Unalaska Community Broadcasting has covered local news for the past 20 years.
To mark the newsroom's anniversary, KUCB is spending every Thursday of 2019 looking back at our former reporters and sharing some of their stories.
In July, we're focusing on Annie Ropeik, who was with the station from 2013 to 2015. She spoke with KUCB's Zoë Sobel about making the move from the East Coast to Unalaska.
ANNIE ROPEIK: I remember seeing the Unalaska job and being like, "This would be crazy." And I could not ever get it out of my mind after that. It was this nervous excitement about the idea of applying for something, and I had never lived that far from home or anything like that. So yeah, it just sort of took root. And by that fall, it was kind of clear that "I'm just going to take the leap."
KUCB: What were you expecting the station or the community to be like?
ROPEIK: Well, I visited once before I took the job. That was one of my parents' conditions — that I had to go and see the place in person to make sure it was okay. So I flew out the month before I took the job for a weekend. It was an insane fall storm. It was one of those nights that it's blowing sideways. The plane got in. I think we did get stuck in Cold Bay or Sand Point for a few hours, where I don't have any cell service, I don't know what's happening. I've never been on a propeller plane in my life. And when I finally got in, Robi [Harris] came and picked me up at the airport because he was on the [KUCB] board [of directors] at that time. He was like, "No one expected you to make it in!" And I was like, "What does that mean? That's not a thing that people say!" So they drove me to the Burma Road Chapel and everyone was doing the Candidates Forum. It was a whirlwind. But I remember when I was flying away, I remember thinking it would be weird if I never went back. I had formed an attachment to it.
KUCB: What were your favorite stories?
ROPEIK: Friendship Cup. That would be one of my favorites. My roommate was Carlos Tayag. He found that trophy in a storage closet at the community center and was telling me about it. I was like, "That sounds interesting. We should figure out where it came from." And we did a sort of detective work saga, and it spawned [Unalaska's International] Friendship Cup [soccer tournament]. And I did that story for [WBUR's radio program] "Only A Game." That was just a completely random feature that ended up touching on so many aspects of how Unalaska's culture works, the fishing industry and the connections to Russia, the connections to the global economy — you know, the way the workforce works there, all these international folks, and the stuff you do to pass the time on an Aleutian island. That was a lot of fun. So those were good stories — when you could stumble on one of those that you could just have fun with. Because there were no limits on what kinds of stories you could do. If you could find the time to do it, you could do any story you wanted to. That was great, because you never get that in a normal newsroom. That was a lot of fun.
KUCB: Any other favorite memories?
ROPEIK: Well, the day I arrived to start my job was when the F/V Arctic Hunter ran aground. That was 2013. It had run aground the night before. So within hours of me arriving, [then-KUCB reporter Lauren Rosenthal] led me and [then-Channel 8 TV producer] Annie Ngo on an expedition to try to go see it. We were trying to get to Morris Cove, first by driving and then on foot. We found that not only could we not do that, but also that — even if we had gotten to Morris Cove — we couldn't have seen it because it wasn't at Morris Cove or something like that. But that was my first experience with graupel. I also have a bad leg, so I was trekking through the tundra, breaking my ankle. Not actually, but I was like, "What is going to happen to me? Oh my god, I'm in this crazy place!" It was a little bit of a hazing ritual, I think, which is totally fine. I got back and my face was all puffy from the graupel. I was like, "Are these hives? What is happening to me in this place?" She was like, "Oh, that's just the graupel." But you know, when I talk about how it was like being thrown into the deep end of life, journalism, and America ... That's what Unalaska is like — arriving there, just being like, "Good luck with this!" Whatever all this is. And you just have to make it work.
KUCB: And you were quite the local musician, right?
ROPEIK: Yeah. That was something I did not expect when I went there. I mean, I'd always sung a capella in college, because of course I did. Yeah, it was a lot of fun to play music there. We did a little "Tiny Desk" concert. It's definitely something that was a real highlight of my time — not as a reporter — in Unalaska that I would love to find again. Because there are so many cool people there. Everyone's so talented, and you don't have anything better to do. Especially because the internet was not as good back then as it apparently is now. I can't believe you guys have data. You say that, actually, but it doesn't sound like you actually have it all the time. Unreliable?
KUCB: "Data" in quotes.
ROPEIK: Yeah, exactly. That's how I felt about the internet in general there, and that was a big adjustment because I'm an internet person. I remember the first couple of weeks were a major culture shock. I was just trying to be like, "You cannot load this many things at once. You can't download stuff. Slow it down! Log off." [laughter] But that was nice, because it encouraged me to do activities that were more constructive for me as a person than just sitting on the internet all day. Although I did miss a lot of important One Direction content while I was there. But I managed to keep up, and I did fly to Ireland at one point while I was in Unalaska to see [the band]. [laughter] So that's who I am! And in all seriousness, it was cool that I was able to continue to be my mainland self while living there. It taught me a lot about how to live — and sort of how to be an optimized version of the person that I was, as a recent college grad. I definitely felt like I came out of there having gained a lot of self-sufficiency and life skills. Knowing what I valued and how to prioritize dumb stuff that you like and make it work, even when you're in a tough place. Definitely very formative in that way.
KUCB: Do you keep up with what's happening in Unalaska even after you've left?
ROPEIK: I definitely keep up with what goes on in the state. As far as local news, it's mostly the [KUCB] Facebook, which is an excellent Facebook page. I love seeing everyone in town that I know commenting. People are so engaged. It's just fun to watch as an outsider now — how much people really value KUCB. It's very validating to know that I helped contribute to that and that it's still going strong. That a community like that can sustain a really robust little public media shop is just encouraging.
Listen to some of Annie Ropeik's reporting: