Ruben Gaines
and Chilkoot Charlie

by Michael R Dougherty

How many people did he have in his radio studio?

When you listened to his radio program, you heard Ruben, 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 every one of them in his very creative mind – and 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 in the 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 listen to 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

Of all of Ruben's characters, one became the namesake for a bar.

Now known the world over, Chilkoot Charlie's (sometimes just referred to affectionately as “Koots”) in Spenard, where the the bar's motto is “We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you”.

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 met him. He was incredibly talented and had a unique sounding voice.

Before his days in Alaska, Ruben had enjoyed a successful career in Hollywood.

He worked as a writer for both dramatic programming 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, its first television station, KTVA channel 11 and who also owned KNIK FM radio and KBYR AM radio. At the gathering, 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 shared that with me, 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 where you'll discover two recordings of Ruben Gaines doing his show on KHAR radio.

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and Chilkoot Charlie

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Ruben Gaines Artwork and Poetry
by: Alaskasinfidel

I acquired a lot of his artwork.

His first 1951 book of poetry signed, all of his other books signed and his last radio show on reel to reel. I got all at auction decades ago.

Well Remembered
by: Jim Stephens

I was fortunate to attend the memorial service for Ruben at the Anchorage Senior Center.

It was standing room only.

Lots of great stories were told. The family offered attendees an LP recording of several of his broadcast stories. It is a real treasure.

He was still on the air when we arrive in Anchorage in late 1974. He is well remembered.

Radio Anchorage - KBYR
by: Dick Garvin

Back when Augie and Bram were starting their TV stations a little radio Station, KBYR with 250 Watts introduced music, news, weather and sports to the radio public.

Ruben and Ed were on KBYR as was "Doc" Parnel, General Manger plus many other talented radio and news people.

KHAR came on the air later, owned by Bill and Patti Harpel, with good music format.

Conversation Unlimited was on KBYR and KFRB in Fairbanks. Less we forget, Ed and Ruben started the recreation of baseball too on KBYR.

Augie brought KBYR into his mix years later. This was before FM stations.

Anchorage had three AM stations, KFQD 10,000 watts, KENI 5,000 watts and KBYR went to 1,000 watts.

My first radio job was a salesman at KBYR back then and was later promoted to General Manager of KFRB in Fairbanks.

I Wish We Had Met
by: Jenny Gaines

I am Rubens daughter-in-law.

His son is a great man who married me knowing I was sick and getting sicker.

That Johnny takes care of me says so much about my father-in-law.

I only wish I had met him.

Rest in laughter and peace Ruben.

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