Story last updated at 2/11/2009 - 11:59 am
JUNEAU - "Some people are blessed in knowing what they want to do at an early age and they go for it. I still don't know what I want to do."
Those are the words of Jeff Brown, a man who is involved in so many facets of Juneau's community that it's impossible to give him just one title. He may be most well known as the radio personality who hosts "A Juneau Afternoon" a weekday radio show on KTOO - though that identity isn't quite a perfect fit either.
"I think the word 'personality' is so interesting because I think everybody is a personality in Juneau," Brown said.
Brown has been involved in Juneau's radio scene since he arrived with the Coast Guard in 1975. He began as a volunteer and is now the program director for KTOO and KRNN.
One of his favorite things about hosting "A Juneau Afternoon" is the opportunity to learn about and showcase some of the most interesting people in Juneau. His favorite type of person to have on the show is someone who is truly committed to what they are doing, such as "an artist who can speak about their artwork in a way that the listeners can close their eyes and imagine it."
Brown said much of his inspiration for the show comes from Groucho Marx in the quiz show "You Bet Your Life." He has also learned a lot from his mother, who was very social and skilled at asking questions in a way that gets detailed answers from people.
"I don't act serious very much," Brown said. "When I'm doing the 'Juneau Afternoon' show, I kind of have to take off my funny hat and put on a more serious one."
Brown's most memorable on-air moment was several years ago on a cold winter night. He had spent the entire day broadcasting live from 6 a.m. until midnight via remote transmitter from various places around town.
"What I remember most is our icy, cold, wet passage from the Armadillo Tex-Mex Café to the Red Dog Saloon out in the elements of Alaska, live on the radio," Brown said. He said in describing the passage along Franklin Street for his listeners, he treated it "sort of like a mountain climb."
In addition to being one of the voices of KTOO, Brown is an accomplished balloonist. Whether he is at a birthday party or a legislative event, he is on active balloon duty at all times, always carrying balloons around in his jacket pocket.
"I try to make humor wherever I go," Brown said. "I don't feel like a day has gone well unless I've made a balloon animal for somebody."
Many of Alaska's governors given Brown an official title in their administration. He was named the "Balloonist Laureate" for Gov. Walter Hickell, the "Minister of Merriment" for Gov. Tony Knowles and the "Commissioner of Mirth" for Gov. Frank Murkowski. He is currently serving as "Professor of Play" under Gov. Sarah Palin.
Brown is the founder of Balloons Around the World, an annual event that encourages balloonists to help communities and charitable causes around the globe. Usually held in the first week of October, international participants celebrate in their own balloon-related ways - some hold charity fundraisers, some visit hospitals, some practice random acts of balloon kindness and pass joy along to strangers. Brown said that last year nearly 700 people participated. This October, Balloons Around the World will celebrate its 10th year.
"Part of my inspiration is seeing people doing fun, wild things, having a blast doing it and seeing how it's affecting their lives," Brown said. "Balloons can change peoples' lives."
One of Brown's current projects is a balloon dress that his 16-year-old daughter will model in the upcoming Wearable Art show. It's the first full-length dress he has attempted, and he is in the process of perfecting the method through a series of draft dresses.
"I've been practicing and popping and practicing and popping for several dresses now," Brown said. "On the first day of the show, while everybody else is finishing up their sewing, I'm doing my twisting and weaving." He said the construction of the final dress will take several hours.
Brown is celebrating Alaska's 50th anniversary of statehood by performing a series of magic shows in schools and libraries across the state, funded by a grant from the Rasmuson Foundation. He has already performed in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Petersburg, Wrangell and Juneau, and has several more places on the list before the circuit is complete. One of the tricks in his show brings up the influence that gold mining has had on Alaska's history.
"There's a trick where there's a story about a prospector with gold appearing in his pocket over and over despite the bad guy who keeps trying to steal it," Brown said.
"I love making kids laugh and giggle and scream, and the louder they can do it, the better. Then I send them home to their parents."
Brown is the producer of several literary publications including joke and puzzle books for children and a "funny newspaper" called the "Juneau What." The "What" is distributed annually on April Fool's Day and features silly fictional stories of local interest.
Though Brown sees the value of coming home from work and unwinding, he said the way he relaxes is by doing something artistic. He always has several projects in various stages of development and by working on them he said he is able to "cool down mentally."
"Every now and then I do think of people who just come home, make dinner and watch television and one of these days that might be nice," Brown said. "But right now, there's too much to do!"