If you turn on your radio in Yakutat Alaska, there’s a 50% chance you’re tuned into KYKT. The local radio station broadcasts an eclectic mix of music, perfect for driving down the coastal village’s winding backroads. But unlike most community stations, KYKT doesn’t have a bunch of staff members and volunteers spinning discs. It’s run by one man: Lee Benson. 

The outside of KYKT in Yakutat, Alaska (Tash Kimmell/KCAW)

I meet Benson at the station– a single room in the back of the magistrate’s office. I follow the sound of music down a narrow hallway to find Benson in front of an aging desktop computer-the room is sparsely decorated, except for a painting of a moose and an elaborate doodle of how the radio station functions. It doesn’t look like much but this homegrown station has been invaluable for the community. 

The original radio engineer left Benson this doodle as a way for him to remember the components of the station. Benson says he still uses it today (Tash Kimmell/KCAW)

“It’s a really great tool for getting messages out,” Benson explains. “Not everybody has this Facebook and social media. So it reaches an audience that is not really computer users.”

Benson says during the coronavirus pandemic, the radio station became even more necessary– city assembly meetings were happening without a public audience, and he was broadcasting them for the community.

“Even the local basketball games we’ll broadcast, because there are some people  that cant get out. Its a resource they have available to them,” he says.

When Benson came to Yakutat 15 years ago, he didn’t know anything about radio. He’d come to work for the Forest Service the same job he has today. It was during a trip to Hoonah that the idea of a local radio station first crossed his mind.

“I actually credited it to a fellow whose name is Rich Jennings. He worked for the Forest Service in Hoonah. And he was a kind of a radio-phile really into music,” he says.

Jennings had set up a station in tandem with the school in Hoonah, incorporating it into the curriculum. Benson liked the idea and brought it back to the Yakutat Healthy Community Coalition, a 12 member panel representing most of the community organizations that funded it through federal grant program. The license was secured through the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe, who hired a radio engineer to install the equipment. The process took a few years, but in fall of 2014, KYKT went on air. 

“I never really intended on being a part of the operations of it,” Benson says. “I thought it was a great idea.”

But when it came time for the radio engineer to leave, he needed to show someone how to operate the station. The program manager was out of town, so Benson stepped in temporarily. Now, some 8 years later, he’s the sole manager, DJ, and engineer of KYKT. 

Lee Benson inside the KYKT studio (Tash Kimmell/KCAW)

 “I said, ‘Okay…show me and I’ll show it to the program manager.’ And so that that’s kind of how that started,” he recalls.

Though Benson didn’t expect to be so involved in the station, he’s always had high hopes for what it could bring to Yakutat.

“Originally, we had been slated to work with the school,” he says. “But unfortunately, there was a change in leadership at the school. They decided they couldn’t afford to be involved.”

The walls of KYKT are sparsely decorated except for a painting of a moose ( Tash Kimmell/KYKT)

While the station has the capacity for a wide range of production, the majority of its output is automated, or prerecorded. Benson says KYKT has the potential to do much more.

“We can do anything that a regular radio station does,” he says

“I can’t really speak for the community, but I myself hope we, at some point, get other people involved,and get the school involved. So that would be my hope, and just keeping it running,” he says. “I was really kind of amazed at how many people will see me in the store and say, ‘Hey, I really like the station!’ So people are listening.”

Still, after eight years of being the man behind the microphone, he’s ready for someone else to take the reins. 

While KYKT may be not look particularly hi-tech, Benson says the station has the capability to do anything and everything (Tash Kimmell/KCAW)

“It’s been really interesting and I’ve enjoyed it, but it wasn’t really something I intended to do and, and I’m looking forward to…getting additional people involved.”

For now KYKT will continue to broadcast music and the occasional sports update, but in the future Benson hopes Yakutat can lift up this one room radio station to its full potential.

Editor’s Note: Raven Radio has partnered with KYKT on various projects, including the “Community Counts Initiative” which KCAW received grant funding for.