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KJNP still in tune after all these years

Posted: Monday, November 27, 2000

NORTH POLE (AP) -- When Gen Nelson came to Alaska in 1956 with her husband Don on a church mission, she told friends and family back in Minnesota they'd be back in three years, five at the most.

Gen never went back and Alaska became home.

The Nelsons served as missionaries at Stevens Village for seven years, starting church services in a Quonset hut and raising their daughter Judy in a log cabin.

To enhance their missionary work, Don became a pilot. In the family's travels to villages, the Nelsons noticed one thing most Bush people had in common -- access to radios.

''The Lord definitely gave him a vision to start a radio station,'' Gen said of her late husband, Don. Radios were an obvious solution for getting their message out -- even though the Nelsons had no background or training in radio. They simply visited other radio stations to learn what to do.

While at a Native rally in Fort Yukon, the Nelsons were approached by David Ainley, a North Pole man offering land for the new project.

They could hardly believe their good fortune when they saw Ainley's beautiful property off Mission Road.

Ainley donated the land and has lived in a KJNP dormitory ever since one was built. ''He's been a real help,'' Gen said.

On Oct. 11, 1967, KJNP went on the air for the first time, initiating the broadcast with the hymn ''Bringing in the Sheaves.''

KJNP-AM began operating with 10,000 watts by day and 5,000 watts at night. On Christmas Day, 1970, KJNP is believed to have become the first radio station in Alaska to broadcast at 50,000 watts.

The high power gave KJNP the ability to reach not only the villagers but a chance to be heard in such far off places as Sweden, Russia, Germany, Finland, Norway and Great Britain.

A world map at KJNP pinpoints all the places from where listeners have called or written -- not bad for a sod-roofed log cabin tucked away in a small forest.

KJNP features a nightly program in Russian for its neighbors to the West.

KJNP has repeater stations at Barrow, Tok, Dot Lake, Delta Junction and Fort Yukon. KJNP added an FM station in 1977.

The company has operated throughout its history, and continues to do so today, solely with volunteers. Most of the 20 volunteers are missionaries supported by home churches in the Lower 48 and are provided dormitory or cabin housing near the station.

Bonnie Carriker, KJNP secretary-treasurer, is the exception to volunteers coming from out of state.

Widowed during the Valdez earthquake, Carriker met the Nelsons and came to KJNP in 1964. She and her two children moved to North Pole to join the KJNP family in 1967. Carriker and Gen became such good friends they are more like family. Carriker said KJNP was a great place to raise her children.

Other longtime staffers, Dick and Beverly Olson, have been with KJNP since before it went on the air. Dick is vice president and Beverly is program director. ''This is where we felt God wanted us to be,'' Olson said.

Gen said the company has survived all these years on a shoestring largely with donations from listeners. ''The Lord provided,'' Gen said. ''It was taken care of. Those of us who answered this call made this our life.''

In 1981, when KJNP added a television station, Julie Beaver joined the station. She is TV manager, news director and secretary to Gen.

The original log cabin has grown with the times.

Today, the building has about a dozen added rooms, and in some places two- or three extra stories. Included in the complex are men's and women's dormitories, a kitchen, a staff commissary and a nursery for employees' children.

While the station's format has remained pretty much the same over the years -- gospel music and preaching -- one of KJNP's biggest changes occurred when Don died in 1997. ''It's rough,'' Gen said. ''I never intended to take over.''

At 77, she is the company president.

''I didn't want to disappoint him,'' Gen said. ''It's been our life.''

Before he died, Don asked Gen to run KJNP because they had worked so closely together. The station still plays Don's recorded messages regularly, which doesn't bother Gen in the least.

''I have breakfast with him every morning,'' she said of eating her meal while listening to his programs.

With Gen at the helm, KJNP has added a station, KJHA in Houston. Not only does KJNP have its radio and TV work, but it helps distribute Bibles to Third World countries.

One of the most enduring and endearing programs has been ''Trapline Chatter,'' a free message service popular with Bush folks who have no other way to get verbal messages to friends and family.

''We knew the value of it,'' Gen said of her own years of village life.

KJNP announcers have handled all types of messages, with Carriker once translating instructions for a medical transfer from a village, helping to save a child's life.

With an increasing number of telephones in villages, the use of ''Trapline Chatter'' has declined somewhat but Gen said she still gets letters saying, ''We don't know what we'd do without you.''

Refusing to think about retirement ''until God says you're through, sister,'' Gen keeps going strong with her friendly, energetic style.

She is preparing the company to switch to digital radio and plans to keep KJNP operating, whatever it takes.

''We will hang onto it,'' she said. ''That was our original vision.''

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(Distributed by The Associated Press)



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