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Meet the private person with one of Anchorage’s best-known voices

KSKA FM Program Director Bede Trantina in the station’s control room Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Trantina started working at the public radio station in 1979 as a volunteer, and plans to retire next year after 39 years in the studio. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Bede Trantina works in a room by herself for hours each morning before the city wakes. She's shy. At least I think so. When I asked her she just smiled and looked away.

But one night she stepped in front of the curtain at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts to make an announcement, and when she said her name, the audience erupted. Trantina glanced around to see if someone famous was behind her.

I know why they cheered. For nearly 40 years, Trantina has awakened Anchorage with her bright, kindly, professional voice on public radio. Although she almost never says her name on the air, her voice is instantly familiar to many thousands. They love her.

In March, she will retire as the morning announcer and program director at KSKA FM 91.1, the radio station at Alaska Public Media. She started at the station as a volunteer in its first year, in the spring of 1979.

I've known Bede (pronounced Be-dee) since then, so this column is a dear friend's appreciation. I can even take a little bit of credit for her catchphrase, which she says on the air every Friday at 9 a.m. People wait for it.

In 1981, she had been signing on the station six days a week, which meant getting to work by 6 a.m. to turn on the transmitter and begin the day's broadcast. She is a planner, a cautious, steady person, so she would be awake by 4:30 a.m. to get ready.

Radio was magic and she realized from her first day helping at the station that she never wanted to do anything else. But six days of sign-ons was getting old. When I graduated from high school, I was hired to take over the Saturday sign-on (I had been volunteering at the station for two years).

When Bede realized that Friday morning that she didn't have to set an alarm the next day, she spontaneously cried out, "Yippee, it's Friday." Listeners loved it. She's been saying it ever since.

I was not the success at the job that she was. I nearly got fired because, at 18, I would be up late Friday night and try to roll out of bed at the last possible moment the next morning to turn on the station. To my misfortune, the general manager used the station as his alarm clock.

Bede is the opposite of that. Her listeners have no idea.

Although not naturally a morning person, she goes to bed at 7:30 five nights a week so she can be fresh and sharp at work by 4:15 a.m. If she is invited to dinner, she leaves before the food comes.

She runs the control room with singular focus until 9 a.m. all alone, no distractions. Then she does her program director duties for the rest of the day, usually working more than 10 hours total. I often see her there at 3 p.m.

After work and on the weekend she keeps listening to the station as it runs automated. If she hears dead air, she drops what she is doing, checks the stove, and races to the station.

"The air, to me, is sacred. It really is a sacred responsibility," Bede said. "It's the matter of that trust, and that reliance, and that dependability, and that consistency."

KSKA FM Program Director Bede Trantina in the control room Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Trantina started working at the public radio station in 1979 as a volunteer, and plans to retire next year after 39 years in the studio. (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Alex Hills hired her. He started several Alaska public radio stations and was KSKA's first general manager when it went on the air in August 1978.

"My only remaining claim to fame is that I hired Bede," Hills said. "I was the old guy here. I was 35. What were you, 15 or 16?"

Hills went on to pioneer wireless computer networking. Many alumni from the early days of the station went on to big things.

At the beginning, KSKA was operated by more than 100 volunteers, community people coming in to put on their own shows, some of them a bit odd and many with pun-inspired names.

Ear Relevance was a classical music show co-hosted by a volunteer who became an Alaska Supreme Court chief justice. Other former staff members became nationally famous NPR voices.

The cover of KSKA’s program guide in 1982 pictured the staff at the time, including Bede Trantina, second from right, and Charles Wohlforth, left. (ADN)

Marvell Johnson played soul music from the beginning of the station, building a powerful connector for the African-American community, until he was murdered by a foster child in 2014. Bede created a memorial that stands in a corridor outside the studio.

She stayed through a lot of changes. She loved Anchorage and the institution she nurtured. She still celebrates Halloween at work with silly costumes and has little gifts for everyone on special occasions.

Otherwise, the station has changed. Over the years, it evolved to serve the interests of listeners rather than volunteers. It plays more national news and fewer community-based shows.

In the early days, 80 percent of funding came from the government. Now 75 percent comes from community contributions.

KSKA merged with Alaska Public Media, subsuming its identity into the mission of a statewide information source dedicated to innovation. Radio is healthy, but increasingly, listeners don't hear it over radio stations.

None of the equipment Hills trained Bede Trantina to operate still exists outside museums except for vinyl records, which have made a retro comeback. She has learned to work in a computer-based environment, but she thinks a younger person could do her work faster.

Bede is looking forward to spending more time on her painting and the volunteer work she has done for 14 years at the Providence Alaska Medical Center neonatal intensive care unit. Twice a week she holds babies who don't have anyone else available to show them love.

Besides, she's tired of getting up at 3:30 a.m. Next spring she will start sleeping in, as she does on the weekends when she doesn't set an alarm clock, until 5 or 6.

And she will go back to being as anonymous as she really prefers.

"I always considered the content to be much more important than the personality," she said.

ADN opinion columnist Charles Wohlforth also hosts two radio shows on Alaska Public Media on a freelance basis, "Hometown Alaska" and "Outdoor Explorer."

The views expressed here are the writer's 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. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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