Friday, February 15, 2013

The Coolest Radio Station On the Planet

By Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco

If I was going to run a radio station, it would probably sound very much like KOTZ Radio in Kotzebue, Alaska.

At the cornerstone of the station are the on air talent who sound good and have the freedom to program their own music. The sound is a beautiful and eclectic mix.

Recently while I was listening from my Southern California home over the internet, it sounded like what I would have on my I-touch. I heard these artists in this order: Bruce Springsteen, An Inupaiq Eskimo local favorite, Shania Twain, and Matchbox 20.

The eclectic mix is really in response to the listeners. To top it off listeners are treated to the best of National Public Radio programming including All Things Considered, Prarie Home Companion, Radio Reader, and NPR news at the top of the hour. The station used to carry the popular Morning Edition, but the town folks preferred to hear music, local news and an hour of gospel music in the morning.

"You have to remember that we are the only radio station in the area", says former KOTZ morning talent Ryan Page. "So it is important that we try to meet the needs of everybody." Page, who has a natural and easy to listen to radio voice and intermingles freely between handling the switchboard, playing requests, programming the music, and reading important regional information, loves his job.

"I recently took my family down to my hometown in Oklahoma and was off the air for about a year. I really missed it and was glad when I got back to working at KOTZ."

The same thing happened to evening talent Derrick Zoolander (his radio name). Derrick, 24, has been working at KOTZ on the air since he was 12 years old and holds down the 5 PM-9PM show at the station. He recently went to spend time with family in Billings, Montana but was happy to get back to work at KOTZ. "This is something that I really enjoy doing, and am happy to do the show."

Derrick has a very unassuming tone to his on air style and the locals love the kid. When they call for requests they treat him like one of their own. "Oh hi Derrick", says one of the callers, "say hi to your family for us and wish them a Merry Christmas.

On the day I visited the station, Christmas Day a couple years back, Rockin' Ryan Page and the other on-air talent were taking turns in 2-4 hour shifts in fielding Christmas greetings from the Kotzebue residents, A holiday tradition at KOTZ. The importance of the radio station in the region is not lost on Page and Zoolander.

"This is an important source of information for the community," says Page, "One of the things we do is relay announcements to the community." In an area with little or no cel phone reception this service has proven to be invaluable and even life-saving over the years.

The love that the community has for the radio station is shown during Page's Christmas Day show. A couple groups of people from town show up to give Ryan and the staff some cookies and brownies to show their appreciation.

On this day station programmer Johnson Greene is busy working in the office and longtime engineer Pierre Lonewolf comes in from out of the elements (which on this day was snow and five degrees below zero) to fine tune the equipment. He hears something while out in his truck that doesn't sound quite right and comes in to make an adjustment. Lonewolf is never more than a few steps away from the station. He lives in the house next door.

Listen to KOTZ if you are in Kotzebue, AK and the surrounding villages at 89.9 FM or tune in via KOTZ.

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