Ruben Gaines and Chilkoot Charlie
by Michael R Dougherty
Chilkoot Charlie's -
How many people did he have in his radio studio?
When you listened to his radio program, you heard Ruben, Doc, a fellow named "Six-Toed Mordecai", Mrs. Malone, Chilkoot Charlie and a few others. Each one had a strong voice and distinct personality - and Ruben Gaines had created everyone of them in his very creative mind - and it was Ruben that brought them to life with his incredible vocal talent.
As you listened to Ruben's show, you couldn't help but to be amazed at how he seamlessly weaved his characters in and out of conversations.
And speaking of conversations, his radio program "Conversations Unlimited" was heard afternoons on KHAR, Monday through Friday to the absolute delight of Anchorage audiences. His theme song was "Clair de Lune" by Claude Debussy.
You can still hear Ruben's radio show. At the end of this article, I've included a link where you'll discover not one, but two recordings from February 1974 on Alaska Oldies.com.
Of all of Ruben's characters, one became very well known as the namesake for a bar.
Now known the world over, Chilkoot Charlie's (sometimes just referred to affectionately as "Koots") in Spenard, where "We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you", was named after Ruben's character.
Back in the 1970s, while I was the director and videographer on a weekly KAKM channel 7 program called "Southcentral", we did an on camera interview with Ruben Gaines at the studios of KHAR Radio. While I had listened to Ruben on the radio for years, this was the first time I had ever met him. He was incredibly talented and had a very unique sounding voice.
Before his days in Alaska, Ruben had a successful career in Hollywood.
He worked as a writer for both dramatic programing and music where he worked with some of Hollywood's most famous movie and TV composers and producers. But thankfully, something made him decide to leave all that for Alaska.
The last time I spoke with Ruben was at a special gathering honoring Alaska broadcaster Augie Hiebert who brought Anchorage it's first television station, KTVA channel 11 and who also owned KNIK FM radio and KBYR AM radio. At the gathering, as I spoke with Ruben who had been off the radio for a while, he told me that he was no longer able to do his radio show because his voice would no longer hold up. As he told me that, I could tell that it bothered him. But I also realized that Anchorage, and indeed Alaska had lost something precious.
In 1973, Ruben was named Alaska State Poet Laureate, and in 1985 he was inducted into the Alaska Broadcasters Association's Hall of Fame.
Now if you really want a treat, visit Alaska Oldies.com where you'll discover two recordings of Ruben Gaines doing his show on KHAR radio.
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