It was the middle of the night on March 27, 1964. Earlier that evening, the second-biggest earthquake ever measured at the time had hit Anchorage, Alaska. 115 people died. Some houses had been turned completely upside down while others had skidded into the sea.
There was no light or power in the city — and for a long time, virtually no communication with the outside world. But there was one signal making it out of the devastated area.
Running on backup generators and a cracked transmitter, a radio station in Anchorage continued to broadcast. Then a station in Fairbanks picked up that signal and repeated it. A man in Juneau picked up that Fairbanks station, called a radio station in Seattle and let the broadcast play over his phone.
The president of that Anchorage radio station happened to be on a goodwill tour of Japan. And when he turned on a radio in Tokyo, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing — it was the voice of his own “newsgirl” back home, a woman by the name of Genie Chance.
Press the play button above to hear the full story, including original audio from during and after the earthquake. To read the piece instead, click here for a complete text transcript.
Jon Mooallem produced this spoken story of reporter Genie Chance and the Great Alaska Earthquake — original music was created for the piece by the Frank Brink Community Players (Jenny Conlee-Drizos, John Neufeld, Chris Funk, Nate Query and John Moen).
Featuring 99pi host Roman Mars and Avery Trufelman (as Chance), the piece was performed at Radiotopia Live in Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and San Francisco in 2016 and 2017. The live version was edited for publication as a podcast episode by Sharif Youssef and Sean Real.
This episode also contains material from the personal collection of the Chance family and from the Genie Chance papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage.