Adventures at a Radio Station in a Subarctic Climate

Posted: October 30, 2013 at 5:02 am, Last Updated: November 1, 2013 at 7:23 am

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By Kim Ruff

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Alumna Dayneé Rosales on-air at KNOM in Alaska. Photo courtesy of Dayneé Rosales

Iditarod. Inupiaq. Adventure Safety. These are the nomenclatures of Nome, Alaska, that were at first surprising to Mason alumna Dayneé Rosales, BA English ’11, but are now part of her everyday life. Rosales moved to the Washington, D.C., area from central Bolivia when she was 10 years old. She now works for KNOM Radio Mission.

It might seem odd that someone who grew up in central Bolivia, then moved to Washington, D.C., would want to live in Alaska, especially a remote part of the state with subarctic temperatures and only accessible by plane. But Rosales decided to make the move because she wanted to travel and do volunteer work that served a community.

Rosales attended a career fair at Mason and looked into volunteer work with the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and the like, but it wasn’t until she found a book on volunteer opportunities while working at Mason’s Bookstore that she discovered a good fit for her — KNOM Radio Mission.

“I wrote down the info on KNOM and contacted them the very next day,” she says. For one year’s service, KNOM offered Rosales an educational fellowship that would help her pay for her future education, as well as give her a place to eat and sleep and the opportunity to host a morning radio show centered on Alaskan culture.

Rosales knew the transition from a metropolitan area to a remote town would challenge her personally, but, from a writer’s perspective, she was able to look beyond that to see the opportunity that this volunteer position offered.

“I feel that you don’t really grow or learn by being around people who think like you,” Rosales says. “You grow and learn by being around people who don’t think like you.”

It was not only important to Rosales that she try something different, but she also felt it important to think about more than just herself. She needed to do “something that wasn’t so self-serving” and something that offered her the chance to write and volunteer, while “serving the people.”

Morales mushing across the Alaskan landscape. Photo courtesy of Dayneé Rosales

Rosales mushing across the Alaskan landscape. Photo courtesy of Dayneé Rosales

And, KNOM Radio Mission provided her the venue to meet those goals.

KNOM is a crucial source of information for the western Alaskan native community. “[It]can’t get away with a recorded show like the stations in the metro area. I’m constantly switching to be a writer, editor or radio broadcaster,” she says.

There are only two other radio stations that serve the listening area, but KNOM is the only community-centered radio. With the population in Nome at about 3,500 people, approximately 100 to 300 listeners per community, and most of those people without Wi Fi and television, the community relies on KNOM for information and as a way to communicate with friends and family within the western Alaskan community.

What has pleasantly surprised Rosales are the people she has met while working for the station whom she would have never met otherwise.

“Part of my work at KNOM involves getting in cargo planes and flying off to small villages in our listening area. One of my favorite places is the community of Wales, where I got to collaborate with a village elder to produce educational Inupiaq language lessons for the radio. He’s an amazing individual, a whaling captain, and, I recently learned, a poet.”

Her work at the radio station is varied. You won’t always find her hosting the morning show, producing another show, or writing material for the station. Sometimes you might find her covering the Iditarod, proclaimed to be “the toughest race on Earth.” Rosales and her colleagues covered the 1,000-mile dogsled race across Alaska. KNOM even put her through an Iditarod boot camp prior to race season.

“It’s like having to be a newscaster for the Super Bowl without knowing anything about football. I read and memorized everything about Iditarod history, from the trail’s geography to dog training, to names, faces and stats of every participating musher. I even went mushing myself. The race came, and we covered it 24/7 for 15 days. It was such a draining and emotional experience that for a while I fantasized about dropping everything in my life to start a dog kennel,” she says with a laugh.

When she’s not covering the Iditarod, you can find Rosales writing public service announcements that the station offers its listeners. Instead of airing commercials, KNOM airs educational and inspirational segments that act as flash fiction or mini-radio dramas.

Earlier this year, Rosales won a Communicator Award for her Adventure Safety series. She contributed to two other Communicator awards KNOM received, one for its 2012 Christmas radio drama, “The Elements of Christmas,” and its Breakfast Wednesday segments of the “Morning Show,” which she cohosts with another volunteer.

KNOM also uses spots to address more serious problems in the community such as alcohol abuse, depression and suicide, which are big problems in Alaskan villages. “To tackle the problem, youth leaders from across the Bering Strait region wrote public service announcements for Prevention Week that focused on mental health awareness. I recorded and produced them to air on the radio. In the spring, the spots were featured on the national Prevention Week website, samhsa.gov.”

Rosales has just signed on for a second year at KNOM and is excited about her plans at KNOM to expand native music. She can’t say where she’ll be in five years, but for now, she has found a community to call home.

“It’s fascinating how different our roles at the station are or just how different we all are as people, yet whenever we step out of the house we are kind of bundled into one. People call out, ‘Hey look, that’s KNOM.’”

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form in the English Department newsletter, “Not Just Letters.”

Write to Robin Herron at rherron@gmu.edu

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