Talkeetna Character…

Last Friday I was sitting in the KTNA studio riding herd on the soundboard as KTNA broadcast one in its series of live summer concerts – “Live At Five” – from the Talkeetna Village Park.  Although the concerts go on ‘rain or shine’ I had been wondering about that day as it had rained fairly substantially from very early morning right through until maybe 15:30 and was just beginning to clear up by 16:20.  As I left for the station around 16:30 I made my typical swing by the refuse reclamation site to drop off a bag of waste and then stopped by the PO to check mail before ending up at KTNA.  As usual the board was set up, the sound checks already made and my introduction and close out neatly typed up and awaiting me on the desktop.  With just ten minutes to go the skies actually cleared and we had yet another good Friday afternoon for a live concert.

I kicked off the broadcast right at 17:00 with the brief introduction and then settled in to monitor the soundboard.  Generally nothing is required although on the odd occasion the talent might get a bit ‘energetic’ with their performance and thus require a tweak to the output levels on the board.  This was not the case this Friday and I enjoyed the broadcast while futzing with my laptop which I intended to use as the music source for my Monday evening show.  Prior I’d been using iTunes on the studio Mac but I’ve had a real ‘love-hate’ relationship with that app and that Monday it had really screwed up my show three times.  I swore that was the last time and hence decided to use my laptop.  Given I had almost an hour and was in the studio I verified I could use the new software I’d just downloaded and get the necessary output at an acceptable level.  Once finished I started prepping for my Friday evening newscast which runs from 18:00 to 18:25.  In so doing I went over the weather, news, announcements, classified and ‘Denali Echoes’ which is a service for local listeners without phone service.  Because the day had turned out so well I left the blinds up in the ‘fish bowl’ – a name many folks apply to the studio in the cupola on the main floor (see the following image) – to enjoy the sunshine.

KTNA Studio on East Second Street in downtown Talkeeta

KTNA Studio on East Second Street in downtown Talkeetna

With about four minutes to go I happened to notice a small white car pull into the KTNA lot.  As I made sure everything was set on the soundboard for my interruption of the concert so I could give the 18:00 local newscast I noticed an elderly gentleman slowly climb out of the car and shuffle up the steps of the porch and try the front door of the studio building.  As it was just shy of 18:00 the staff had left for the week and the door was locked.  He turned my way and saw me sitting at the board; he then turned and walked to the porch window to the studio.  Just as he did so we hit 18:00 and I broke into the concert with the closing teaser.  He evidently didn’t realize I was broadcasting live as he proceeded to knock on the glass.  I was just finishing up the closing so I held up my index finger in that universal ‘one second’ gesture, finished the close out and went to music.  I then removed my headphones are walked to the window.  He proceeded to to show me a worn wallet which he said he’d found and someone had told him to bring it to the studio.  I apologized, told him I was broadcasting live and asked him to just leave the wallet on the supporting frame of the easel on the front porch.  The windows have screens which aren’t easily removed so I couldn’t take it; in addition the main office area and front door are closed off when the staff leaves for the day so I couldn’t easily walk around to get the wallet.  He obliged and I quickly thanked him and dashed back to the board so I could get the newscast underway.

I slightly misjudged the time required to handle all the information and had to scramble to get everything squeezed in but I did make the hard break at 18:25.  I arose, stretched and walked to the back door which I exited, walked around to the front porch and retrieved the wallet.  I had made a brief announcement right at the termination of the news that a wallet had been found and was being held at the KTNA studio.  As I walked back to the side door and worked the lock I was deciding how to notify the staff and volunteers of the ‘find’ and where to put it.  I returned to the studio to tidy up so the next volunteer coming in for a Friday night music program would have everything set up as expected.  While doing so I observed a young man walking east on East Second Street and angling towards the studio; he was wearing a rather concerned look.  When he turned to the porch steps and began to climb I was sure I had the owner.  He tried the front door before I could get the window open once again.  He recounted how he’d lost his wallet in town and had been told to check the ‘radio station’; when I held up the wallet his face broke into a huge smile.  Just to be sure I asked him his name and verified it matched that on the driver’s license.  Then I explained I would come out the side door and give him his wallet.  I walked to that door and met him at the side of the studio.  As he gratefully accepted the wallet he thanked me and I told him it was our pleasure and I hoped everything was intact.  He quickly rifled through the wallet and then said; “Thank God for small town America – even all the money is here!”.  I told him I was happy for him and wished him a good week; he said now that he had his wallet back he was definitely going to do just that…

As I finished prepping the studio and drove home I kept thinking just how great it was that this community has such honest people within its ranks!  Someone could have just kept the wallet or even taken the money but turned it in yet this didn’t happen and the wallet and its entire contents were returned in full.  This is such a simple thing yet especially in hard times this speaks volumes as to the honesty of an elderly gentleman which allowed a young man the opportunity to enjoy his weekend.  It made me feel good to be a member of this wonderful community.  It also reinforced the valuable service KTNA supplies; because it is the local voice of the Upper Susitna Valley it is also a clearing house for information and someplace most folks know of and use.  I’ve lived in this area for almost a year now; previously I lived in many places in the Midwest – mainly around medium to large cities – and I can tell you getting a lost wallet returned with all its contents would be a news worthy story.  Yet here in Talkeetna it just seemed so ‘everyday’.  Not that I needed it but as I pulled into my driveway I realized I had yet another affirmation that I really did make a very wise choice when I loaded up my household and made the 4,200 plus mile drive to my new home in Talkeetna!

KTNA Studio – A Volunteer’s Perspective

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One of my current favorite places in Talkeetna!  This is the main studio in the KTNA building and is really a view of the desk area.  To the lower right you see one of the two manual turntables and underneath them is another cabinet of equipment.  Moving further to the right there’s an ancient cart machine with two single disc CD players beneath it and then a control panel for auxiliary inputs like iPods, MP3 players and similar; finally the telephone is beneath all that stuff.  Further right is the Mac which handles a myriad of duties including displaying the NWS weather reports, ADOT road condition reports, playing the sound bites that identify underwriters, sound clips of show promos, pre-recorded news stories from the KTNA news department local to the Talkeetna area and access to the KTNA.org website.  On the desk beneath the Mac is the sound board which controls what inputs are going to which outputs along with which pots are active, the gain on each pot and provides a pair of digital ‘Vu meters’; the board is fully programmable and along with the Mac forms the backbone of the newscasts.  A bit further to the right you can see the digital temp readout for the station’s exterior thermometer (silver square) and then two of the three studio microphones; the main mic is the pink one while the other two are used with in-studio guests.  All in all I’m still learning to use the gear and make regular and often painful mistakes but I’m finding I really do enjoy the work.

Just another one of those ‘stretches’ I seem to be enamored of since retiring..!  This is especially true as I had no experience with anything like this previously and as a child I stuttered to the point I had speech therapy and hence harbored an all-consuming fear of speaking to unknown people and especially in front of groups of people.  During some of my corporate time I handled field training at plants, sales offices and warehouses which often required giving one to two-hour classes on Microsoft OS’s and apps which were being rolled out across the firm.  Because I so wanted to make the move into IT from my current position in Food Manufacturing Technical Services I lobbied hard to get this opportunity knowing I would have to face my fear of standing solo in front of ten to thirty people and talking for hours.  I was terrified my stuttering would reassert itself but to my surprise I discovered I did enjoy acting as a trainer and based on feedback from sites around the country apparently I did fairly well.

Even so this is not the same thing and in some ways it’s not as bad yet in others its worse.  I’m not standing or sitting in front of physical beings like I did while providing the IT training so in this sense it’s probably a bit easier.  However, there’s still the pressure of knowing this is live and thus if you make a gaffe its out there for all to hear.  In addition ya have to make sure you fit in all the really important information like news, weather, underwriter IDs, Denali Echoes (a messaging service to local folks with poor to non-existent telephone service) and similar while also trying to get in all the announcements, classifieds and “Thank You’s” to individuals and businesses that provide monetary support for KTNA yet still fit this into your allotted time (25 to 30 minutes depending upon the newscast).  This also can be stretched by using music in specific places like between the news and classifieds/announcements but one can only watch the clock and try to estimate on the fly whether you’re going to run over or be short.  A large ‘no-no’, almost as big as the dropping of certain ‘colorful expletives’, is running long such that one must cut into a pre-recorded program; this is to be avoided at all costs.  The experienced folks just have a feel for how long everything will take and can pretty much guess how much music they may have to add or what items they may have to cut.  Newbies like yours truly have no such perception and hence we are ‘clock watchers’.  This presents its own challenges because its tough to be reading the announcements while keeping an eye on the clock and making sure a music CD is cued just in case you finish everything before time to switch to the network feed.  People in general and me in particular are not good at multitasking and more than once I’ve thought I was going to end up short only to have to abruptly finish in a most awkward fashion so as not to cut into the network feed.

Still and all I am finding I enjoy the challenges although every error I make, a lot that probably aren’t even recognized as such by the listeners, sounds loud and hideous through the headphones and I have a tough time not wincing.  I desperately need to learn that mindset that allows one to stumble over a name or a typo and just continue on as though nothing happened; right now just such a minor fumble can upset my rhythm for the next few minutes or sometimes for the remainder of the broadcast!  Because of this I’ve learned the true value in ‘pre-reading’ everything that I’ll be reading live; by doing this I generally detect any typos, names I’m not sure how to pronounce or similar such that I can get what info I need or at least make a mental note that in story ‘X’ there’s a pronoun inconsistency.

Today (Friday, December 6, 2013) is going to be a big day for me as I will be handling my good friend Holly’s noon newscast and her music show (The Patchwork Hour) which runs from 13:00 to 14:00 AKST.  Of course I’ll be back in for my newscast at 18:00 as well.  At least by the time of the evening newscast I’ll have been through the noon newscast so all I will really need to do is refresh the news tab, the announcements/classified and the weather; then I should be good to go.  I’m looking forward to doing the music show because there’s a lot more freedom to ad lib during such formats and I suspect I’m going to volunteer to fill one of the current three openings we have for a music show.  All in all I really do enjoy volunteering time to KTNA as the staff and volunteers are great folks and the station really does serve a vital purpose for this area.  It is the only reliably received radio station in the middle to upper Susitna River Valley and the only source of ‘real time’ local news, weather (the NOAA ‘All Hazards’ broadcast from the Anchorage bowl area does not reach this far north as its blocked by the Talkeetna Mountains) and announcements for the large area between Willow to the south and Cantwell to the north.  Without KTNA information would have to be passed via email, USPS or word of mouth which is much less timely and could cause issues in the event of true emergencies.  While I learned the joy of volunteering at an assisted living facility in SE Michigan its great that I can continue to do so via my efforts at KTNA.  Hope you can listen in on-line as KTNA streams their broadcasts; if interested just visit ‘ktna.org’ and select the ‘listen on-line’ option.  My weekly newscasts are every Thursday and Friday evening from 18:00 to 18:25 AKST.