KUDO 1080 AM, 2004-10

December 14, 2010 at 10:24 am | Posted in alaska, anchorage, politics, Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Anchorage’s KUDO 1080 AM radio ceased to operate yesterday after 6-1/2 years of struggling.  Phil Munger, writing at his blog Progressive Alaska said: “The fact that the station lasted as long as it did has been a triumph of sorts.”  That’s about right.

From around 1980 until 2004 I supplemented my music radio listening with public radio, listening to KSKA and its national news via NPR and PRI.  In ’04 NPR committed the unpardonable sin of sacking longtime ‘Morning Edition’ host Bob Edwards [a thoughtful anchor with a capability of probing questioning] with a rotating combo of the milquetoast Steve Innskeep and breezy but vacant Renee Montagne [the latter had been Edwards’s faithful substitute host for years].

The timing of the firing was troubling — two months before George W. Bush was reelected.  I always wondered if public opinion was tilted just slightly by the changes at NPR.  The CPB, which oversees NPR and PBS was at the time being run by Kevin Tomlinson, a Bush appointee who also went after PBS host Bill Moyers.

Edwards and Moyers ran afoul of a changing political climate that was coming increasingly under corporate control.  The Bush administration wisely decided to stop threatening to cut off the CPB’s funding and instead began working on it from the inside, to ‘balance’ its coverage.  The blog NPR Check continues to document the insertion of right wing propaganda into NPR’s news shows, that continues to this day in thousands of subtle and not so subtle ways.

Only alt-public network Pacifica, and a handful of independent programs remained with a left wing viewpoint.  Meanwhile, right wing talk radio had ramped up to a 90% share of the talk radio market.

Into this concept of a void, Air America Radio launched on the ironic date April 1, 2004.  The privately funded, NYC-based startup was ambitious and artistically successful, sort of against all odds.  Only Randi Rhodes [can’t recall if she was on from day one, or soon afterwards] and Mike Malloy [who began there in late ’04] had a wealth of previous experience.  Newcomers Sam Seder, Marc Maron and Rachel Maddow had strong starts.  A weekend show, Ring of Fire — hosted by Mike Papantonio and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. — was a particularly riveting and timely program covering politics and environmental issues, and like many of the original shows, it survived Air America’s demise and continues to this day.  Each and every episode of Ring aired on KUDO.

Air America suffered a series of buyouts and management changes, was scaled back in ’06 and ’07, losing its show co-hosts and most of its original shows, but it continued to be well worth listening to as it picked up new talent like Thom Hartmann, the Young Turks and others.

KUDO signed on in Summer ’04 as one of the first batch of Air America affiliates, but it was never exclusively about Air America.  I hadn’t heard of Rich McClear before KUDO, but I understand he was a pioneer of Alaska public broadcasting in Anchorage, Sitka and other places.  He was also involved in the reconstruction of Croatia and Bosnia, and had many interesting life experiences that he spun into interesting radio bits.

McClear managed to counter razor-sharp national programming with an upbeat, homespun local backdrop.  He employed his wife Susie and son Kevin to read local news headlines and community calendars, and himself recorded a series of ‘KUDO Commentary’ spots that were inserted within commercial breaks and where he sketched various local and state political and social topics.  There were other commenters, including Geoff Kennedy and Mr. Whitekeys.

He included NY Yankees baseball and offbeat programs like Joey Reynolds and Lionel.

McClear’s playful lampooning of ’02-’06 Alaska governor Frank Murkowski and his taxpayer funded private jet was legendary, pointing out that the jet couldn’t land in most places in Alaska, as Frank Sinatra raged in the background [“Fly me to the moon!  Let me play among the stars…”].  Some of those spots were played on Hartmann’s Air America show when he interviewed McClear.  I also once heard McClear call into The Lionel Show about a discussion of ‘English only’ laws — he talked about Barrow and Bethel and other places where Yupik and Inupiaq are spoken.  “It’s not English — but it’s also not a foreign language — so should we cut off funds for bilingual education in those places?”

McClear began to experiment with local shows when he became uncertain whether Air America would go out of business and leave him scrambling without a backup plan to fill the air time.  McClear hosted at first, then experimented with a couple other local hosts including Joe Princiotta.  Either McClear or longtime voice of New Sagaya commercials Jack Frost [Frost was also hosting an afternoon conservative talk program on KUDO] discovered Aaron Selbig, an ambitious recent UAA grad who had been doing a weekly public affairs program ‘Insurgent Radio’ on KRUA and publishing an underground newspaper, Insurgent 49.

Selbig followed in the tradition of past Anchorage alt-scene kingpins like Frank Harlan and B-Mac, but he was more serious and more in tune politically.  He was paired with Jack Frost at first, but it was soon made clear that Frost would step down and his protege would continue on his own.

Around the same time, McClear cooked up a plan to unload his struggling startup to a local chapter of the IBEW union.  The union saw it as an opportunity to publicize the benefits of union organizing to a somewhat skeptical local audience.  [And there was probably a lot more to it than that, but I’d just be speculating, wouldn’t I?]

Meanwhile, somebody at KUDO [Selbig?] made a command decision to put Shannyn Moore on the air with her own show.  She had zero previous experience, working as a house painter and contractor, but from the very beginning she was witty, confident, cutting and sort of ironically precious, while tackling diverse socio-politcal issues and scandal from a well-researched basis.  Her slogan, “I’m just a girl from Homer, painting a red state blue one stroke at a time” is both a intentionally self-effacing and a recognition of the complexity and persistence of the task at hand — getting people to quit advocating and voting against their self-interest, regardless of left-right paradigms, political parties and other alignments that exist.

Moore and Selbig, along with Anchorage radio vet Camille Conte maintained a daily solid block of local programs between 11:00 and 5:00 for a year or so, until IBEW became dissatisfied with the direction and replaced Selbig [by then the Program Director] with Cary Carrigan, kept Conte and fired Shannyn.  Carrigan, who had been a lovable but goofy weatherman on Channel 13 news in the ’80s, was pretty much a flop as a liberal talk radio host.  He babbled nonsense gibberish, his saving grace being his guest lineup and regular co-host Linda Kellen Biegel, who provided content and guidance.

Selbig moved to Homer and worked for both weekly newspapers before becoming News Director for Homer public radio, KBBI.

I threatened to stop listening when the Carrigan regime began, but I came back soon.  I also discovered KWMD radio, a public radio station with its HQ in Kasilof, AK that was rebroadcast in Anchorage, Eagle River, Mat-Su and maybe a few other places on various FM dial locations.  KWMD carried Pacifica programs and various national and locally produced music shows, including Friday and Saturday nights from the Spenard domicile of the Rev. Less More and the Spenard Fruit Fly.  Love at first listen!  KWMD was owned and co-managed by Jeremy Lansman, 1980s co-owner of muisc video UHF TV station Catch 22, and currnet owner of KYES Channel 5.  Lansman’s humorous and riveting style was in full flower in KWMD’s station IDs/announcements and atmosphere.

KUDO changed management again, rehired Shannyn [by then she was doing a weekly show on otherwise conservative talk-oriented KBYR; and had began a Lansman-produced weekly TV talk show] and made other positive changes including reshuffling the lineup of national shows and incubating a number of junior local hosts in an array of short shows concerned with politics, medicine, business, adult beverages and advocacy.  Studio 1080 was a kind of catch-all local show that gave various state and local Democratic politicians a platform, and was hosted by new KUDO P.D. Kathy Phillips and occasionally also by Christy Harvey, an Anchorage transplant who previously appeared in an ongoing segment in Al Franken’s Air America program as a representative of the think tank, the Center for American Progress.  Shannyn’s new show now included regular hour-long chats with Jeanne Devon, blogger and editor of The Mudflats, an Alaska politics blog that gained national notoriety in the ’08 campaign by getting the word out about Palin’s incompetence and malice.

Thom Hartmann, Mike Malloy, Randi Rhodes and most of the others survived the caving of Air America and continued on other networks or as indies on KUDO.  Sam Seder recently launched a new version of his first Air America program, The Majority Report via podcast.  Marc Maron has produced about 150 episodes, two weekly of his new podcast WTF — deftly deploying his usual self-loathing bits as a vehicle to getting into his guests’ [comedians and pop culture icons] psyches.

Maddow became and anchor show on MSNBC, and lately Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks has run the substitute circuit there and seems on the cusp of getting his own show.  Ed Shultz, who also now does a weeknight MSNBC hour recorded one of his radio shows in Anchorage in ’09, and this year Maddow filmed a segment of her show where she chased AK-Sen Republican candidate Joe Miller down two escalators while asking him probing questions about DADT.  And talked to his supporters and managed to point out the dichotomy between his stated positioning [constitutional scholar/proponent and fiscal conservative] vs his supporters’ motivations [god, gays and guns].

When KUDO ceased operations yesterday, Shannyn’s show and a few of the other local programs on KUDO moved down the dial a short ways to KOAN 1020 AM, an Eagle River-based station that mostly broadcasts Fox News Radio!  Oh, the irony!!  It is nice that Shannyn’s show lives, but I feel sort of like she is trapped at a Thanksgiving Dinner, only the crazy right wing uncles and in-laws don’t pack up and go home on Saturday.

I tuned into KOAN, straining to hear the dialogue over hisses and pops and white noise three times today when Shannyn wasn’t on.  I heard three hodads in the morning gushing over the potential of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee in ’12.  Later, a smarmy host sketching Obama and Bill Clinton, dazed and confused and wandering the back hallways of the White House looking for the Press Room, late for a presser.  Then finally, an interview with liberal foil Ralph Nader, attempting to clarify his non-support of a third party Bloomberg candidacy by saying how wonderful it would be.

Fantastic!  And this is better than listening to Hartmann, Rhodes and Malloy?  Not even close!  I hope KOAN dies a quick and merciful death.  There’s no chance it will be enshrined alongside KUDO, the original KABN, KWMD, KBBI, KJZZ, KRUA, KBRW, Whole Wheat Radio and a few others that will be recalled as pioneering Alaska broadcasters.

I intend to follow the podcasts of the dispatched national shows, but my ISP, GCI is not making this easy.  Their cable internet network in Anchorage is string together with bailing wire, duct tape and hamster wheels, and they continue to neglect their customers and core mission while they donate $900,000 to Lisa Murkowski’s AK-Sen campaign, and who knows what else.  And they can get away with it because their competition is even worse!

So it’s too bad that something like KUDO won’t be wafting over the regular airwaves for the time being.  KWMD, off the air since early summer is threatening a comeback, and Out North has an FM license, even a frequency and call letters assigned, but funding shortfalls seem to preclude the possibility of their radio startup for now, lacking a benefactor with deep pockets.

Maybe because I had previous radio experience [producing/hosting punk, new wave and even retro-alternative music shows on KABN-AM 1984-86; and KRUA 1992-98] I was especially captivated and fascinated by the developments at KUDO and radio in general.  More than a general inerest, though, KUDO was a gift, an exceptional and unexpected development.  May it live on in memory and infamy!

An adoring fan,
Clark

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3 Comments »

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  1. Wonderfully detailed and a keenly insightful look into recent Alaskan radio broadcast history. Many thanks for writing and sharing this Clark – and for mentioning Whole Wheat Radio among that illustrious list of “pioneering Alaskan broadcasters”.

    I still believe neighborhood radio is possible, although it takes throwing off the yolk of ‘radio’, as defined by commercial, so called non-profit and the ‘public’ sectors, to breathe life into it. It remains both rare and fragile … and when they hear it, few recognize it at the deep level of appreciation you do.

  2. Great article Clark! When can we expect you to do some of your own podcasting?

  3. that is a nice idea, sort of… although, i used to like playing music, more than talking… and now i’m kind of old to be into anything younger people are interested in. sounds a bit defeatist, i know. not like when we were going to dominate the world.


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