It’s the only radio station. If you hit the seek button, it’ll just keep going around and around except for this one place it stops: 91.9 KUHB, the Voice of the Pribilofs.
You don’t have to be on St. Paul very long before you realize that the whole town – the whole island – is listening to the same thing. If there’s a radio on in the grocery store, the post office, the maintenance shop, in someone’s car – it’s playing KUHB.
A-Dorm doesn’t have a radio, so all my listening happens when I’m out driving around, and only when I don’t have tour clients. KUHB is a National Public Radio affiliate, so it has a few old familiar NPR standbys, like Marketplace, All Things Considered, Alaska News Nightly, and National Native News. They play eTown on Saturday afternoons and I’ve caught Mountain Stage once or twice. But mostly it’s all local. The underwriters are boats: “This and other programming is brought to you by the fishing vessel _______.” The Pribilof Postcard is an exclusive for KUHB listeners. Announced on the hour, it’s dedicated to local events, classes, and potlucks; the hours for bulk sales (beer and wine), the gas station, and summer kids’ curfew; phone numbers for the quit smoking and 24-hour crisis lines; and the job postings. When do the kids go back to school? What are the rules for reindeer hunting? The Pribilof Postcard will tell you.
But KUHB brings us the world, too. On a rainy Saturday, after I drop some clients off at the airport, I turn the radio on and hear a guitar that’s unmistakable. Ani DiFranco plays like no one else, and although I haven’t heard her for a while, I know her style instantly. The first time I heard her she was playing at Kalamazoo College. We’re the same age, give or take a few months. She was just starting out, driving around with a trunk-full of cassettes of her first album. I was in my sophomore year, and about to get hooked on this “righteous babe” singer-songwriter. For a solid decade, the 1990s, I bought every one of her albums, and went to so many of her concerts I stopped counting. But I know it was at least fifteen. Her music was a continuous thread, woven through my early adulthood, and she still means a lot to me.
And here she is, playing live, broadcasting out over this island in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of everything. I park at the top of Black Diamond Hill, and turn the engine off. The view is to the south and east, out over the endless Bering Sea. Northern fur seals are hauled out on Lukanin Beach, and the hills are covered with tundra wildflowers. Rain lashes the windshield. Ani DiFranco, coming to you live from the Bering Sea. I get a kick out of the certain knowledge that her voice is being heard right now, on the radio in the St. Paul Island grocery store. But it’s weird, too. A juxtaposition of places and times that makes me feel a little bit dizzy. Where am I, exactly?
It happens again, some other Saturday afternoon. A Michigan band, Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys, are on eTown. Mark Lavengood, also known as Huggy Bear, is the dobro player. I hung out with that guy once, walking down to the beach in Empire, Michigan, back when the Dunegrass music festival was right downtown. And here he is, playing live, broadcasting out over this wee speck of land halfway between the Aleutians and the Bering Strait. Mandolin and dobro, banjo and close harmonies, the sound of Michigan roots music transports me. I’m sitting on a bale of hay, light filtering through the cracks and dust motes of an old barn, tapping my foot on worn wooden floorboards. Ian’s up in the loft, working his magic on the soundboard. Seth will soon be gathering everybody up for Waltz Hour.
But wait. I’m actually driving by the edge of Salt Lagoon, peering through the airborne road dust at all the Rock Sandpipers out on the mud flats. The halibut boats came in today, and are now tied up in the small boat harbor. The fishermen who are cleaning their boats, putting gear away, are subconsciously absorbing Michigan soulgrass right now, if they have the radio on.
One evening on the drive home I cut through Old Town, not my usual route. The weather is fine, and I have the windows down, driving slow with KUHB on in the van. There are some people in their yards playing horseshoes, having a barbeque. As I get closer, I can hear that they’re listening to KUHB, too. The music from my van speakers merges with the music from their boombox. Horseshoes clank, and the summertime smell of burgers on the grill floats in the open window. Their boombox gets quieter as I move on, but the music keeps going on the van stereo, until the next time I pass someone else who’s listening, and the sound fades in, merges, and fades again. The music ties us all together.
Following is a playlist of songs that have had a role in this summer’s soundtrack. There’s not enough space for details here, but every song has a backstory about why it made the list. Get in touch with me if you want to know the inside scoop.
*An asterisk indicates that it was heard on KUHB.
Amiq Summer (mix tape)
Roxanne – The Police
Dreamweaver – Gary Wright
Double Dutch Bus – Frankie Smith
*The Thong Song – Sisqo
I Got You Babe – Sonny & Cher
Don’t Worry Be Happy – Bobby McFerrin
Fly Like an Eagle – Steve Miller Band
*Allergic to Water – Ani DiFranco (Live on eTown episode #1725)
*If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me) – Mavis Staples (Live on eTown episode #1725)
Ouroboros – Ray LaMontagne Entire album, over and over, but especially: “Homecoming” “Hey No Pressure” and “Another Day”
*Aeroplane – Red Hot Chili Peppers
*The Cave – Mumford & Sons
Pass You By – Gillian Welch
Lithium – Nirvana
*Shine On – Humble Pie
*Long as I Can See the Light – Joe Cocker cover of CCR tune
Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden
*Take the Money and Run – The Steve Miller Band
These Are the Days – 10,000 Maniacs
Big Yellow Taxi — Joni Mitchell
Fogtown – Michelle Shocked
*Shining in the Distance — Lindsay Lou and the Flatbellys (Live on eTown episode #1731)
When I Paint My Masterpiece – Emmylou Harris’s cover of Bob Dylan’s song
*Liza — Leftover Salmon (Live on Mountain Stage)
*Been a Fool Too Long — Little Mike & the Tornadoes
*Truckin’ (What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been) – The Grateful Dead
*Rhinestone Cowboy – Glen Campbell
You Sexy Thing (I Believe in Miracles) – Hot Chocolate
B-List (Songs that didn’t make the playlist, but that pop into your head unbidden):
[The Sun’ll Come Out] Tomorrow from the musical Annie
Wind Beneath My Wings
*Don’t Fear the Reaper (this seems to be a KUHB favorite)
*Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head
Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
Everything Is Awesome (from the Lego movie)