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Meet KBBI's new News Director, Hope McKenney

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Chrissy Roes
Hope McKenney interviews elder Vince Tutiakoff Sr. in Unalaska in 2019.

You might have noticed a new voice on the airwaves lately.

Hope McKenney joined us as KBBI’s new News Director late last month, after reporting in the Aleutian Islands for the past three years.

KBBI's Desiree Hagen sat down with Hope on Tuesday to talk about where she comes from, her adjustment to Homer, and where she hopes to take the station’s newsroom.

Take a listen above.


HOPE MCKENNEY: Unalaska is magical. That's the word that always comes to mind when I'm speaking about the Aleutians. And it was really the first place in the past 10 years that I really felt at home. The people there, the issues that I got to report on there, were just like no other place that I've ever been, I think, and I've reported all over for the past 10 years. And there's something just really unique and really special about the Aleutians and particularly Unalaska, where I got to spend the last three years

DESIREE HAGEN: When you say that you’ve reported all over. Can you elaborate on that? Actually, where did you come from?

MCKENNEY: Yeah, so I'm from Northern California. I'm from a little farming town in Mendocino County, about three hours north of San Francisco, and grew up there, went to school there, my family's still back there. And back in high school, I actually got started at the local public radio station in Mendocino County, I became an intern at KZYX and Z. And that's really when I started falling in love with journalism and continued on and off working a little bit in news for…well, since then, I guess, for over 10 years. But then I moved to Bolivia after high school for a while. And then I went to college in New York City. And I continued to report from New York, and every time I'd go home to California reported from there again. I lived in Cuba for a while, and I was there when Fidel Castro died and did some reporting when that happened. And then ended up back in California for a lot of reasons, and ended up being offered an opportunity at KQED in San Francisco. So I moved down to the Bay Area, and that's the first place where I really got any formal training in news and news production and news reporting. But I came from small public radio. And that's what I missed working there. I had to really stay in my lane, I was a reporter, but didn't get to touch a soundboard. And I missed getting to wear all the different hats and get to produce and edit and report and help answer phones at pledge drives. And it's just a really different feel, I think small public radio stations. And when you have a good team at a small place, they can become your family in a way that doesn't necessarily happen at a bigger place. And that's what I kind of wanted to come back to. And that's what I found in the Aleutians.

HAGEN: What excites you the most about working within this community?

MCKENNEY: Part of why I decided to come here and leave the Aleutians, even though I loved it there and had the most incredible team, was that I wanted to be a little bit more accessible and have access to agriculture and more art and music and things in my life than I had Unalaska. I still wanted to be in a place that was so connected to fishing. I fell in love with the fishing industry and fishing communities during my time reporting in the Aleutians. And I think that's what excites me about this place. There's so much going on. It's still so connected to fishing, and sustainability and agriculture. But at the same time, I’m so new here and have spent the last three years diving into what's been happening in the Aleutians in the Pribilof islands. And so I have a lot of catching up to do to even find out what is really happening in Homer and surrounding communities. So I'm excited to see what comes of that, and what opportunities arise in both my personal and professional lives here.

HAGEN: What topics or stories are you most looking forward to?

MCKENNEY: So fishing, climate, environment, oceans, animals, all of those things. I would love it if I could spend all of my time reporting on those things. And I can't. I think it's really unique and wonderful and sometimes tiring, in our roles at small public radio stations, there aren't many of us. And we have such a wide variety of things to report on and so many things that are happening in places like this. We’re reporting on city council meetings and school board and fisheries and science and farming and local parades. Like we kind of get to write about everything in anything, which is amazing, but also hard because we have to become an expert in a subject in a day, write that story and then move on with our lives. So I think the things I'm most excited about, besides just learning about kind of what is happening here and what's important to the community, are fisheries, climate and environment, and maybe some agriculture.

HAGEN: Can you tell me about the Hope McKenney outside of work?

MCKENNEY: Ooh, for me, I don't know that there's that much of a separation. But the Hope McKenney outside of work. I love people. I think that's probably why I do what I do. And so being connected to people and around communities that are constantly striving to be better and do better, is really important to me. Incorporating art and music and good food into my life is really important. I'm hoping to get ahold of a cello to start playing cello again and singing with people…I sang with people last night for the first time in a while. Having access even just to the farmers market, I've been hanging out all day, every Saturday at the farmers market with new friends.

HAGEN: Any pets?

MCKENNEY: I do have a pet. Her name is Putchki. She's a little black cat who I found down at the docks of Dutch Harbor five days into moving to Unalaska. So I do. I have a little cat who came here with me from the Aleutians and has seen trees for the first time in her life because we are a tundra-filled, treeless island, besides a few spruces. So that has been interesting seeing her kind of see moose for the first time, I've seen moose for the first time. But she's my little creature I brought with me.

HAGEN: How do you feel about your coworkers?

MCKENNEY: They seem great so far. Something I've noticed, we have really small team here, which is wonderful. But also with so much going on in this community and just in the region, I am hoping as news director that I can start collaborating a lot more with other reporters in the region and pool our efforts and our work together to create the best and most informative journalism that we can for the entire community. So that's working with KDLL in Kenai and improving and building on our relationships with other communities around the bay, and really just building that up so we're not only reporting on Homer, but reporting on all of the communities that are relevant in this region. And I'm hoping that we can really build that together and work together.

Originally from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia, Desiree has called Alaska ‘home’ for almost two decades. Her involvement in radio began over 10 years, first as a volunteer DJ at KBBI, later as a host and producer, and now in her current role as a reporter. Her passions include stories relating to agriculture, food systems and rural issues. In her spare time, she can often be found riding her bicycle, creating art from handmade paper, or working in the garden.
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