Alaska's 2nd FM station celebrates 50th birthday

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Entertainment

FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) -- Back in the early 1960s, a press release stated that newly created KUAC would "probably be North America's farthest north FM radio station."

Fifty years later, the public broadcasting station continues to bring the world to Fairbanks while giving the world a glimpse of Interior Alaska.

The station, which went on the air 50 years ago, was the second FM radio station in Alaska.

Its initial purpose was to provide a practical training ground for radio broadcasters. But as public broadcasting grew and evolved, so did KUAC.

Former station managers Theda Sue Pittman told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (http://is.gd/llCPF4) that early news and music shows were played from reel-to-reel tapes flown up from Oregon on the midnight Pan-American Airways flight.

Live news was almost unheard of in Alaska in the 1960s.

"People who had shortwave radios at home were probably getting live news," she said. "But the rest of us weren't."

Over the decades, reel-to-reel tapes were replaced by vinyl, then CDs, digital recordings and live feeds.

Today, KUAC-FM and KUAC-TV are an integral part of life in Alaska, connecting the residents of Alaska communities with a mission of sharing thought-provoking stories, bringing common issues to light and working to educate all Alaskans.

Pittman was hired in 1967 as program director and stayed until 1976. She said it was interesting to be on the ground floor of public broadcasting.

In the late '60s, Pittman was at a conference in Washington, D.C., and heard a woman from the Children's Television Workshop talk about a TV program to help educate children. It was called "Sesame Street."

"We were so bowled over by it," Pittman said. "It was such a clever way to teach children how to count."

She recalled a couple of embarrassing moments on air, as well. The morning classical music programs were vinyl records played on a manual turntable. One morning, she started the record without noticing the turntable was set to 78 rpm instead of 33 1/3.

A music professor burst into the control room saying, "You've got it on the wrong speed." She sheepishly reduced the volume, restarted the record at the correct speed and rebroadcast it.

Pittman also thought the two-hour classical music show was too long, so she started breaking it up with a few minutes of news headlines. One music professor was so outraged that he wrote a complaint to the station in the form of a poem.

Over the years, KUAC's partnerships with other media outlets in Fairbanks and the villages to cover topics in-depth has been its strong point, Robert Hannon, who worked at KUAC from 1983 to 2006. "Alaska Edition" was one of the station's strongest shows, one in which "we really tried to capture a community," he said.

While people from the station's early days have plenty of memories, photos and memorabilia are quite scarce.

"We were busy doing things, not thinking about 10 years, 20 years down the road," Pittman said. "It's a very long reel of tape; you never know when to push the button. I think we're going to have to write a book."

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Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com

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