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KOTZ Radio a 'lifeline' to villages

October 25th, 2013 | By Jillian Rogers Print this article   Email this article  

Last year, Deering's Brenda Karmun pledged $50 a day for every day KOTZ Radio didn't play rap music during the station's annual two-week fundraiser.

This year, she was told they couldn't do that again, so they reached an agreement.

Karmun pledged $50 a day for each day they played an hour of "old time rock and roll," Karmun said from Deering last week.

KOTZ Radio is "really important," Karmun said. "We get our news and weather, they pass on messages like storm warnings, plus they play good music."

The station's fundraiser started on Oct. 7 and finished up on Friday.

Karmun was born in Nome and raised in Fairbanks, she went to nursing school in Texas before moving to Deering in 1981, where she worked as a health aide at the Deering clinic.

She's retired now and usually has the local radio on all day while she's at home.

"Especially during fundraising," she said.

During the two-week event, radio station employees travel to villages where locals play music, announce items up for bid and share stories on the air to help encourage folks to call in and pledge.

Karmun recalled a few years ago, one of the radio towers was struck by a plane and the radio was silent in Deering for a couple of months.

"It was weird because I listen to the radio all day," she said. "It ties our communities together. It's the lifeline to the villages."

Besides storm warnings, weather updates and local news, Karmun said she enjoys all the birthday wishes and calls in on occasions to wish friends greetings and friendly messages.

"If you can't see your friends and family, at least you can talk to them over the radio," she said. "You can tell them 'I miss you and love you.'"

Shortly after Karmun moved to Deering, she got involved in station's annual pledge drive. One year, in the early '80s, they played a song by Oak Ridge Boys and Karmun loved it so much, she called and pledged $50 just for playing that song. Since then, she said she tries to give her Permanent Fund Dividend to the station during the yearly money-raising effort.

This year, she's giving $50 per day to get her rock 'n' roll fix, which she said the station plays from 11 a.m. to noon each day. Even Thursdays, she added, when it's country music day.

Because of her efforts and dedication to KOTZ Radio, she's touted as a "super member," said KOTZ radio program manager Johnson Greene.

Greene, now almost 40, has worked at the radio station since he was in high school.

Though the fundraiser ended on Friday, they will still take payments until Nov. 15, Greene said. He added the money received from the two-week fundraiser is a big source of income for the station. This year KOTZ Radio raised more than $132,000 so far, approximately $44,000 of that was in membership.

Each year, the radio packs up and heads to different villages where locals "sing their hearts out" in the evenings until 10 p.m, Greene said.

"Anyone can sing, we don't turn anybody down. Listeners call in when they hear friends or relatives on the air, but we also get people from all over the state who call in and pledge," Greene said. "We are the main source of communication for people. I'd say it's very important and a lot of people think so, too."

Station manager Rosie Hensley added that there are so many people in Kotzebue and the surrounding villages that make the drive possible each year, and while there are too many to name individually, she hopes they know how much their support is appreciated.

Hensley added that the annual drive is strategically scheduled around dividend time and before the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. And while most public radio stations have a one-, two-, or three-day pledge drive, KOTZ has two weeks to allow for time to travel to the villages in the region. Also, added Hensley, the station just received confirmation that they will be on the list for "Pick, Click, Give.", a state campaign allowing individuals to dedicate a portion of their dividend to the charity of their choice.

This year, the station traveled to Selawik, Buckland, Ambler and Point Hope, all thanks to donated tickets from Bering Air. Noorvik was on the village roster, but a death in village postponed the station visit for another year.

With just six full-time staff members at the station, Hensley said everyone had to step up during this busy time of year and, as usual, they pulled it off in fine style.

But they weren't alone.

Community members, volunteers, musicians and agencies like Maniilaq, Kikiktagruk Inupiat Corporation, City of Kotzebue, Kotzebue Electric Association, the Northwest Arctic Borough, Northwest Inupiat Housing Authority, Buckland Native Store, the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, City of Point Hope, TEC, Kotzebue Lion's Club and OTZ Telephone all manned phones and made hefty contributions totaling about $88,000. Northwest Arctic Borough Mayor Reggie Joule, noted for his ponytail, even put his hair on the line, with the highest bidder winning the chance to cut it off. The chance to give Joule a haircut brought in about $1,100 for the station.

Other coveted items that went for top dollar were an ice auger, a lynx pelt, Alaska Airlines tickets and 40,000 Alaska Airlines miles.

Walter Sampson and some NANA Corporation representatives also took a turn behind the mic and brought in a substantial amount of money for the station.

"This two-week fundraiser is about everybody in the entire region, it's not just about Kotzebue," said Hensley.


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