Raven’s “Jack Benny” Birthday

Eighteen and twenty-one are milestone birthdays.  When I was in my 20s the old saw “don’t trust anyone over 30” made 30 the milestone birthday where you became irrelevant.  But what comes after 30?  All downhill?  NO!  We grew up with Jack Benny, the radio comedian whose age was a running joke.  He was always 39.  Before 39 we were still young, once we reached 39, we, like Benny, would be “Forever Young.”   

A few months ago, I celebrated the 35th anniversary of my 39th birthday.  Seventy-four is the new 39.  Today Raven Radio turns the corner from “young” to “forever young.”  Today Raven celebrates its Jack Benny Birthday.

At just before 5 PM, Pacific Time, on February 19, 1982, 39 years ago, Marika Partridge opened a mic and signed on Raven Radio for the first time.  We had planned for a gala grand opening on March 6.  We had a big party planned (which we still had) and great posters created by Vern Culp announcing the date.  But we jumped the gun and crashed our own party.

Why would Raven Radio jump our own gun? 

At about 3 PM on February 19 I got a call from Charlie Northrip, the Executive Director of the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission telling me that members of the State Senate Finance Committee were asking: “Why isn’t Raven Radio on the air?”  Well, more like demanding.  The governor had signed the appropriation in July 1980.  Most other Alaska public stations took a little over a year from the Governor’s signature to air.  We were a little over 18 months.  Charlie was having a rough day.

Other Alaska stations had hired a contractor and radio equipment company to build their station in a turnkey package.  We opted to have the community build the station, with volunteers gutting the top floor of the cable house, framing walls, hanging sheetrock, mudding the walls, pulling cable, and installing equipment.  Work parties take time to organize and the Raven Board, led by Jim Steffen, felt it was important that the community build shares in the station by actually building the station — with volunteer labor.  That took time but it set a tone for Raven that has served it, and the community, well. 

We even had a volunteer helicopter pilot help us raise our tower rather than hiring a steeplejack.  We assembled the tower on the ground and the chopper lifted it up and we set it on the roof of the old airport control tower at the Mt. Edgecumbe High school Gym.  We came in $44,000 under budget and used that money to start work on a chain of low powered transmitters to serve outlying communities.

On February 19 we were almost ready to go, so I asked our engineer Tom McGrane if we could get on the air by 5 PM, the Finance Committee reconvened at 6.    He said we could get microphones and the satellite on the air by then and with a few hours more work we could get turntables and tape recorders hooked in.  I called Charlie and told him to tell the committee we were on the air.

We called as many of the board members as we could find and told them to get to the station by 5 for an impromptu party.  Willa Rabinovitch, our business manager, got a bottle of Champaign that Marika struggled to pop open.  And with no turntables or tape recorders, at just before 5 PM, Pacific Time (in those days Sitka was on PST) Marika signed us on with “It brings me Humungous pleasure.”  Tom had two hours to get the turntables working.

At 6 PM Charlie told the Senate Finance Committee we were on the air — but we weren’t.  Almost as soon as we signed on there was a citywide power outage.  One of the trade papers headlined “KCAW signs on, blows Sitka away.”  But we did get back on later that night, with me at the mic spinning records.  I put the first record on while Tom was just finishing wiring in the second turntable.  Raven Radio has been on every day since then.

That was 39 years ago.  We have the faded pictures Suzi took that day.

2 thoughts on “Raven’s “Jack Benny” Birthday

  1. I love reading interesting history. So thanks . My father always said you learn something new ever day. Stay safe and well.

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