Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Alaska Radio: Of Moose and Men Public Stations, Threatened by Cuts, Offer Listeners Company, Information, and a Lifeline

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Alaska Radio: Of Moose and Men Public Stations, Threatened by Cuts, Offer Listeners Company, Information, and a Lifeline

Article excerpt

In the tiny log cabin studio of KTNA, Emmila Spires spins Big Band-era albums, reads from memoirs about Alaska's early days, and caps her show, called "Granny's Radio Recipes," with a recipe for a local dish like moosemeat sausage. "I gave 'em 'How to can whale' the other day. That fixed 'em," she says.

The broadcasts from Talkeetna, a tiny town nestled at the foot of Mount McKinley, air all over Alaska's upper Susitna River Valley. For listeners, KTNA is not a disembodied voice, but a companion and vital tie to the outside world. "Everyone who comes here feels it's theirs," says Ms. Spires.

Alaska's newest public radio station debuted in 1993. Despite the relative proximity of Anchorage - about two hours by car - it's the only station serving Talkeetna, a town of 300, and surrounding settlements. The audience, ranging from 1,200 to 10,000 depending on the season, isn't big enough to draw a commercial station. Programming is eclectic. "Betty and Wilma" features women musicians, while "Earth and Beyond" focuses on ecology or astronomy. Weekly public forums range from domestic violence to chats about creativity with a local farmer-turned-artist. The tradeoff between development and environmental preservation is a common, heated theme. "There's a lot of political things that go on in this little valley. It's not as laid-back, not as relaxing as it looks," says station manager Julianne McGuinness. The station does round-the-clock coverage of the occasional emergency, like last summer's Big Lake wildfire that destroyed hundreds of homes. In the summer it offers up-to-the-minute reports on mountain accidents and rescues. And one daily segment sends personal messages to listeners without telephones - a sizable group in an area where many have no road access and tune in by battery-operated radio. Like other public stations in Alaska, KTNA works on a shoestring budget. …

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