Celebrating 20 Years Of Local News: Charles Homans

Mar 4, 2019

Charles Homans was the third reporter at Unalaska Community Broadcasting. Now, he writes for the New York Times Magazine.
Credit Charles Homans / KIAL

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 February, we focused on Charles Homans, who ran the newsroom from 2006 to 2008 when the station was still known as KIAL.

Homans sat down with KUCB's Zoë Sobel in New York City to explain how he ended up in journalism.

TRANSCRIPT

CHARLES HOMANS: The two things I had thought about doing was going and working for  the U.S. Forest Service and being a newspaper reporter. The Forest Service required more education and being a newspaper reporter didn't, so I got a job at a small paper in northeastern Wyoming, where I worked for about a year after college. From there, moved to Washington D.C. for about another year. I ended up between jobs and increasingly out of money after that and was kicking around Minneapolis where I'm from and eventually realized I needed to go do something. And so I went and got a job at one of the fish processing plants in Unalaska. I went to work for UniSea as a processor. While I was up there, I actually knew my predecessor at the radio station, Morris Bracey, who was looking to move on, and I had totally fallen in love with Unalaska from the minute the plane had descended through the clouds over town.

KUCB: You knew Morris, so you knew somebody who had already worked at the station. You'd been in the community already. But did you have any expectations going into the job?

HOMANS: Not really. I had kind of seen one side of town from working at the processing plant, but you see a pretty narrow slice of Unalaska when you're working at UniSea. There was so much that was fascinating to me about the place. And it seemed like a pretty good excuse to go around and see a lot of stuff. Everybody I'd met there in the short time I'd been in town was extremely interesting and much more interesting than anyone I'd met anywhere else.

KUCB: What were the types of stories you were most interested in?

HOMANS: I was always really interested when interesting things were happening out at sea. One advantage: When I worked there, we had such a weak transmitter for KIAL. I think it was 50 watts. Something like that. Which meant that you couldn't really hear it in any building that was made out of metal, which was obviously a huge problem because most of the buildings in town are made out of metal. Some people would listen to us driving in their cars, but the morning commute in unalaska is like three minutes long or something. Our direct listenership was small enough -- a lot of people heard the news stories when they were picked up by APRN and were broadcast on the repeater station for KSKA in town. It is crazy to think about now, but it wasn’t a problem if we just shut down the newscast for actually a pretty long period of time.  There were a couple times where I think I checked out for probably two weeks to follow some interesting thing that was happening. Right after I started, there was this car carrier called the Cougar Ace that rolled over on its side in this crazy ballasting mishap that happened in the North Pacific, sort of  south of the Aleutians. There was a salvage team and I tried to ride out there with them, but they didn't have any space on any of their boats. It happened that there was a Coast Guard cutter coming through town, so I asked them if I could embed with the cutter and they said 'sure.' So I just kind of took off and there was no clear sense of how long this was going to take. But I was able to do this because our listenership was small enough, and I broadcast from the Coast Guard cutter for the time it took them to wrangle this ship and bring it back in. Or you could go out on a fishing boat for a few days and sort of see how the season was shaping up. Those were my favorite things to do. It was a chance to see things I don't think most people have the privilege of seeing and experiencing so much of what was interesting of being in the Aleutians and being in the area. And so much of the work and lives of everybody in town is about being on the water for long periods of time. As a reporter, it was important to me to experience that whenever I could, because I thought I would be missing something if I didn't.

KUCB: What was it like in the community when you were there?

HOMANS: It was an interesting transitional point it ime in Unalaska. I think the derby had closed for crab fishery the year before. I was there for the first year when the fishing industry was adjusting to what would become the way it is now. There were fewer boats in town and a lot of the piratical craziness of the industry had been constrained along with that. Some of the bars had closed, but not all of them. You were seeing sort of the second order effects of the derby closure rippling out through the community, which was one of the things that -- as a reporter -- was kind of interesting to see at the time. How fishermen were dealing with this really huge change in the industry. It felt like a really in-between time, and I think the town felt a lot different at the time I left than at the time I moved there. But I think that’s probably been true of any two year span of time there. It’s a place that seems to change pretty constantly. Pretty profoundly.

KUCB: Can you tell me a little bit more about what [Unalaska] was like as you were leaving?

HOMANS: It felt like things had domesticated even further by the time that I was leaving. The sports bar had closed down and been remodeled. And when it reopened, it felt like a much more depressingly civilized place than it had been before. Latitudes had closed. It had previously been open as the Elbow Room and had closed and reopened as Latitudes, I think, around the time I moved there. It was closing down pretty shortly before I was leaving. I and anybody who was employed in the fishing industry -- even on the slimline, -- you saw the town initially through the lens of the industry. And those bars were such anchors. It was all you did when you had time off from work. And to me, when those places closed down -- or in the case of the sports bar, really changed -- it felt kind of like an end of an era.

KUCB: What do you think of the station now and where it’s come in the past 10 years?

HOMANS: I think it's fantastic. I think that [general manager] Lauren [Adams] -- and [former general manager] Michael Edenfield before her -- deserve an enormous amount of credit, because I don't think it would have happened otherwise. It wouldn't have happened on its own. A lot of the other [radio] stations in the state had the history of being the primary information source and means of communication for people who really depended on it. I think that was true certainly in places like Bristol Bay and Bethel -- these stations that had these traditions and had a real important role in the community going back to the 1970s. We didn't have that, and it's a real credit to the people who were running the station when I was there and since to sort of build that -- and build it into something that's a big asset to the community. I always sort of selfishly enjoyed the business of telling stories from the community, because I feel like we have fascinating  stories to tell the state and the country and ourselves. I’m glad that the capacity to do that has been expanded so much. There's something about capturing that on radio, specifically, that's really wonderful. And I'm glad that it’s been happening as long as it's been happening now, and I hope it will continue to happen.

Listen to some of Charles Homans' reporting: