After 40 years of balloons, magic and radio, Jeff Brown retires from KTOO

Minister of Merriment not stepping away from ‘creative nuttiness,’ though

When Jeff Brown came from his birthplace in Los Angeles to be in the Coast Guard in Juneau, he wandered downtown to look for something to do.

 

Coming from the bright lights of the big city to a small Alaska town, Brown wanted to seize the opportunity and get involved in the community.

“Thinking that one person can change the world is a part of the thought process in Los Angeles,” Brown said. “In Juneau, if you want to do anything, you just do it.”

For 40 years since arriving in Juneau, Brown has done his part to change his corner of the world for the better.

On the day he arrived, Brown happened upon a newly formed public radio station, KTOO, that was looking for volunteers. He didn’t know how to host a radio show or how the behind-the-scenes operations went, but he thought it would be a fun learning experience.

After four decades of working in various capacities for KTOO, Brown has learned quite a bit about the business and how one person can reach thousands of people. Brown retired in June, after a career that included successful radio shows, joke magazines, countless balloon animals and a hefty supply of magic.

As many of his friends and colleagues can tell you, Brown was able to reach people in unconventional ways and always had a positive message. Brown would perform magic tricks for people at work or at their birthday parties, and was always willing to make a balloon animal for a child.

Longtime collaborator and KTOO volunteer Ricky Deising said Brown would often stop people in the halls at KTOO and ask them if they were having fun.

“He believes that everybody can do what you want to do, as long as you put your heart and soul into it and you’re having a good time,” Deising said.

Deising was one of dozens of people who attended Brown’s retirement party this past Friday at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center. There, the squeaking sound of a balloon animal in progress rose over the sounds of classic rock and laughter at the party as people congratulated Brown on his career and perused his countless joke books. Meanwhile, Brown wore his signature clown shoes and greeted friends.

Brown, who turns 65 this year, compiled his Real Alaskan Magazine every year for April Fool’s Day, and put together a joke book catered to children in each of the 50 states. Brown had a few projects involving the 50 states, including one where he tracked down a recording of each state’s state song — a feat he said he accomplished before the Library of Congress did.

Among the guests was Dennis Harris, who hired Brown at KTOO. Harris, who was executive director of the Alaska Public Radio Network at the time, recalled post-Folk Fest parties Brown would organize and the general goofiness Brown brought to everything.

“He just always has been outrageous,” Harris remembered.

Brown has always channeled that outrageous energy in fun, creative and productive ways, said his friends. Steve Nelson, who lived with Brown in a house they dubbed “Little Pink,” said they collaborated on all kinds of art projects and improvised skits that stemmed from their “creative nuttiness.”

Brown eventually turned his creativity toward a younger audience with his show “We Like Kids!” which was geared toward families and featured children as guests. Brown said he tried to use radio to help others express their creativity.

He said the best way to learn something — as he learned from jumping into the radio world — was to just do it.

“I would encourage people, if they want to do anything, just get up and do it and not get stalled by someone telling them they can’t do it,” Brown said.

People young and old noticed that, and governors appointed him to positions including the Minister of Merriment, Commissioner of Mirth and Balloonist State Laureate.

Gaining that reputation throughout the state helped give Juneau a little personality, longtime KTOO volunteer and friend Ben Brown said. Ben (no relation) said Jeff’s sense of humor could translate to anyone in any part of the state.

“He was really good at breaking down those barriers and reminding people that we all have humor in common and we can all laugh in common,” Ben Brown said.

Jeff, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease a few years ago, said he has been contemplating retirement for a while. Still, he said that when he told people at KTOO he was retiring, they were surprised. His daughter, Callie Conerton, said she expects her dad to stay involved with the station on a volunteer basis.

In recent years, Brown has been creating posters around town that look legitimate until you read them. Perhaps most notably, he posted fliers around town in 2016 advertising a community marijuana garden in the vacant Walmart building.

He said he plans to continue doing those posters, and wants to spend his retirement doing other artwork as well. He hopes to stay busy with his art, his jokes and a little bit of traveling.

“And I heard there’s a radio station in town that takes volunteers,” Brown said.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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