Radio: Public vs. Corporate vs. Satellite

Ah, radio – the source of music, news, event information, and more for milions of people around the world.  Sometimes it’s the sole source!

My love affair with radio began at an early age, when my parents moved from ‘civilization’ to the wilds of Alaska.  Actually, it was shortly after returning to ‘civilization’ from the wilderness!  My dad had built a fish hatchery from the ground up, due to two factors:  1. He was sick and tired of working for others and wanted to be his own boss.  With three children, and one on the way, it seemed a strange leap to make, but that’s one of the earmarks of the Aries individual – jumping into the unknown and blazing a trail where others, including angels, fear to tread… also,  2.  There was a shortage of fish in Southeastern Alaskan waters at the time, so the state was offering monies to any enterprising individual who had a plan to help study it and offer suggestions.  For nearly a year, we all lived on a 58-foot, converted fishing boat and traveled the Inside Passage of Southeast Alaska, from Ketchikan to Haines and many points in-between!  Finding a good hatchery-building site that wasn’t far from our home-base town of Wrangell took some time, but it was finally located in mid-1978.  Off the boat and back to land-based living!

While residing on the boat, there were many opportunities to go hiking in the forests, which we did on sunny or non-rainy days.  Other times, as is common in southeast Alaska, the rain would be falling so we were stuck inside reading books which were limited in number, or listening to our library of ten 8-track tapes – most of our worldly belongings were in storage, since household items wouldn’t fit!  I liked sitting up in the wheelhouse while reading, since it was usually the quietest area on the boat.  The only radio on the boat was the CB; regular radio broadcasts couldn’t reach our area due to the limited transmission from Wrangell – no radio towers on unihabited islands.

The radio station is called KSTK-FM, “Stikine River Radio”, operating from 5:00 a.m. to 12 midnight and broadcasting at a frequency of 2,000 watts.  The first time I heard the station, I was amazed and intrigued.  Here was some music I’d never had the opportunity to experience, and after months of listening to the same old worn-out cassettes I was aching for something new – radio delivered it.  Not knowing how the industry operated, my imagination went into overdrive about this magical little box!  I was convinced that the disc jockey was literally broadcasting music from various concerts around the world, with employees at each location calling in and telling the DJ which song the respective band was going to play next.  I soon learned, through my ever-expanding library of books, how the whole system functioned – but the magic was still ingrained and my musical appetite grew with each passing day.

Fast-forward a few years; my dad’s hatchery has been growing and is successful, and he’s involved in various city projects and committees, inculding being the assistant general manager at KSTK.  He volunteered on a regular basis, and had a Sunday morning program where he’d play music from 5 – 9 a.m., then air the syndicated religious-based programs from 9 a.m. – noon.  I had just turned 14 and already had a couple of steady jobs (child-sitting and fish processing), but I also wanted to get more heavily involved in radio.  A couple of my classmates were doing volunteer work at the station already, so it didn’t take much for me to get a few hours of training in.  After that, yours truly had her own show on Sundays from noon – 3:00 p.m.!  I had the grandest time doing my own version of a ‘Top 10’ show, especially since I was a huge fan of  ‘American Top 40’, hosted by Casey Kasem.  I was a regular on that station for about two years…

Fast-forward again – 17 years old, out of the grasp of my parents, and living in Petersburg, Alaska – 40 miles away from Wrangell, as the crow flies.  I was working at the shrimp cannery and continued to volunteer in radio, this time for KFSK-FM – “K-Fisk” radio in Alaskas “Little Norway”.  Just thinking about that small town evokes memories of Syttende Mai festivites and lutefisk (definitely an acquired taste, LOL)…good, bad, and in-between!  🙂  Keep in mind, the stations in Alaska are examples of public radio – small stations that are funded mainly by local donations; annual fundraisers were the norm, and there were other station-hosted events that would bring in a few extra dollars here and there.  Playlists and commercials were virtually unheard-of!  Basically, you could play what you wanted, as long as the music ‘fit in’ with the atmosphere or flavor of the day – for instance, I wouldn’t play Black Sabbath, Motley Crue, or Quiet Riot during my noon – 3:00 p.m. slot at either KSTK or KFSK – unlike corporate radio, though, you didn’t have to stick with one boring-ass genre like country or ‘baby-shit pap’ such as Lady GaGa, Britney Spears, Justin Bieber or Beyonce!

Fast-forward yet AGAIN…I’ve moved to Seattle with my son and am doing the newly-divorced, single-mother thing.  Working my ass off, struggling with money due to my deadbeat ex-husband, hassling with a crappy transit system because I have no vehicle and can’t afford one.  Waking up at ungodly hours to get my son to his daycare when school is out.  The things that made our lives easier were, again, brought by radio.  I was working for one of the largest stations in Seattle at the time; although I wasn’t an on-air personality this time around, I still benefitted from my line of work.  Since the station was THE sports station broadcasting the Seattle Mariners’ baseball games, and Seattle Seahawks football games, tickets to games were almost always available for station employees – even for me, as a ‘lowly’ receptionist!  I’d seen games fore free on many occasions, due to working at the now-imploded Seattle Kingdome, but it was an extra bonus to see them as a regular attendant, with my son along.  We always had great fun!  🙂
This was the first ‘corporate’ radio station I’d ever worked for, and the differences between it and the public stations were vast, myriad, and amazing – local on-air talent ruled the airwaves until 1:00 p.m., then the syndicated shows took over until 10:00 p.m. – after that, there would be at least two more local shows from 10:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m., then repeats of one or two syndicated shows.  Talk / sports only, no music at all.  The music stations under the corporate umbrella had their own on-air people, but their format seemed to be quite limiting and sterile – playlists only, and the music played depended on the station.  Classic rock, country, R & B, contemporary pop, whatever…the genre determined what would be played.  How very BORING to my ears and brain!  Not to mention the endless commercials – I swear, for every 5 minutes of music played, there’s at least a half-hour of commercials to suffer through!  Might as well call it ‘commercial radio’ since that’s very nearly all you hear on them…

Fast-forward to today – it’s been years since I’ve been anywhere near the radio industry, but at least it’s one that age doesn’t really matter!  Faces matter little, voices matter a great deal; I definitely have a voice for radio, and it still gets used the way it should!  I listen to corporate radio very little, and have found no public stations anywhere that compare to the humble ones that helped me survive my chaotic adolescence…since I discovered the joys of satellite radio, thanks to my fiancee’s lifetime subscription to Sirius XM, I’ve expanded my tastes yet again…station-surfing is a joy again!  My favorites include ‘The Joint” reggae station, “Iceberg” out of Canada, “Boneyard” with old-school metal, and B.B. King’s “Bluesville”.  I’ll also listen to 60, 70s, 80s and 90s tunes on their respective channels; I also enjoy ‘Classic Rewind’ and ‘Classic Vinyl’ – plenty of good stuff on those stations!  🙂

In closing, I have to say that public radio will always be my first love; satellite comes close to fitting the bill for my musical tastes, and I can’t say that I really care for any corporate radio anymore.  But, I do love music and will find the good stuff any way I can!

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