time — and the value of that is immeasurable.”
Because KDLG’s signal was strong enough to be heard in King Salmon and Naknek, the whole fishing community there responded.
“We all need to hear the escapements,” Aurora said. “We all need to hear the weather. We all are curious if someone has called in to wish us happy birthday or to tell us that Grandma sent a package. It’s a way of feeling included in a community that often feels like just us — our crew and the tender we are selling fish to. Hearing voices that we know are live and close makes us feel like we aren’t the only ones on that boat at 3 a.m.”
Photo courtesy of Susie Jenkins-Brito. Susie Jenkins-Brito (left) with her daughter, Bea, on the F/V Sea Breeze in 2014. The Brito family says that with cell service limited out on the water, radio stations like KDLG tailoring content to their listenership, like fishery updates and message programs, are greatly appreciated.
Susie Jenkins-Brito also understands the important role public radio plays in supporting commercial fishermen and Bristol Bay communities. Susie and her husband, Bronson Brito, fish out of Dillingham and, like the rest of the fleet, use broadcasts from KDLG extensively for fishery updates and openings.
“Despite cell services coming to Bristol Bay, out on the commercial fishing grounds communication is unpredictable, and the source for up-to-date news is public radio,” Susie said. “Fishermen rely on hearing these reports in order to make decisions on which districts they will choose to fish in and make predictions on where their livelihood will be made.”
Beyond the fishing industry, KDLG’s many public services also provide crucial links between the region’s remote and essentially roadless towns and villages.
“While cell reception and Internet social media networks offer alternative means of communication in our region, there is singlehandedly no other resource that reaches as broad a group of people as KDLG,” Susie said.
In Dillingham, the only alternatives for communitywide information are the weekly Bristol Bay Times newspaper, a Facebook page called the Dillingham Trading Post and commercial radio station KRUP, which has a range of less than 20 miles, is produced in Anchorage by Strait Media and, as far as I can tell, offers next to zero local programming. Consequently, Dillingham residents keep up with their neighbors via KDLG’s “Open Line” call-in show each weekday, and with local news and ideas via “The Yup’ik Word of the Day,” “Bristol Bay Field Notes,” “Bristol Bay and Beyond,” “Bristol Bay Fisheries Report” and “Bristol Bay Sports Roundup.”
KDLG also lists local job opportunities, provides weather and marine forecasts, announces a broad array of fishing-related information, broadcasts local basketball games, supplies live feeds from public meetings and furnishes on-air notes to distant friends and family via the daily “Messenger.”
With employees who live in the city and with its offices in the same building as Dillingham High School, KDLG understands its constituency personally and supplies what it wants and needs. And the same personal connection holds true for the staff of KDLL in Kenai, and for the staffs of other public media throughout Alaska.
Even Don Young, Alaska’s prickly, arrogant U.S. rep-resentative, understands and lauds the value of public broadcasting in this state. In September 2012, on the second day of a Washington, D.C., meeting of the board of directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Young announced, “I am a Republican and I support public broadcasting.”