The final greeting of “Welcome to ‘Problem Corner.’ You’re live and on the air” just before noon Friday on KINY-AM, bringing an end to Alaska’s longest-running live radio program after about 70 years, got a reply from the caller that was a characteristic sendoff for a show that was notoriously communal, quirky and plainspoken.
“I do have a couple of things to talk about,” the man at the other end of the phone line said. “One is I’ve still got a 10-gallon and a 15-gallon aquarium with gravel, motors, and all that. They haven’t been used for a while, but they’re free.”
After telling listeners his phone number, which longtime host Wade Bryson repeated back to him, the caller said he also wanted to talk about the Juneau School District’s financial crisis that has surfaced during the past few weeks, and the proposed closing/consolidation of schools and other fixes officials are considering to help correct a massive deficit.
Some consolidation options include having students at Thunder Mountain High School transfer to Juneau Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kale, prompting the caller to say he has a problem with the thinking of school district officials.
“Their thought was they’re taking all the kids that can drive and go to school in cars, and they’re putting them where there’s no parking,” he said.
Bryson, a Juneau Assembly member for the past five years as well as host of “Problem Corner” for the past 16 years, was plenty familiar with the crisis after getting an in-depth overview during a joint meeting of the Assembly and school board three days before Friday’s show.
“Yeah, they came up with some pretty dumb answers immediately,” he said, a rather more blunt response than even the harsh words he had for the school district’s practices during Tuesday’s meeting. “And so that’s why we’re going to have more discussions, so that way we don’t do dumb things like make the high school where you have student drivers that need a parking lot being downtown where there’s no parking lot, but then a perfectly good high school that has ample parking we’re not getting used as a high school.”
A final remark by the caller about the show itself was chance for Bryson to remind listeners about a particularly hot topic during the hour-long broadcast: KINY is planning to continue “Problem Corner” as a weekly podcast that, in addition to being available on demand, will be broadcast on Saturdays starting at 9 a.m. Feb. 17. Bryson, before the show, said it was something he and station management agreed to try within the past few days.
“It sounds like I’ll be recording it on Thursdays or Fridays,” he said during the show. “I’ll give you guys emails and phone numbers so I can get your voicemails, and I literally will be able to do the same functions for you guys and it’ll be more like a podcast as opposed to a live radio program, which is just a more modern version of what we’re doing here…I know it’s not the same thing, but it’s better than nothing.”
However, as some callers noted, that means the show won’t be a live call-in format, thus limiting the immediacy and back-and-forth conversation that were hallmarks of the program. Bryson acknowledged that is a shortcoming he will do his best to overcome.
“I can talk to you and have a conversation with you, and I can ask the questions that need to be asked, I can give you the input that needs to be given,” he said about the live show, in response to one woman expressing her problem with the podcast format. “Yeah, I do like live calls, but I’m going to try and, like I said, we’re just going to go through a learning process, and I’ll try to have a product that is just fun for everybody to listen and participate with.”
“Problem Corner” is ending as a live radio show after BTC USA Holdings Management Inc. of Bakersfield, Calif., purchased all six of Juneau’s commercial radio stations last year as part of a larger purchase of stations in Southeast Alaska and elsewhere. Cliff Dumas, chief content officer and part of the ownership group, told the Empire last week the goal is giving KINY “a stronger musical identity” by making music from the ‘80s, ‘90s and ‘00s the station’s focal point.
KINY, in a news story published on its website last week, stated “Problem Corner” is ending due to Bryson’s “retirement,” although he will remain part of the station’s programming in his role as an Assembly member. Bryson, in interviews with the Empire, said he has indeed been looking to step down as host, but also was hoping to find a suitable replacement.
Dumas, Bryson and some fans of the show agree modern communications such as social media and cell phones are now fulfilling some of the longtime roles of “Problem Corner” such as allowing people to sell used items or send messages to relatively small villages in Southeast Alaska where the program can be heard.
But plenty of others disagreed, including one caller who said replacing “Problem Corner” with “robomusic” is a mistake.
“The value of ‘Problem Corner’ is greater than what they may be thinking if they’re not from Alaska,” he said. “I tune in to ’Problem Corner’ at 11 every morning because that’s what I want to hear.”
Another caller started by asking “What the hell are they thinking?…It’s a part of history.” He said he first called the show during the 1980s when former Juneau Mayor Dennis Egan was serving a 30-year stint as host that ended in 2010, with Bryson starting to hosting some of the shows beginning in 2007.
“I was selling a weightlifting machine and Dennis Egan took my call, and as soon as he got off the phone he said ‘I don’t like these things, they’re too much work,’ and I was like ‘Oh man, he’s dissing on my weightlifting machine,’” the caller said.
Although the callers seldom give more than their first name or a nickname — if that — Bryson said during a commercial break he knows who almost all of them are, just one of the ways the show is embedded in him after so many years.
“This is going to take a good month to get over this, and reset my body and my mind,” he said. “(At) 10:50 every day I physically know to come here. Like my body reacts and tells me — I don’t even have to guess what time it is. I’m like ‘Oh, it must be time to go,’ and I’ll look at my phone and it’ll be 10:50 every time.”
Among Friday’s callers was “Jeff,” who got the show started by saying he’s looking for a wooden rocking chair. A woman followed that up by singing “Happy Trails” to Bryson. Another man said he’s selling his collection of 200 records (as in LPs, without specifying the type of music on them) for $100. Before the first commercial break Bryson read an email from “Sara” wanting to wish her cousin Royal Jackson III a happy birthday.
In addition to the regular callers and topics, there were sendoffs by some notable people long associated with Bryson and/or “Problem Corner.”
Among them was former KINY Station Manager Dan “Dano” Ondrejka, who at times hosted “Problem Corner.”
“I loved connecting with the people of Southeast,” he told Bryson. “I just loved loved ‘Problem Corner’ for all the stuff that would go for sale, all the stories you would hear, it just tied into community. It was an honor to sit in that ‘air chair’ and be a part of ‘Problem Corner’s’ history.”
“Just like New Coke wasn’t the same it’s just not going to be the same,” Hill said, noting that among topics where daily live conversations could be currently useful are people looking to get snow removed from their homes after January’s record month of snowfall.
The most notorious person offering a sendoff — although it didn’t make it on the air during Friday’s show for technical reasons — may have come from U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who recorded a 90-second tribute that included her attempting to sing the old theme song to the program.
“It’s almost hard to even think about KINY without ‘Problem Corner,’” she said. “When I was a kid going to school in Juneau in middle school we would drive into town from the valley, and ‘Problem Corner’ would be on and people would be talking about what they had for sale, or for trade, or just kind of venting, or unloading and talking about whatever the issues of the day were. But it was just part of the drive in. It was something that we always looked forward to listening to.”
Among the show’s regulars calling after a long absence was “the cowboy from Angoon” to wish Bryson well and suggest he visit that community for a party celebrating the host’s recent 50th birthday. That was followed by another “classic” call from a woman trying to sell two studded snow tires.
“Hey, I really appreciate this more than you know,” Bryson told her. “The joke about ‘Problem Corner’ is that it used to be used mattresses and used tires. We’ve gone quite a bit away from that, but for you to give me one more tire to sell just completed this week, so thank you for that.”
The final comment from listeners during Friday’s show was an email sent by “Kim” thanking Bryson for the memories and expressing hope about the new podcast.
“The new management is trying to compromise and allow you to continue doing it for at least once a week,” the email stated. “A great idea. I look forward to the new format and expect great things, best of luck. P.S.: How do we convince all other listeners that change can be a good thing?”
Bryson, signing off on Friday’s last live broadcast, said “change starts now.”
“The people that are successful in life are the ones that can embrace change and go with it,” he said. “I find when I resist change it just makes things harder. And so, you know, let’s just go forward together…While this might be the end of ‘Problem Corner,’ it is just the beginning of whatever we choose to do next.”
“So remember: First, I love each and every one of you. You have shaped my life, you have helped me grow I helped you grow, I hope that you’ve grown with me. And I look forward to seeing you out in the community. And for the final time, if you learned nothing more from me, just remember that there are no such thing as problems, just solutions we’ve yet to discover.”
“I love you all very much. And I will miss you. I’m Wade and I’m outta here.”
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com or (907) 957-2306.