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Thoughts on Jeff Brown

Posted: October 5, 2011 - 11:00pm

A selection of reader-submitted comments (updated 1 p.m. Friday)

"I used to live in Juneau in the early '90s, and I met Jeff through a mutual friend. One night I was invited to his house for dinner; to my surprise, Jeff had invited a magician. Beause of his new interest in magic, Jeff heard that a magician was performing on one of the tourst ships that frequented Juneau and had invited him to dinner. What a great night of fun, food and laughter. I had no idea at that time that Jeff would be inspired to become a magician himself. What a lucky break for the rest of us. Southeast Alsaka is a better place to live thanks to Jeff Brown." -- Michael Kinerk, former Juneau resident

 

"Jeff is one of those people you see around Juneau sort of everywhere. We don't know Jeff too well, mostly just to say hello to, but over the years, while we have been raising our now-16-year-old son Jackson here, Jeff has touched our lives. Jackson used to go down to KTOO on Tuesday evenings to be on Jeff's radio program, "We Like Kids." How many 5-year-olds get to go help host a radio program these days? One of the many unique opportunities available in Juneau, because Jeff structured his program that way.

Jackson also enjoyed the annual "Blue Beard" pirate's treasure hunt, which Jeff organized. It kept Jeff and dozens of happy children running all over downtown for an afternoon in search of treasure. And of course, there are the balloon animals Jeff is famous for. The list goes on. It always struck me, when I'd bump into Jeff somewhere in town, he'd alwasy inquire as to how Jackson was doing. And he really cared -- it wasn't just the rhetorical "how are you?" question. Jeff's sense of embracing the entire community as his own is profound and strong and we are all so fortunate to have him here." -- Ellen Pavitt

 

(updated 1 p.m. Monday)

"Jeff Brown and Dennis Harris were household names at our place when I was a kid, because they did so much to support my dad when he started Wrangell's first public radio station -- when he met them it was just a half-baked idea. Work at KSTK got me into college and led to a broadcasting degree and straight to Juneau, where I went to KTOO and finally met Jeff. I was discouraged to learn there were no paid broadcasting jobs open in town, and thought of getting back on the plane, but Jeff gave me a pep talk and got me signed up as a volunteer on some wacky KTOO TV project that evening. I had a blast. A few days later some friends of his in town hired me to run a TV camera and I decided to stick around -- kind of glad about that." -- Dan Wayne


Will the real Jeff Brown please sit down. There are so many of him.... where to start. I think maybe high in the booth at the back of the high school auditorium, early KTOO with brother Richard, then every other iteration of KTOO since. I remember the first Arts-R-Us event at the Gold Street house, where at the last minute before the opening, Jeff took us  into the basement where we were all able to outfit ourselves in matching tuxedos. I was flabbergasted... racks and racks of tuxes hanging there in the glow of a couple of bare lightbulbs, and boxes and boxes of tuxedo shoes in all sizes!

I was fortunate to be a house-mate of Jeff's on Telephone Hill, imagine... drum kit, piano, trombone, guitar, saxophone and non-stop creative energy. Do you remember the Institute of White Noise? That was Jeff's. With matching white jumpsuits and embroidered logo, not unlike the matching red jumpsuits he procured for Arts-R-Us members. I suspect it was training from the Coast Guard -- look sharp, wear a uniform.

And then the Annual Water Festival with art installations at Marine Park -- Jeff's brain-child. During the heady times of Arts-R-Us, a golden age for arts in Juneau, Jeff was the champion of equanimity -- everyone's view was equally important, and he was adamant about it, but in a quiet way. He spoke for everyone's interests. And from reading these tributes, he is still doing so. Congratulations Jeff on this well-deserved recognition." -- Dan DeRoux, local artist

 

(updated 4 p.m. Thursday)

"I admire Jeff Brown for many reasons. He really is my hero, but is so modest that when I told him that a year or two ago, he sort of shrugged it off as though I had commented on the weather. When I moved to Juneau in 1981, I was living out the road at Peterson Creek and felt very isolated. KTOO-FM was my link to Juneau and the rest of the world and it was not long before I became a volunteer, when the station was in the basement of what is now Rainbow Foods. Jeff took me under his wing, as he did with so many other volunteers, and taught me the ropes. I was soon doing my own radio shows and could count on him any time I had questions, or the technology changed -- which was fairly frequently.

I enjoyed working with him during the folk festivals at the big mixing board, running the radio link from Centennial Hall, making the cassettes and, later, CDs for the performers, acting as stage manager, and everything else he talked me into doing.

Jeff is a real human being who has improved the quality of life in the town of Juneau and other communities in Southeast Alaska, and for me personally. He is loved by many and i count myself as one of his biggest fans." -- Rik Romerein

 

"I've had the great pleasure of working with Jeff for 15 years now. Some of my very first impressions still hold true: He is very dedicated to his family, he loves his community, he's intensely creative, he's quick with a joke, and he is always working to be on the side of consensus. Jeff also has a very big heart -- he is kind, compassionate, and really looks to give everyone a chance to shine. In that regard he has been a great role model for me working in public media. He is a tired-less advocate for any and all individuals to engage with the community through radio. No one is turned away. If you've got something you'd like to try and explore, we're the place to do that. There are very few institutions that are so open to their communities. Jeff deserves great credit for fostering that unique spirit here. -- Cheryl Levitt Snyder, radio manager, KTOO, KRNN, KXLL

 

"Jeff is well known as the "Master of Merriment" and bringer of joy through laughter, but I am primarily grateful to him for shepherding South East Native Radio through 15 years at KTOO. We were eight volunteer producers, and Jeff was our contact and mentor for the entire run of the show. Tapes of the 330 shows are now housed at Sealaska Heritage Institute and available to the public. He worked above and beyond his job to make the show successful." Kathy Kolkhorst Ruddy


(posted 6 a.m. Thursday)

“I ’ve known Jeff since 1980, when I was a young radio news reporter in Petersburg, and camped out on his couch in Juneau when the planes overheaded. Jeff was the spirit of KTOO back then, and the impact he has had on the KTOO culture is enormous. Jeff has kept KTOO grounded in our community roots and has always been an advocate for community participation long before the terms “outreach” and “user supplied content” came into vogue. Most importantly, Jeff has taught all of us at KTOO to never take ourselves too seriously and that coming to work every day should be fun.” -- Bill Legere, president and general manager, KTOO-FM & TV

 

“The night Jeff Brown dueled Ira Glass in a battle of balloon animals is one of those stories I always tell when people “outside” ask me what Juneau’s like. His local color is so colorful, it’s getting recognized by the state. Does this mean KTOO’s going to start broadcasting “Juneau Afternoon” all day long? I’m so tempted to add Jeff has a face that’s perfect for radio; I feel like he, especially, would appreciate a joke like that on this occasion.” -- Geoff Kirsch, local writer

 

“Back in the ‘80s, I used to share a house with Jeff. One thing I learned quickly was that he was quite a trader. And not for himself.

One day, he pointed at an amplifier I had sitting on the floor and asked, “Are you using that?”

‘It’s the start of a stereo system,’ I told him. ‘I still have to get a turntable, radio and speakers.’

‘Well, I know someone who could use that amp, and they’d trade you for an eight-track player that has a record player, tuner, amp and speakers.’

I couldn’t say ‘no.’ Jeff was always helping people make trades that moved them closer to their goals.

But I still wonder how he got eight sets of crutches for an art installation…" -- Ed Schoenfeld, 

CoastAlaska

 

“Jeff Brown is one of the most giving people I have ever known, He has been a great supporter of public radio in this community for over 35 years, and because of Jeff I have been able to do the one thing I love the most, be a music host on KRNN. His love of balloons and magic has brought much joy and happiness to our community. Jeff is a man who goes the extra mile every day to make us all smile and laugh. I love Jeff Brown for all he has done to make our community a more enjoyable place to live.” -- Ricky Deising (Ricky D), KRNN radio host

 

“Jeff Brown ... hmmm ... KTOO’s glue. Humor and generosity. White noise institute. Folk fest Sunday night house parties. A superb community resource. Always on his game. Steadfast dude.” -- Buzz Ritter, former KTOO Dj

 

“The first time I ever went to the Folk Festival in 1993, I sat through every act, every night.  On the last night, Sunday, the emcee came out on stage wearing the most ridiculous outfit I’d ever seen a grown man wear outside of a circus, and I’m pretty certain he was carrying a balloon animal.  Throughout the evening he did tricks, made balloon sculptures, and told jokes in between acts, but never got in the way of the performers.  It was an epiphany.  ‘Now that’s what an emcee should be!’ I thought, ’flash, dazzle, entertain, wear fabulous clothes, and leave.’  I’ve never forgotten that, and have been forever grateful to him for opening that door.” -- Collette Costa

 

“During the pipeline boom of the 1970s, a lot of 20-somethings washed ashore in Juneau. We were easy to spot, sporting scraggly beards (even some of the women), wool halibut jackets and XtraTufs, trying desperately to cultivate a “real Alaskan” image and prove we’d shed our “down south” ways. Jeff however, showed up in a pastel tuxedo with multi-colored clown shoes and fit right in.

During the pre-internet era, Juneau residents devised our own entertainment to pass the time. Jeff and I met at KTOO radio where we both worked, and were roommates for a while at the infamous Little Pink house on Gold Street (now painted white). At the time, these locations were the unofficial headquarters for all manner of eccentrics and creative types to mingle and collaborate. This inspirational environment provided fertile ground from which an array of exciting and imaginative projects erupted, all designed to amuse and involve the locals: Open Circle, The Pulsator, Arts R Us and many others. Jeff was always at the epicenter of the action providing ideas, energy and inspiration, presiding over the manic silliness like some zany ringmaster. We all willingly participated in his magical formula for fun. Who could resist?

Fast forward 35 years. Jeff continues to be a one-man humor machine who refuses to be confined to any one medium: radio, TV, print, photography, music, performance art, improv comedy, public art installations...you name it, he’s already got it in his rear view mirror. The guy is a gushing fire hose of artistic output, blasting our state with a relentless stream of his unique brand of witticism and good humor. Besides being a purveyor of fake Alaska news, nobody else I know can reduce complex political issues to a funny postcard. Ever heard him play his rendition of the Star Trek theme on a musical saw? As a rain forest resident and perpetual glass-half-full optimist, he even appropriated moisture as his medium, reminding us that ‘It’s a Wonderful Day, If You Like Rain.’

Jeff Brown has unselfishly shared his gift of mirth with Juneau for nearly four decades, and we are a far richer community for it. A tip of my balloon hat to him for receiving the well deserved Arts Council Lifetime Achievement award. Thanks man, for the many enjoyable collaborations we’ve shared over the years, and for making Alaska a LOT less boring for us all!” -- Steve Nelson

 

“Generous, whimsical and witty, Jeff Brown never takes himself too seriously. He is a man of prodigious talent. In addition to being Minister of Merriment and Balloonist Laureate for the State of Alaska, Jeff has published books on a variety of subjects ranging from state songs to how to produce a small concert. He is the creator of the comical Real Alaska Magazine and who will ever forget the first time they saw his photo “On the Road to Tok” or “Cleaning the Glacier”?

I am personally and particularly grateful to Jeff for being the heart and soul of public radio. For decades he has dedicated himself to creating and sustaining a vibrant community, always welcoming and always encouraging. I have rarely met such generosity of spirit and good humor. So, hats off to a real treasure.“ -- Grace Elliott, longtime KTOO and KRNN DJ

 

“Jeff Brown has been a powerhouse of achievement in the 26 years that I’ve known him. His imagination and talent, his willingness to share, to help others and to collaborate are awe inspiring. When we met he was a key organizer of the Alaska Folk Festival, and helped make it the statewide success that it is. He put the community in community radio, and helped me create a live music show that I produced for years. He was a key player in Arts R Us, producing conventional and very unconventional art exhibits. He was a good songwriter and performer. He produced events. He organized “Live Day” on KTOO. He hand-colored clever photographs. That was just the 80s – before his musical group the Wigglers and the popular “We Like Kids” radio show. Since then he’s been a magician, printed the delightful annual April Fool’s Day publication, created games, written books, put out CDs, twisted balloons and raised a daughter.

Jeff has done more behind the scenes to promote art, music and entertainment than people can ever know, because he is humble. He's done hundreds of poster designs for musicians, and thousands of radio promotions for events. He's fast and effective, and he contributes to the success of events. He raises the fun level.” -- Riley Woodford, local writer and musician

 

“Jeff Brown’s commitment to community arts has never ceased to amaze me in the 20 years I have known him. Jeff is constantly developing a new project or product aimed at community engagement in the arts; from the ‘We Like Kids’ radio show to joke books to board games to one of his latest creative endeavors: ‘Real Alaskan’ magazine. Jeff and his balloon creations are an absolute fixture at it seems every community event, from Community Day at the University of Alaska Southeast, where Jeff charms youngsters with balloon animals, to the Wearable Arts Extravaganza, where Jeff creates articles of clothing from hundreds of twisted and shaped balloons.

Jeff has been integral to the development and success of public radio in Juneau. As the station manager of Rain Country public radio, Jeff has trained countless volunteers and staff in the art of making radio. The times he has helped me with a technical issue or given a helpful on-air tip are too numerous to recall. As both a staff member and volunteer, I have observed that Jeff doesn’t discriminate and is mindful and respectful of all volunteers and professional colleagues. In my current role as Public Relations and Marketing Director at the University of Alaska Southeast, Jeff is very helpful as host of the Juneau Afternoon public radio community forum. He lines up UAS guest speakers and artists and is often well-prepared with insightful questions." -- Katie K Bausler, Public Relations and Marketing Director, UAS

 

“Jeff Brown is an outstanding performer and a beloved humorist who has been visiting the Ketchikan Public Library for many years.  We brings Jeff to town at least once a year for several magic shows.  Jeff typically does two shows a day, with each performance packing the house with 70-80 people until it is standing room only.  The room rings with laughter during each performance and Jeff stays until every single child in attendance receives a balloon animal. His visits are eagerly anticipated by families each year and asked about regularly.

Before visiting Ketchikan regularly, Jeff was well known to us as the creator of the "We Like Kids" music program on public radio which has filled a void in radio programming for children in Southeast Alaska. Jeff's dedication to entertaining children is remarkable in my experience. He takes genuine delight in showing them a good time and works tirelessly to improve his skills, shows and playlists. He is a true Alaskan original who found his calling and has dedicated years of his life to perfecting his art.

There are few performers in Alaska whose work has touched so many families and children and fewer still who have been working for decades. I can think of no other person who deserves recognition more." -- Charlotte L. Glover, Youth Services Librarian, Ketchikan Public Library

 

“For the sake of having fun, Jeff has recruited hundreds of volunteers to help him create and staff community events. During a period when he got into creating mazes and puzzles, he orchestrated the building of a huge maze made of palettes and another time he coordinated Purple Beard the Pirate community treasure hunt that hundreds of kids participated in. He owns an endless list of supplies and equipment that he loaned out to countless nonprofits and friends, such as his button-maker and shaved ice machine, all simply in the name of making events fun for all of us! Asking community members to contribute a trinket or two he created a gigantic I-spy puzzle that is an attraction  in the Alaska State Museum's children's room. He has also been the guest artist for a number of youth activities in Juneau including one on Alaska games and another on photographic processes.

When any of us need that element of fun added to a community event, we call on Jeff and he’ll be there with balloons in his pocket.” -- Lisa Golisek-Nankerv, Alaska State Museum

 

“Jeff Brown has brought magic and laughter to our personal and professional lives for decades - from our own children’s birthday parties to the Hearthside Harry Potter events and signings for his own books. We appreciate the joy he brings to kids of all ages. Thank you, Jeff. “ -- Deb Reifenstein and Susan Hickey, co-owners of Hearthside Books & Toys

 

“It’s hard to narrow down all the contributions Jeff has made to the community of Juneau, so I’ll pick the one I’m most grateful for. We can thank Jeff Brown for keeping KTOO as open to volunteers as it is. He’s always been an advocate for appreciating and utilizing a volunteer’s talents and knowledge.” -- Terry Hoskinson

 

This is my 9th year at the Juneau Coop Preschool, and the following been going on since I began, and probably even before that.

In September, we like to take the kids for a walk to a neighbor’s yard to pick apples from their tree. Who do we call to borrow an apple picker? Jeff Brown.

In October, we like to study bodies and bones. Who has a full-sized skeleton named “Mr. Bones” and is willing to loan it to 40 preschoolers for several weeks? Jeff Brown.

In late winter we hold our annual Zip-a-dee-doo-dah family concert and fundraiser. Who loans us his button maker, volunteers to be MC/magician for the concert (again!), and is found hanging around for an hour after the show making balloon hats and animals for the pack of kids whose parents are cleaning up? Jeff Brown.

And throughout the entire year, who invites us to be on Juneau afternoon, making kids, their folks and us teachers feel welcome and comfortable as we pitch yet another event sponsored by the preschool? You guessed it....Jeff Brown.

Over the years, I have rarely asked Jeff for a favor that he has refused. My son and I have never visited him at KTOO and left empty handed: a balloon creation, a magic trick, a CD, a book, or a sneak peek at his latest project. I could go on with many more tales, but you get the idea. Jeff is the embodiment of generosity. We and our children are very lucky to live in the same town with Jeff Brown.” -- Rhonda Jenkins-Gardinier, teacher, Juneau Coop Preschool

 

“Jeff’s creative energy and playful entertainment have been generously shared for as long as Jeff has resided in our community. Jeff contributes each year to our summer reading program, attracting young readers and adults alike with magic shows tailored to fit each year’s theme. ... He never fails to provide balloon animals to each and every person who wants one.

Jeff’s endless creativity is illustrated by one particular event. Walking to our “Lemony Snicket’s Unfortunate Event Party,” he slipped on the ice and, appropriately for the occasion, broke his arm before arriving. Unfortunately he could do very little with magic and balloons, yet he kept everyone well entertained." (excerpt from longer letter) -- Barbara Berg, Juneau Library Director

Want to share a memory or comment about Jeff? Email amy.fletcher@juneauempire.com

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