You know that big, booming movie trailer voice? There's a reason films have used the same sort of voice for so long, and I sometimes wonder if they didn't manage to find that perfect tone or inflection that sounds so much like most people's internal voice. Yeah, here we go with the "Shannyn Moore hears voices in her head" jokes but everyone has at least one. Mine's sort of a Jiminy Cricket meets James Earl Jones wrapped up in Morgan Freeman's dulcet tones.
For most of my adult life one of my most prominent "inside voices" has been the voice of Steve Heimel. This week Heimel was the guest on APRN's "Talk of Alaska," a show he has hosted, as well as others, for many years. After 54 years in radio, he is taking on new roles to inspire us.
Heimel's resignation from APRN is a giant loss for Alaskans. For decades he has followed the "you can't make this stuff up" political storms, changes to our climate, social struggles and, via the airwaves, has reached into the homes and lives of our Alaska brothers and sisters from the cities to those in every corner and cabin who only make it to Podunk once a year. His Christmas special has become as sacred to me as a candlelight service. It has been magic hearing men and women call in from all over, wishing each other holiday greetings, and his voice tying them all together like the most beautiful bow.
I'd heard Steve's voice for years before I met him. He twinkles. He is absolutely sparkly. I haven't been able to figure out what fuels that entirely -- sometimes it's mischief, part devil's advocate, or just a precursor to the most honest laugh you will ever hear. His long white hair and beard are a cross between a grown-up Jesus and Gandalf. When Gov. Walker called in to the radio program this week, he asked about Steve's mode of transport -- his bicycle. Heimel could cross the continent every year for how many miles he's pedaled in Anchorage.
I wanted to call in and express my appreciation for all his years of care for the facts that we so rarely see in the people who bring us the news. (No, really, tell me that those reporting the news on television in Alaska aren't auditioning for a job with big industry or politics and I'll give you a list.)
I didn't call in because I knew I would cry. That makes for bad radio sometimes. There's just really no way to thank someone for what he has done.
Some years ago, when the Legislature was trying to bring back the death penalty to Alaska, I had a caller to my radio show who called in about her experience in the military while deployed in Turkey. She'd witnessed a public stoning and explained in detail what that entailed. I was completely captured by her story to the point I forgot for a few seconds that I was hosting the show -- not just listening to it.
A few minutes later the door to my studio opened up to a pink-cheeked Heimel with the biggest smile ever.
"That was radio gold, girlie! That might not happen again in your life. You just shut up, got out of the way and let her make great radio! Way to go!"
I've thought about that so many times. Part of what will be so remarkably missed by Steve's departure is that not very many people in broadcasting will get out of the way and let their callers, guests or topic be what they are. He's right that those golden moments don't happen often but I've heard more of his than I can remember.
I'm worried about the state of radio in Alaska. It's more than the consolidation of stations and styles; it's the lack of understanding the Legislature and folks in general have for the power of local public radio. Budget cuts are coming and I fear the local tide and weather reports, bush lines, ride lines, spaghetti feeds and pie auctions for victims of illness and accidents and the lost pet lines will go away. Besides the cultural flavor of local public radio stations, it's also a lifeline during fires, floods, earthquakes, etc. In many towns the only radio available is the religious station and public radio.
I realize losing public radio probably won't hurt some legislators' feelings; after all, one representative argued this week that we don't need to expand Medicaid because people can go to churches for help.
But back to Steve Heimel.
Thank you, friend, for all your care to bring us Alaskans truths about ourselves -- some beautiful and breathtaking, others ugly and needing solutions. Because of the first, you made many of us feel that the bad is worth fixing.
Shannyn Moore is a radio broadcaster.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.