Northern Soundings: Alaska in Conversation

Tuesdays at 7 p.m.

This thoughtful program explores Alaska and the world through conversations with writers, artists, scientists, historians, and the people who live in the North. Each episode touches on the guest’s creative works and background, and discussions frequently branch out in unexpected directions. Northern Soundings is made possible by KUAC and the following supporters: Foundation Health Partners * the University of Alaska Fairbanks Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station *  College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics * College of Rural and Community Development * College of Liberal Arts * Geophysical Institute * Institute of Arctic Biology * Institute of Northern Engineering * International Arctic Research Center * Office of the Provost * School of Education * School of Management * Vice Chancellor for Research.

Credit Robert Hannon

Creating In Two Worlds

Jul 16, 2018
Greg Shipman

Autonomous Submersions

Jul 16, 2018
Hank Statscewich

Nurturing Rural Teachers

Jul 16, 2018
Amy Vinlove

Pushing Past Disease & Decolonization

Jul 16, 2018
Kathy Bue

International Relations: Brandon Boylan

Jul 16, 2018
Brandon Boylan

Beavers and Raven

Jan 19, 2018
Raven Cross Country

When I first arrived in Fairbanks in the early 1980s, I had a small dry cabin off Noyes Slough. One summer night, having trouble sleeping, I went onto the porch overlooking the water.  It was peaceful and soothing until I heard something shifting in the heavy brush below. I looked down and into the eye of the terrier sized animal. I’d never encountered a beaver before and I thought it was some strange mutant rat. Apparently, it was as dismayed and startled as I because it quickly turned and returned the slough with a tail slap. That’s when I realized what I’d witnessed.

My first guest on the show today is far more experienced and knowledgeable about Alaska’s flora and fauna, but I think he might agree the beaver is a startling critter. Ken Tape is a research ecologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He and his team recently presented findings that raised a few eyebrows.  It also landed him in the New York Times. It turns out beavers are rebounding from past trapping and making their way out on to Alaska’s northern tundra and transforming the landscape. As Tape explained to me it’s part of a sequence of changes he and other researchers tie to climate change.


Also on the show: about seven years ago I went through something of a mid-life crisis. Instead of a Maserati I ended up buying a pair of Nordic skis and started lessons. From that happy move a chain of events led me to Fred Raymond and his small ski and bike store, Raven Cross Country. For many athletes in the interior, what Fred’s shop lacked in cubic feet, was more than compensated by his craftsmanship, knowledge and friendly personality. He never tried to press you in a sale and he was always ready to answer questions. When you got a bike back from repair or a pair of skis from waxing, you knew they were done right.

Over the years I would often use the pretext of a question to just spend some companionable time in his store. I wasn’t alone. I would often find several people ahead of me, talking about an upcoming race or discussing trail conditions.

After 15 years, Fred closed Raven Cross Country just before Christmas. He is now retired. Before the closing, I sat down with him to talk about his background, how he came to be a shop owner and what brought him to Alaska. I began by asking him if he had always been handy with tools.

And the beaver has made its mark on the literary landscape. Chris Lott shares his finding on this week’s katexic clipppings.

You can listen here.

Of Rabies and Resilience

Jan 9, 2018
Eric Troyer

Last year University of Alaska Fairbanks researcher Karsten Hueffer and his team reported they had determined how the rabies virus makes its way to hosts’ brains.

Microbial Worlds: Art of the Microscopic

Jan 2, 2018
University of Alaska Fairbanks

I once read a book by a microbiologist who said he rarely told his students, and was even less forthcoming in casual conversation, about his view of the world. He says if we could see microscopically, we would observe a world seething – every surface pulsating with microbes. It is disquieting perspective. I understand his reticence.  But University of Alaska Fairbanks microbiologist Mary Beth Leigh, far from cloaking it, celebrates her vision collaboratively in art. Besides being a scientist, she also is a cellist and a dancer. She helped found a series called In a Time of Change that draws together other artists to depict the natural world around us, making the inaccessible or unseen aspects of science intriguing and inviting. The most recent project is Microbial Worlds and it opens this week at Alaska Pacific University’s galleries in Anchorage.  As you’ll hear, the ability to appreciate, let alone observe, the rich variety of life at very small scales is relatively recent in human history.


This Friday, two researchers team up to talk about the Naval Arctic Research Laboratory in Utqiaġvik, or Barrow. The talk is sponsored by UAF’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute  Dave Norton studied tundra ecology at NARL, as it is known. And Hajo Eicken is Director of the International Arctic Research Center at UAF. Established in the late 1940s, over the years NARL played an important role as a platform for Arctic research. But as I learned when I talked to Norton, NARL also had strategic value in the Cold War between the former Soviet Union and the United States.


Before it was a backdrop for geopolitics, the Arctic icecap drew the adventurous seeking to be the first to reach the North Pole. Many us grew up believing Robert Perry won that distinction, but as snow scientist and author Matthew Sturm tells us, the draw for fame and fortune led two men to tarnished claims.

You can listen to the program here.

Libraries: Bastions of Real News

Dec 15, 2017

This year marked the Fairbanks North Star Borough Noel Wien Library’s 40th anniversary. The library, as a Fairbanks institution, goes much further back to a log cabin on 1st Ave. founded by the Episcopal Church. But the main building that currently serves as a library was opened four decades ago. And the librarian who helped spearhead the project returned to participate in the celebration.


Nick Jans: Summing Things Up

Dec 12, 2017
Nick Jans

Many people are familiar with the name Nick Jans. For more than 25 years he’s written about his experiences in various parts of the state for Alaska Magazine. From those essays and other experiences, he’s published 12 books. A recent work A Wolf Called Romeo captured a slot on the New York Times Best Seller list.