72° F

The Two Languages of Communication for KYUK

Published On: Sep 20 2013 11:45:00 AM AKDT

Reporter Samantha Angaiak, Photojournalist, Kenneth Knutson (ktuu-tv)


When it comes to making sure everyone has access to public information along the rivers of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, there are perhaps no better experts than the people who make it possible for monolingual speakers to understand.

The town of Bethel is home to the first TV/radio station to broadcast local news in Yup'ik. It began operating a low power radio and later became high powered in 1971.

The following year, the station broadcasted over the television on channel 4. Today, the station continues to transmit over the airwaves in two languages.

Sophie Evan makes her living each day translating the news from English to Yup'ik for public tv/radio station KYUK, a station that reaches more than 20,000 people everyday.

"Right now KYUK yup'ik news is the only real Yup'ik language newscast anywhere other than village leaders speaking to their families in Yup'ik," Evan said.

The challenges of speaking Yup'ik over the radio haven't changed much since KYUK began translating the news.

Peter Twitchell spent 24 years as a translator for KYUK right out of high school since the station started.

Twitchell says he grew up with the language, but didn't really practice it much until after high school. He says he was rusty when he started with radio and was even teased by the elders.

"They'd laugh because I was translating and when it came to actually translating something like fish roe or salmon roe, I would be saying chicken eggs," Twitchell said.

But it was those experiences that helped Twitchell thrive.

"They laughed and they encouraged me to go on and after 24 years, I was fluent in speaking my language," Twitchell said.

Twitchell says his experiences working at KYUK was full of fond memories.

"One time somebody left a message for the Tundra Drums asking someone for the combination to their safe...and someone later left another message leaving the combination," Twitchell said.

Current KYUK General Manager, Mike Martz says the station has gone through ups and downs, but it has no plans to stop providing news in two languages.

"I just feel that it's important to keep the station going, we've been here 40 years and we're a part of the community," Martz said. "We provide vital services for people and we provide, you know, a communications link as one of our board members put it."

So while KYUK continues to provide the region with news in a language they speak, it's the traditions that have kept listeners tuning in for their favorite shows.