Friday marks the end of an era at KYUK: the Geezer Rock era. After working with the radio station since its beginning in 1971, Peter Twitchell is signing off. For the last time, Peter’s music show “Geezer Rock” will broadcast live into homes across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta from 1 to 3 p.m.
“I’m always so happy to be in someone’s living room like I’m an invited guest. And you’re sitting there alone, but it’s like you have company," said Twitchell. "And that’s a wonderful feeling.”
Beginning his show one recent Friday, Twitchell grabbed the mic and delivered his usual opening: “Pete on the Twitchell Turnaround, sitting in with you on KYUK’s Geezer Rock.” He started playing the opening of the Hollies' 1966 hit "Bus Stop" and then jumped in during the music intro to add: “I remember Bobby Guinn singing this song at the Cowan Hut.” Then the song lead into its opening verse.
The Cowan Hut was a Bethel dance hall and Bobby Guinn was its local celebrity, playing live on Friday and Saturday nights. Peter Twitchell was a fan in the crowd.
“I thought maybe I could do that too," remembered Twitchell. "Maybe I could start my own band and we could make a little money.”
Twitchell was 15 years old. His mom wasn’t working and his dad had just died and left him a guitar.
“So four of us got together and we started playing some songs,” he said. “We’d listen to the Ventures. We didn’t read music, so it was all by ear. We practiced four hours a night, five days a week until we got good enough and we got our 'scricks.' You know, when you get callouses on your fingertips.”
Soon, Twitchell and his band, the Strange Tones, were also playing at the Cowan Hut. Their manager was the local music teacher and each musician made $5 a night.
Then they cut out the manager, charged $2 a head, and started making $250 a night, each.
“So there had to have been at least 500 people in there," calculated Twitchell, "standing room only. We did the covers of The Rolling Stones, Beatles, Steppenwolf, Cream, Jimi Hendrix. All those famous bands of the day.”
The Strange Tones played from 1967 through 1971.
By May of that year, Peter was 21 years old and about to graduate high school. He’d gotten held back a few years, but finally earned his diploma. Peter needed a job and was thinking about moving to Dillingham to work in a cannery when his school principal told him about a new radio station opening in town.
“He said, ‘Peter, you should go to work there. They need news people and people who can speak Yup'ik, and I know you can.’”
A few weeks later, wearing bell-bottoms and long hair, Twitchell walked to KYUK, asked the general manager for a job, and was hired.
“He said, 'You’re going to read the local, state, and national news,'" said Twitchell, "'and then you’re going to translate it.'"
That last part made Twitchell uneasy. He’d grown up hearing Yup’ik, but spoke English with his friends.
“I was stumbling through the Yup’ik words. It was like trying to pick up a guitar and play a beautiful tune. I found out you can’t speak your own language if you haven’t been practicing.”
But elders encouraged him to keep going. They’d stop him on the street, and after teasing him a bit, they’d thank him for letting them know what was happening in Bethel and around the world.
“Keep talking. Your translating will improve," they told him in Yup'ik. "Quyana.”
Twitchell's translating did improve. A few years later, he wasn’t being teased anymore. Meanwhile, he started deejaying, filling in as a TV news anchor, and traveling to villages to record interviews with elders for the station.
“KYUK was like an extension of the community’s arm," he said. "We were out there. It was just like a friend.”
In 1977, Twitchell became the Radio Operations Manager. That year, he also started the one and only, the legendary, "Geezer Rock."
He played the same music he had played as a teenager at the Cowan Hut. And, just as before, the music was a hit. People responded. As the saying goes, they "got their ears on."
“I’d say, ‘Albert Kvamme Jr. in Akiak, I hope you got your ears on. Here’s a song just for you.' So that caught on. People would stop me in the store or on the street and say, ‘I’ve got my ears on listening to Geezer Rock.'" said Twitchell.
The show ran for 17 years.
Twitchell left KYUK to work at the Alcohol Treatment Center in the early 90s, but he stayed on as a volunteer deejay and began hosting a new show, Delta Country.
Twitchell retired from the Treatment Center in December 2016. And one day that month, looking through the local classifieds, he saw a posting for a KYUK morning host. He got the job, of course.
“And I asked," said Twitchell, "if we could start 'Geezer Rock,'"
The famous show resurrected and lived on until October 27, 2017. But never say never. Peter is moving to Anchorage with his family and is looking for a station that wants to add a little rock to its lineup.