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..!