The making of a radio show
by Diane Walters
Every Saturday morning at 10, if you tune in to KSKA, 91.1 on your radio dial, you can hear an eclectic mix of news, poetry, and feature stories from Alaska’s Public Radio Network. Called AK and produced by Jessica Cochran, the weekend show is now in its third year. Although it airs at 10 a.m. in Anchorage, the time varies depending on where you live in the state.
Cochran explained how AK came into being and how they go about putting together each episode at the February luncheon. She said the money to produce a show came from a three-year grant around four or five years ago. The staff at APRN came up with the idea of producing a weekend show. To determine the show’s content, they asked member stations what type of programming they wanted. It takes about 10 stories to fill a one hour show.
The program started broadcasting Oct. 23, 2003, and is in its last year of the grant. They also have underwriters and smaller peripheral grants to help keep the show going, and they are officially affiliated with Alaska Public Television Inc., which includes KSKA public radio and KAKM public television.
Each week the show has a theme or an issue. “Some are literal, like ‘Nuclear North’ and some are more open to interpretation, such as ‘Lost,’ which could be literally or emotionally,” Cochran said.
The show operates under five basic principles according to Cochran. The first is geographic diversity. “Although we’re based in Anchorage, we try not to be an Anchorage-centric show,” she said.
To get a state-wide feel, they use reporters from around the state, free lance reporters, and they send staff reporters out. The show also has a “300 Village” segment, in which they interview residents of several of the villages over the phone each week.
The second principle said Cochran is to use personal stories, which ties in with the third principal of trying to involve other people in the show than just the four staff members. Although they mostly work with station-based reporters and free lancers, she said they are always looking for more people. They work with the students at the Alaska Teen Media Institute, and when people submit essays or poems, she said they try to get the authors to come on the show to read their work.
“UAA professors make it a class assignment to send us stuff,” she added. “We’ve also tried some funky ways to get others involved. We had a joke contest and got two entries, and then we had a poetry contest, and got a 100. We chose four or five and invited the authors to come on the show to read their poems.
“We can’t pay, but we can offer fame,” she said.
Connecting to the wider world even though the show’s emphasis in on Alaska is the fourth principle, Cochran said. They co-hosted one show with the Canadian Broadcast Company based in Whitehorse during Alaska-Canada Week. “There is an Alaska-Canada Week,” she said, in case we didn’t know. She said the CBC in Whitehorse often runs more stories from Alaska than from their Canadian neighbors.
The fifth principle is to have fun, and if you’ve ever listened to AK, you can tell that the staff truly enjoys their work.
Jessica Cochran grew up listening to NPR in Washington D.C. She moved north and west to attend college at MacAlester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She continued her northwest journeyt o Alaska in 1996. Cochran has work for APRN for 10 years. As a reporter, she’s covered topics ranging from the annual silliness of Seward’s Polar Bear Jump Off festival to the struggles of Alaska schools working to meet new federal education standards. She served for several years as producer of APRN’s Iditarod coverage, periodically produces Alaska News Nightly, and most recently served as producer of APRN’s statewide call-in show, Talk of Alaska. Her off-duty interests include hiking, cross-country skiing and traveling.