Alaska principal’s radio station wakes up Toksook Bay

BETHEL, Alaska (AP) — Toksook Bay is listening to its own radio station, 91.9 FM, because the principal at the Nelson Island School put a low-power radio station on the air.

Principal Michael Robbins said that the idea for the radio station developed into a community-wide service when one of the students had a tardiness problem and asked for help getting to school on time, KYUK-AM reported.

“He said, ‘I really need an alarm clock,’” said Robbins. “So we got him an alarm clock radio. And I thought, ‘this was $9’. We had to buy 120 of them for the village. So, for $1,000, the price of one computer, we can be connected with everybody in the village.”

Robbins said that the total cost of the station, including the equipment to broadcast, came in around $1,500.

He said that radio solves a lot of problems in the bush. It’s cheap, and it doesn’t require a modem or other uses of the limited bandwidth available in much of the community.

He’s also learned to adapt technology by using radio in combination with Facebook to make an effective two-way communication system that keeps people safe during the pandemic.

As an example, he pointed to a meeting held on radio and Facebook at the beginning of the school year.

“When we went on for our Title I meeting,” Robbins recounted, “our back-to-school meeting, we had questions being asked on Facebook, kind of like a call-in radio show. Parents put the question into chat on Facebook that I could answer in live, real-time on the radio.”

In Toksook Bay, radio has come to be used to do everything from broadcasting basketball games, to announcements, to keeping the community connected with the rest of the region by re-broadcasting Bethel and Chevak radio signals.

It’s also being used to teach kids how to make radio programs, conduct interviews, and produce stories about the community. It also helps to teach history and culture, broadcasting traditional Yugtun stories that everyone can enjoy.

As Robbins explained, “not only the Alaska Studies student can listen to do their work, because they have an assignment based on that, but everyone in the community benefits from that. Little kids can listen to it. Elders can listen to it. And so it creates a community-type atmosphere, and all you have to do is hit the power button.”

The low-powered radio station is also being used to better connect with local government by broadcasting community meetings. 91.9 FM has become part of everyday life in Toksook Bay, heard everywhere from households, to offices and the local store.

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