780 AM | 96.1 FM | “Yours for Western Alaska”

Let’s Talk About Sounding Board

Sounding Board is one of my favorite programs at KNOM. I never thought I’d say that. But over the last year, the show that was once the stressful bane of my existence has become an opportunity for connection that I look forward to every time.

Sounding Board is an hour-long live call-in show the volunteers host each Thursday, with a new topic, and a new set of co-hosts, each week. We try to choose a topic that is “on the hearts and minds of our listeners,” whether a hot news item, a fun conversation sparker, or an important issue with a positive, gentle and respectful spin.

Behind the scenes, hosting duties rotate through volunteers and Laureli, the News Director. There’s always two people hosting and a volunteer answering phones. The host of the week chooses the topic, and after getting approval from Laureli, interviews a local expert to provide context at the beginning of the show–and fill up dead air time.

The topics range from political to sentimental, cultural to environmental, serious to fluff. We’ve hosted Sounding Boards on everything from heroin, to Arctic Shipping Policy, to celebrating native drum and dance. Some of the shows get pretty heavy, addressing serious issues with a hopeful angle. We’ve talked about grief, overcoming addiction, healthy parenting and preventing child abuse.

At first, hosting the show was incredibly stressful. My head was buzzing with what-ifs. What if no one called in? What if my co-host and I had to talk, live, on-air for an hour straight? Would I sound coherent? What if I lost my train of thought? Could I lead Sounding Board and operate the actual sound board that controls the mics, the pre-recorded clips from experts, and the phones? What if a caller swore? Would I remember to push the delete button? Would I remember where the delete button was??


Well, none of that happened. Once I stopped being afraid of embarrassing myself or messing up and just did the best that I could do, my anxiety subsided. I learned how to listen. I learned, fundamentally, the show is not about me.

For listeners, Sounding Board is a chance to hear from their neighbors, relatives, and community–to exchange stories, ideas, opinions. For the KNOM volunteers, Sounding Board is a chance to connect with the listener.

Radio tends to be a one way form of communication. As deejays, reporters, or news anchors, we try to entertain, inspire, inform and engage them, but we rarely hear back from the people we’re speaking to.

During those magical hours from 10 to 11 every Thursday, we’ve had listeners, the people we think about all the time, open up their hearts and tell incredible stories of pain and strength. It’s been inspiring to hear their courage, to listen to them talk about suffering and how they overcame it.

What I love about Sounding Board is it cuts down to the beautiful core of KNOM’s mission.We’re here to serve the listener. The call-in show gets their voices on air, so their neighbors and friends can hear what they have to say–and, more importantly, recognize that their neighbors and friends are worth listening to.

We don’t expect to be saving the world. Maybe we’ve shared a hotline number that someone in crisis needs, or helped people empathize, or just shared a cool story that sparks conversations around the water cooler. Maybe when the conversation has flowed, and the phones are lighting up with calls, we’ve helped connect the listeners to each other.

I know Sounding Board has helped me feel connected. Whenever I finish hosting the show, I feel refreshed, like my work, our work, is contributing to something larger than myself. Something that starts to feel like a community.

The KNOM staff and volunteers.

KNOM staff and volunteers in a recent photo.