The late, beloved John Active will be inducted into the Alaska Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame on Friday evening. John worked with KYUK for more than 40 years in both radio and television as a journalist, Yup’ik translator, storyteller, talk show host, and radio personality.
It’s been five months since John died, and we miss him. Rhonda McBride worked with John for about 30 years, first at KYUK and then as collaborators when she moved to KTVA in Anchorage.
“I think there are probably a handful of people out there who can do what John does," McBride said before catching herself. "Or did, I guess. It’s still hard for me to realize that John is gone.”
McBride nominated John for the Hall of Fame.
“I used to laugh, because he would sit at his desk and say, ‘I want to Yupify the world.’ And I think he achieved that,” she said.
John was a pioneer in Indigenous bilingual broadcasting, and one of the nation’s first Alaska Native broadcasters. But it was his charisma and humor that endeared him to listeners and gave his stories longevity and broad relevance. When John came on the radio, everyone leaned in to listen. As McBride said, John’s humor invited people into the Yup’ik perspective.
John’s humor was that of an offbeat trickster, often irreverent, but always good natured. In a KYUK video from the 1980s, John gives this winter survival tip: “Burning illegal firewood brings excitement and intrigue to a person during otherwise cold and dreary winters like we have here.”
He goes on to instruct people living on the downriver part of the Kuskokwim how to steal trees from Native corporation land upriver.
“The best time to gather these clandestine logs is at night," a young John says, "when most everyone is at bingo, church, watching R-rated programs on cable or satellite TV."
By entering the Hall of Fame, John is joining more than 60 of Alaska’s most influential broadcasters, which includes only one other Alaska Native broadcaster. Inductees must have worked in Alaska broadcasting for at least 25 years and have earned the respect and recognition of their peers and the industry.
“They’ve left an imprint on a great number of Alaskans," said Alaska Broadcasters Association Executive Director Cathy Hiebert. “They’ve done something perhaps new and forward thinking outside their own stations where they may have worked.”
This final quality distinguishes inductees in the Hall of Fame from other Alaska broadcasters.
“There are a lot of people who do great work," explained Bill Legere. "But only in their own community, and John’s work really affected people across the state.”
Legere is the President and General Manager of KTOO Public Media in Juneau. He worked with John for decades and chaired the committee that unanimously selected John for the Hall of Fame.
“It was inspirational for other stations to know that they could do programming and news in the local languages," Legere continued. "It was inspirational to know that you could tell stories in a way that engaged people and commanded listenership.”
John commanded listenership far beyond Alaska, reaching people across the nation with his commentaries on National Public Radio about Yup’ik culture and life in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.
John’s name became synonymous with KYUK. He was one of the station’s first employees and its foremost talent. John defined and created much of the station’s bilingual and bicultural content, and KYUK is working to continue John’s legacy.
The station has created an endowed scholarship in his memory for young people who want to continue in John’s path, and KYUK is working to do something much more difficult: continue John’s charismatic and inviting spirit on our airwaves.
“John had the right mix of serious and hard pressing," explained KYUK General Manager Shane Iverson, "but also lighthearted and engaging in a way that you could talk about almost anything. So striving to be more like John in that way is what I hope we can accomplish in the next several years.”
John, we’re working on it.
John Active will be inducted into the Alaska Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame on Friday, November 9, 2018 at the ABA Goldie Awards Banquet at the Sheraton Hotel. Ric Schmidt, former KNOM News Director in Nome, will also be inducted. The ABA Hall of Fame was established in 1985. John Active and Ric Schmidt will be the 63rd and 64th members inducted.
Listen to an interview with Rhonda McBride about John Active's contributions to public media here. You can contribute here to the John Active Memorial Scholarship Fund.