Early in my career I was hired as General Manager of UC Berkeley’s radio station, KALX. A local guy had wanted the job. I was arriving from Philadelphia to start a new life. I didn’t know I was walking into the lion’s den. The boy’s club at the station was none too happy to have a 23-year old woman from the East take over the manager’s seat. They decided to make my life a living hell and did a great job of it. The station was a combination of a few staff, and many students and community volunteers. Out of nowhere, two students surrounded me in a protective cocoon and saved me. They became lifelong friends. These strong young women had themselves endured the misery I was experiencing and were determined not to let me fail. One of them was Jane Hall. The other was Audrey Wells, who died yesterday. I am unimaginably sad.
Alaska is a significant part of her story. After working at commercial station KJAZ in Oakland, becoming incredibly popular as the only women DJ, but being permanently relegated to the midnight to 6 a.m. time slot, she decided to go to film school at UCLA. That was 35 years ago. I had just moved to Alaska for two years to run the emerging Alaska Public Radio Network. I needed someone to go to our stations around Alaska and help announcers be better. She needed money to support her education. She traveled to Barrow, Kotzebue, Bethel, Dillingham — all over. She was beloved and effective. Announcers would get in the studio with her, close the door, and pour their hearts out about their insecurities. She cured them. They got better. She came back many times and grew to love Alaska like I did. My husband, Mel, called her “the world’s most beautiful woman” and she was.
She became a celebrated Hollywood writer and director (“Under the Tuscan Sun,” “The Truth About Cats and Dogs”) but the very first screenplay she sold was called “Radio Free Alaska” about a fish-out-of-water young woman pursuing radio in Alaska. The film she loved so much that went as far as a casting call in Barrow, but never got made, “Rearranged,” was her fish that got away. Her new film, critically acclaimed “The Hate U Give,” premiered Friday in Los Angeles.
The world has lost a clear and brave voice. She was a wonderful friend and a spectacular mother and wife. She had talent beyond belief. She and her husband, Brian, had planned to come to Alaska in August to visit Silver Salmon Camp, a place of remarkable beauty across Cook Inlet, but she couldn’t make the trip. She loved Alaska and Alaska loved her.
Rest in eternal peace, my dear friend.