KHNS general manager Kay Clements is retiring at the end of this month after 13 years at the helm of Haines’ only radio station. The longtime general manager has steered the station through state budget cuts and the devastating 2020 landslide. CVN spoke to Clements at the Chilkat Center about the challenges of her tenure and what’s next.
Answers have been lightly edited for clarity and concision.
CVN: Tell me a little about your time before coming to Haines.
Kay Clements: I’m from California, north of San Francisco, and I helped start a radio station there, sort of from the ground up. It was fun and I learned a lot. That’s how I got into radio. Before that I lived in Australia studying yoga, shiatsu and things like that. I’d done a lot of random jobs throughout the years. This job in Haines came up on a Corporation for Public Broadcasting job line. I liked that it was already established.
CVN: Are there any challenges in your early years that stood out?
Kay Clements: The big one was the state funding cuts (in 2019). They cut $135,000 and we were only running on a $400,000 budget. It was pretty shocking for everybody in Alaska, since we’re connected to all the little stations around Alaska. We kind of knew it was coming since the legislature had been slowly taking it away, but Dunleavy was like ‘Nothing, zero.’
CVN: How did you navigate that? What cuts did you have to make?
Kay Clements: Probably staffing. That’s always what suffers, because we can’t turn off the lights or not get equipment. We run on such a tight budget otherwise. People stepped up, too: donors, members, funders, foundations and that.
CVN: The 2020 landslide was a seismic event, both literally and physically. Can you talk about that time, and the service you provided and what you learned from it?
Kay Clements: It was a pretty epic time. We had two reporters, Claire Stremple and Henry Leasia at the time and they both jumped right on it, and then we had a reporter from Juneau come up the first day. The first day was kind of frightening. Marley (Horner, the programming director) was pretty much the only one here, and they were dealing with everything. My road had washed out big time. I’m right across the bay from where the landslide hit. I couldn’t see it but could tell there was a big deal going on with all the emergency vehicles. It was pretty snowy. I don’t think I could see the landslide but I was communicating with the reporters.
I mean, this is what this kind of radio is made for. The rest of the time we try to entertain and educate and then there’s an event like this that requires all hands on deck and good information. That’s when I think we can shine.
We had a massive problem with our equipment at that time because of the landslide and weather issues. We were trying to funnel information. The Mayor was in, the reporters were doing their job I think for four or five days, that’s all we really dealt with.
The three (Angie Pappas and Dawn Drotos) of us were living here because our houses were compromised at the time. We were set up in sleeping bags.
CVN: That’s some dedication.
Kay Clements: Well, we didn’t want to get cut off. That first day was so hard. Knowing something was going on but not knowing what and not being able to help anyone. That was really frustrating, so we just thought ‘well, we’ll just stay.’
CVN: What are some other memories that come to mind of your tenure?
Kay Clements: The things that I think of a lot are the improvements we made to stabilize the station. That for me is one of the fun parts — to write a grant and let loose with a project, like roofing the transmitter shed or replacing our boards. Technology is moving so much faster than it used to so things become obsolete much faster.
CVN: Things have changed a lot technologically even in the past five years. What else have you had to change and what do you foresee as being the continued technological challenges?
Kay Clements: We’re always trying to improve the service, especially into Skagway and up to Klukwan and Mosquito Lake. There’s areas where you can’t get it still or you’re dependent on streaming. One of the big changes we made in the last 13 years is that the Skagway sound is so much better, but there’s much more we can do there. We’re looking at a big grant that Marley is working on to help with service there.
CVN: What are you doing next?
Kay Clements: I have no plans – it’s a little scary actually. This is a great job. If you ask me why I’m leaving it – I don’t know. I just feel like I have some sense I want to do something else but I don’t know what it is. I think it’s a great job for someone who has a different perspective on it. Maybe someone a little bit younger. I think that’s always good to get fresh eyes on it. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’d still like to be involved, I’d still like to do some programs and volunteering.
CVN: What’s the status of finding a new replacement for you?
Kay Clements: The board is working on it and I think they have a couple of good candidates. I think they should be announcing it soon. I think having someone who is really anchored to the place is important. There’s a lot of creative things you can do with the station, but I feel like I’m out of creativity.