Volunteering & Newscasts

Settling into life in rural south central Alaska isn’t just about learning to handle wild weather swings or coexisting with large mammals; establishing one’s societal links is at least as important as anything else.  The term ‘rural’ when applied to Alaska has many levels from living without things like telephones and even electricity to being part of a neighborhood with paved roads and septic fields.  Being rural in the Talkeetna area tends to land somewhere in the middle of this range; I have electricity, broadband connectivity via the phone lines, fuel oil heat supplemented by an oil drip furnace for those times the electric grid crashes, an on property well, a septic field and a well insulated two story home.  In my instance I have perhaps two to three neighbors as close as maybe a tenth of a mile although none are visible when the trees have foliage.  There are perhaps eight residences within a half mile of my place; that’s about the kind of population density I was seeking when I traveled here in early April of 2013 to locate my new home.

As such its very easy to become isolated from other people; I do see maybe five cars a day travel past my place on East Barge Drive but I really only hear them because I do not have direct sight of the road.  When walking the dogs I usually see one or two of my neighbors and we wave and sometimes stop briefly to talk but that’s about it.  Within a few weeks of relocating I began to realize I would need to expend a lot more energy to develop some solid relationships with select locals.  At first I was a bit lost regarding how best to undertake this but thankfully my realtor and good friend Holly had already provided me the means when she’d championed volunteering at Talkeetna’s local radio station (KTNA – 88.9 FM).  She has been doing so for years and currently does the Friday noon local news cast and has a music program at 13:00 on Fridays.  Once I had finished my unpacking and mostly finished organizing my place I decided to give this a try.

KTNA is a NPR outlet and initially this gave me pause as I am not enamored of NPR’s sometime liberal bent and I have philosophical issues with the concept of my tax dollars funding such a function.  However, I soon recognized that KTNA is the only reliably received radio station in this area and is the only station with local news, weather and information.  As such it is an extremely valuable resource to the local community.  When still just visiting Alaska on my annual trips I remember hearing a program segment of the local news while driving up the Parks Highway in this general area called ‘Denali Echoes’.  I was initially dumbfounded when I heard messages like; “Tom, please meet Julie at ‘Latitude 62’ (a local Talkeetna restaurant and bar) on Friday at noon”.  I then came to understand this function served folks who did not have reliable, or in some cases any, phone service.  In addition KTNA is the go to source for local information in the event of severe weather (there is no NWS broadcast reception for this immediate area), flooding, earthquake information and similar.  Because of this I came to appreciate just what an important job the station fulfilled and I wanted to be a part of this support function.

During their recent pledge drive in mid-October I visited the station when Holly was answering the phone and met a number of the staff and many volunteers; to a person I thoroughly enjoyed these folks.  They really do mirror the range of personalities that make Talkeetna the quirky but friendly place it is; one of the volunteers (Lisa) said Talkeetna reminds her of the ‘Isle of Misfit Toys’ in the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer movie and after a moment’s reflection I couldn’t agree with her more!  The folks I’ve met in this area are truly individuals who share a deep love of Alaska, are largely self sufficient and tend to be very extroverted and outwardly friendly.  I really came to enjoy working with Deb (program director/volunteer coordinator); she has given me a good foundation in the operation and functionality of the studio as well as a great overview of the station.  I underwent a pair of training sessions with her in the studio and now have carved out a couple of hours across two days for practicing giving the on air newscasts.  This coming Tuesday (November 5th) I’ll be actually doing my demo tape which along with a written test is a sort of graduation exercise.  Providing I don’t botch my demo and pass the written test Deb has plans for me to start reading the evening news (local newscasts on weekdays are at 07:40, 12:00 and 18:00 local time) sometime the end of this week.  As a volunteer I was ready to do whatever was needed and I must admit I was a bit surprised I’d been picked to read local news; I was expecting to start with something a bit more pedestrian and then work my way up.  However, as a volunteer I’m ready to do what is needed doing and apparently coverage for the evening local newscasts has been very thin of late.

Because of my background in IT field support and my lengthy experience with building PCs, setting up wired and wireless networks, learning software and troubleshooting all of the aforementioned I was able to assist Deb with an issue on the studio Mac even though I know very little about Apple products.  As such I suspect along with being a local news reader I will be assisting the station and staff with system related issues and also perhaps suggesting upgrades; to really be functional in these arenas I will need to learn the Mac OS much better but that just requires some time.  I do enjoy being able to assist where ever I can and I already know such assistance is welcomed by the KTNA folks so it really is a ‘win-win’ situation for all involved!

By volunteering some time at KTNA I will have the opportunity to meet and interact with many more local folks and that’s something I truly value.  I suspect that as winter comes on – at least assuming it does as its unheard of to have no accumulating snow by the start of November yet all I see is bare ground as of November 3rd – having a place to interact with other Talkeetna residents will become even more important to me.  I’m also hoping that by assisting the station with system and network related issues I will be able to get my name out into the community as someone who is willing to work on systems and networks.  While I could probably make a bit of income doing this my real goal is to get myself inculcated into the barter system.  I would be happy to do system repair/upgrades or similar network efforts for just the cost of any parts; I’ll bank reimbursement for my time and expertise such that years down the road when I need my roof worked on or the well serviced I’ll be able to call in some favors.  That’s just one more aspect of rural Alaskan living that I’m looking forward to indulging within..!

8 thoughts on “Volunteering & Newscasts

  1. Mr. Was: Congratulations on finding the NPR outlet! I don’t know if they have a streaming online presence, but I will look for it!

    • Hey Mr. Beer – As always GREAT to hear from ya! Yes, KTNA does stream online; just put ‘ktna.org’ in the browser of your choice and that should take you to the station’s home page. On the top options line look all the way to the right and you will see ‘listen on-line’; click on that and you will probably get a message about downloading a ‘.pls’ file. Go ahead and do so; if you have something like ‘Win Amp’ (www.winamp.com for the free download) or similar audio app it will recognize the .pls file, open it and you’ll have access to the streaming broadcast from KTNA. Tomorrow (Tuesday – 11/5) I’m going in at 10:00 AKST to create my demo tape and take a brief written test; I should have everything finished and graded by noon. Assuming I pass – and I’d like to think I will – I could be doing the evening local news as early as Tuesday evening. I know it’ll be the evening slot because the program director (Deb) already told me they are very thin regarding personnel to handle that time slot which runs from 18:00 to 18:25 AKST Monday through Friday. Let me know if you have any issues and I should be able to assist you further. Hope alls well with you and yours; it sure is getting dark early up here especially with the time shift. I noticed it was ‘night’ dark by 18:00 yesterday and it won’t be light enough to see anything outside until 08:55 this morning. Of course we’re almost to the halfway point between the Autumnal Equinox and the Winter Solstice so this is to be expected. A few days back I was testing a new rangefinder I just purchased from Bushnell (‘The Truth’) and I decided to shoot the sun’s angle right at noon while walking the dogs; I was shocked to see it was just 13 degrees off the horizon! No wonder all I see nowadays are long shadows regardless of the time of day. Thanks for following me!! Bill

  2. I looked for net streaming from the station, but can’t find it. Will try again on Monday.

    Sent from AOL Mobile Mail

    • Hi Tom – Just put ‘ktna.org’ in the browser of your choice; that should take you to the station’s home page. On the top options line look all the way to the right and you will see ‘listen on-line’; click on that and you will probably get a message about downloading a ‘.pls’ file. Go ahead and do so; if you have something like ‘Win Amp’ (if you’re running a PC) or similar audio app it will recognize the .pls file, open it and you’ll have access to the streaming broadcast from KTNA. There’s a similar app if you use a Mac. Tomorrow (Tuesday – 11/5) I’m going in at 10:00 AKST to create my demo tape and take a brief written test; I should have everything finished and graded by noon. Assuming I pass – and I’d like to think I will – I could be doing the evening local news as early as Tuesday evening. I know it’ll be the evening slot because the program director (Deb) already told me they are very thin regarding personnel to handle that time slot which runs from 18:00 to 18:25 AKST Monday through Friday. Let me know if you have any issues and I should be able to assist you further. Thanks for following me!! Bill

  3. Cathy Crowder

    Mac is easy – go to the Apple, most everything a tech needs to get to is under there. About this Mac, System Preferences, etc. It’s unix, you’ll get it.

    • Hey Cathy – Thanks for the feedback! I spent maybe 15 minutes setting up the studio Mac to run an app created to swap audio file formats back and forth and I picked up a lot from that brief time. The OS appears a lot like Windows – or, more accurately Windows mirrors the Mac OS quite closely – so it was really a matter of locating what I needed. KTNA gets sound bites from a NPR station in the lower 48 and although they were WAV files the codec was something their ‘Soundboard’ app (its a cute app that allows ya to organize sound clips of all kinds for broadcast any way you like and gives you their running time along with a preview of the closing audio such that ya can be ready to keep the flow going) didn’t like and hence would freeze up if you tried to load ’em. I smelled the format issue and just downloaded the free app (‘Switch’..?), then changed the format to the Mac standard (aiff..?) and everything worked fine. I’ll let ya know how my demo goes tomorrow…

  4. Went right to the KTNA.org site, clicked on Listen Now, and it opened iTunes and started streaming right away.You are 4 hours ahead of me, I think. I looked at teh Program Guide and there are some neat offerings there. Congratulations (in advance) on a new interest… Broadcasting! Listening to KTNA’s BBC Broadcast right now, my friend.

    • Great News Tom! I was going to tell you there’s a section on KTNA’s home page dealing with the issues involved in listening to the streaming broadcasts; its on the right hand side maybe half a page down. It seems most folks having issues are using PCs which isn’t surprising given the station uses Macs almost exclusively. I spoke at length with Kirsten (business manager) yesterday regarding the feedback I was getting and she moved the ‘Help’ section to a more predominate position on the page; she’s a native New Zealander and I just love her Kiwi accent! She also told me most outlets have three or four methods for streaming their programming but KTNA, being small and fairly non-technical, uses just the single method. The KTNA folks are loving all this feedback; Deb (program manager/volunteer coordinator) told me yesterday since I started they’ve had more feedback regarding the website than they saw the previous year. Alaska time is -9 hours from ‘Zulu’ or Greenwich Mean Time which puts it four hours behind eastern time, three behind central time and so on. Glad you liked the additional glacier images; I really need to revisit the hours of video I have and create some video snippets of topics like glaciers, grizzlies, braided rivers and the like. I suspect I’ll be doing that once the long, cold and dark winter settles in. By the way, if you’re interested I’ll be doing the noon (16:00 EST) local newscast from KTNA tomorrow (Thursday, November 7th). Deb said the regular reader has a schedule conflict so I’ll be going in around 11:00 to thoroughly review my demo I cut yesterday, get all the feedback I can on it, prep for the noon news and do my first reading. Right now this is still very new and a bit daunting but I’ve found I do enjoy stretching myself a bit (moving one’s self from the lower 48 after living mainly an urban existence to take up a rural south central Alaskan lifestyle at age sixty qualifies as a bit of a ‘stretch’, I think…) and I suspect as I get more familiar with the mechanics of doing these broadcasts I’ll be able to start getting more creative. As soon as I know my regular evening slot I’ll let ya know. Thanks again for the kind words and support!!

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