Film & TV

New faces, new stories planned for Alaska public broadcasting

An undercurrent of change is quietly moving through Alaska public broadcasting as a familiar radio voice prepares to relaunch a TV news talk show that spent September off-air.

On Friday, Lori Townsend, news director for the Alaska Public Radio Network, will be behind the wooden roundtable at the KAKM studio in Anchorage as the new moderator of "Alaska Edition," replacing Michael Carey, who fostered the discussions for over a decade.

In a tug-of-war between funding and staffing, Alaska Public Media decided to stop paying Carey to free up money for a new full-time reporter, said Steve Lindbeck, president and general manager of Alaska Public Media, the parent nonprofit for public radio station KSKA, public television station KAKM and APRN.

"We've been feeling kind of underpowered for years and years in terms of our local news coverage because we've only had one reporter to cover Anchorage," Lindbeck said. "They've been desperately kind of overwhelmed. So this year we just bit the bullet and did what we needed to do to reorient things."

"Alaska Edition" went off air after its taping Aug. 29. Carey announced in the final moments of the 26-minute show that it would be his last. He thanked the studio crew and the guests, and then he thanked those who tune in.

"I know you are out there," he said, "because I have heard from you repeatedly, sometimes with praise, occasionally with criticism, always with interest. I'll be seeing you, I just won't be seeing you here anymore. Goodbye and good luck."

Carey told Alaska Dispatch News he decided to leave "Alaska Edition" after Pat Yack, chief content officer for Alaska Public Media, told him he would not be paid after the new year.

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Yack said Carey is a "terrific colleague and well respected not only here but throughout the journalism community and beyond.

"Anybody who has to make a decision like that knows how painful they are," Yack said.

Zachariah Hughes?, formerly with KNOM in Nome, began work Tuesday as the company's second Anchorage-focused reporter.

With the restructured staff, "Alaska Edition" will move forward with a plan that will initially appear much like the one it already followed.

Townsend will talk about ballot initiatives Friday with two reporters, revving up for the November general election. Later on Friday, the taped show will air on FM 91.1 and on public television Channel 7. It airs again Saturday on radio and TV.

As the program evolves, Townsend expects hosting duties to rotate among the staff in Anchorage and eventually across the state. She hopes in some shows to focus on one topic instead of covering a swath of issues.

"Alaska Edition" dates back to the early 1980s with the radio show "City Times," Lindbeck said. It later expanded into a television program and picked up the name "Anchorage Edition," which eventually transformed into "Alaska Edition," a show available on the Web, radio and television and as a podcast.

Yack said Alaska Public Media plans to bring on additional video staff. This week, he sifted through at least 60 applications to fill four positions for video storytellers.

"It's really an exciting time for public broadcasting," he said.

In teams of two, the new video staff will travel the Alaska road system, collecting video and stories from governmental, social, political, entertainment and sporting events. The company will use the footage across a variety of shows including "Alaska Edition," he said.

Down the road, Alaska Public Media will say a half-farewell to radio newsman Steve Heimel, who Townsend says has worked on air for more than 30 years, since KSKA launched.

Heimel will transition out of his morning news role after the election, though Townsend said she hopes to keep him on for "Talk of Alaska," a statewide call-in program. Heimel's is another position the company is hiring.

"It's big shoes to fill," Townsend said. "He's like a walking Alaska encyclopedia."

It's also difficult to see Carey go, Townsend said.

"That's the one thing that's hard for me. I adore Michael," Townsend said. "He's super smart, he's got a terrific sense of humor, and having him come in was such a treat on Fridays. It made your Friday."

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.

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