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 June, we're focusing on Lauren Rosenthal, who was with the station from 2012 to 2015. She spoke with KUCB's Laura Kraegel to share some memories of her time on the island.
LAUREN ROSENTHAL: I moved to Unalaska maybe two weeks out of college. I had been studying journalism and hoping to get a job as a reporter. I interviewed for this internship in the Aleutian Islands, where I'd obviously never been before, and somehow I convinced them to hire me. I was very, very early twenties. My eyes were super wide. I think I took the Tustumena out from Homer, and I just remember getting off the boat and [then-KUCB News Director] Alex Gutierrez meeting me at the dock and thinking, "Wow, what is this Middle Earth-looking place where I have landed?" It was exhilarating and overwhelming and the most fun years, I think, you could ever hope to have in your early twenties.
KUCB: Speaking of fun, you did an amazingly fun story about an explosives team that came to Unalaska to detonate a piece of World War II ordnance. And you actually got to yell "Fire in the hole!" and push the button.
ROSENTHAL: File under "Things you don't think you'll ever get to do as a reporter" — just blow up a bunch of C-4. That was crazy. You always have to ask in those moments as a reporter: "Hey, can I do this really weird thing?" Or, "Can I touch that? Can I go in there?" You would be dumb to let that opportunity pass you by, but you never think they're going to say yes and hand you the remote and let you blow stuff up. I have very vivid memories of Vic Fisher, the morning host, cutting that part of the story down to a weird audio button that he would sometimes just play during the morning show. Like out of nowhere, it'd just be me, yelling "Fire in the hole!" That was weird. But it was really funny, so I give him a lot of credit for doing that because it's one of the awesome things about KUCB. You hear Morning Edition. You hear Slayer and Carly Rae Jepsen in the morning — that's a dated reference. I'm sure it's something new and cool and poppy that has taken her place. But yeah, it was pretty sweet.
KUCB: As we've been working on this KUCB anniversary project, we've been hearing a lot of the fun and quirky stories from our archives. But I also think it's really valuable and interesting to remember some of the harder stuff. So I wonder if you could tell me about some of the reporting that challenged you?
ROSENTHAL: Well, covering Shell's Arctic oil campaign — it was like my first introduction to hard news reporting. I had done a little bit of it before I moved to Unalaska. But you had what was basically an environmental story, but also a business story. And then it was deeply local, because they were using our port as the jumping-off point for this multi-million dollar campaign that had the potential to totally transform the oil industry. If they had hit pay dirt up there, who knows what it would have looked like now — I can't believe it — seven years later. Oh my gosh, I struggle to describe it. It seemed like every day, there was another story breaking. Unfortunately, they had a lot of things go wrong. There were some accidents and incidents at port that we covered.
I remember hearing about this stuff on the police scanner and racing down to the harbor to figure out what was going on when one of their smokestacks backfired on a drilling vessel. They lost control of the Noble Discoverer in port. I was at home making a sandwich, and I remember [KUCB reporter] Stephanie Joyce's partner at the time calling me and saying, "Hey, you should probably get down to the beach. We hear there's a boat that's approaching shore, and it's getting pretty close." So I went down there, thinking it was probably a fishing boat or something. And then I see this giant oil derrick looming over the post office. Didn't take long to figure out something had gone really wrong. They had dragged anchor in a little bit of a windstorm and wound up nosing the beach. So it seemed like it was a never-ending supply of stories, but there was this huge, overarching high-stakes narrative that we had a front seat to. And as a journalist, what more can you ask for?
KUCB: Beyond doing reporting for the community and the region, you and your newsroom also wrote this kind of unexpected national essay about the dating world of Unalaska. How did that come about?
ROSENTHAL: Literally, we were all just sitting around and making fun of this Washington Post story. Sorry to the people who wrote it, but if you've spent any time in rural Alaska, it was like a Mad Libs of clichés about what it's like to be there and what it's like to date. So we were kind of lovingly shredding it, and I was still an intern at the time. And I remember saying, "Wouldn't it be funny if we did our own version of it?" And — this is a testament to how awesome Alex and Stephanie are — they were, like, "Hell yeah, let's do it." So we pitched it to the Hairpin, which is this dearly departed "women's interest" blog-slash-literary-thing. We sent it to them, and they were, like, "Yes, absolutely. You want to talk to us about what it's like to date in this bizarre corner of America that we only know through 'Deadliest Catch'? Have at it." And it was super fun to write. I remember we all took it probably too seriously. I remember sitting around and doing group edits in my living room. I just don't know how many other newsrooms in America would let their intern spearhead a confessional essay about what it's like to date in rural America, but it's one of my favorite clips.
KUCB: I also want to ask you about your life in Unalaska outside of writing and reporting. What was your time here like?
ROSENTHAL: I was like a real indoors-kid kind of nerd before I moved to Unalaska, and I discovered this love of hiking — and running, of all things — that I just did not know I had within me. I did the Summer Bay half marathon a couple times, and I didn't die. It really got under my skin, and I still do all of that stuff. I still run. I still hike. I love to get out on the water when I can. And one of my fondest memories is the day I decided I was going to stay in Unalaska and transition from being an intern to being a full-time reporter. I went out on a tubing trip. We put on dry suits and went tubing around the island, which was ridiculous. I still have photos of it. I look super dumb, but very, very happy. And I just don't get to do stuff like that anymore. Obviously, no one does once you leave Unalaska. It's part of the magic of that place. So yeah, I don't know. It just turned me into this weird, adventure-loving person that I didn't know I could be. I'm really grateful for that.
Listen to some of Lauren Rosenthal's reporting: