There’s no public radio system like it in America. And this is most evident during the Alaska Public Radio Network’s holiday edition of its weekly “Talk of Alaska” program.


Veteran radio newsman Steve Heimel hosts the annual program. With his long white hair and beard, he almost looks like a skinny version of Santa Claus.


Heimel’s love affair with radio began when he was a little boy in Pennsylvania curled up in bed with his aunties, listening to radio dramas. He realized at an early age that the theater of the mind is a powerful thing.


On the two-hour holiday edition of “Talk of Alaska,” broadcast from the APRN studios in Anchorage, Heimel invites listeners from all over the state to call in and give their personal holiday greetings to friends and family.


“No matter where that someone might be, you might be able to connect with them right through that phone number through the magic of the broadcasting industry,” Heimel told his listeners on Tuesday.


The magic, though, also comes from the voices of the callers, who usually have long lists of friends to wish “Merry Christmas.”


Herman from Barrow, one of the first callers Tuesday morning, reminded listeners that his community still has a month to go before it sees the sun.


Even so, Herman made up for lost hours of daylight with plenty of greetings to his wife, four children, mother and father-in-law, as well as friends in Wainwright, Kaktovik, Point Hope and Savoonga.


“Generally speaking over the broadcast medium, personal messages are actually not legal. But because of the vital role the broadcasting industry plays in Alaska, we get to allow personal messages,” Heimel told listeners. “It’s almost as good as the old party line.”


KTVA photographer Nick Swann captured some of the sights and sounds of APRN’s holiday radio call-in that include a rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” in Yup’ik.


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