By Heather Spaulding / Journal of the San Juans
Despite listening to “Kent and Alan” on Star 101.5 FM in Seattle, most islanders probably don’t realize Alan Budwill has been broadcasting from his home in the San Juans. Before Christmas, Budwill admitted he has not been on location for over two years, and also announced his retirement.
“I’m so lucky to have been a part of something that makes saying goodbye so hard,” Budwill said, thanking his coworkers and listeners on the air, Thursday, Dec. 19.
After over 30 years on air together, Kent Phillips and Alan Budwill are one of the longest-running radio duos on record.
Budwill discovered San Juan Island through his wife’s passion for whales. Lodie Gilbert Budwill was working at Rosario Resort when the two met. Together they would visit the west side of San Juan Island hoping to glimpse a whale fin emerging from the Salish Sea. The couple bought property on San Juan 15 years ago and made it their full-time home for the last two and a half years; their son attends school in Friday Harbor, Lodie is the Communications Coordinator of Orca Survey Outreach and Educational Center, while Budwill has become involved with the local wildlife nonprofit Wolf Hollow.
Now, without having to go to his recording studio long before dawn, put on his headset and ready his microphone, Budwill will figure out whether he is an early bird or night owl.
“Lodie asked me if I was a morning person or night, and I really don’t know,” he said, explaining that for the last 40-plus years, he has gotten up at 3:30-4 a.m., meaning he also went to bed before 9 p.m.
“My kids had to put their dad to bed,” Budwill laughed.
Budwill became interested in the radio business during the early 70s because his older brother worked in radio field. At the time, the term DJ usually referred to traveling vagabond types, according to Budwill. He never imagined trying to make a career of it. Instead, his college majors were business and psychology.
Budwill could not escape radio, however, and found himself the newsman on a Portland, Oregon, radio station. Phillips, then brand new to the job, constantly had to physically separate two morning-show hosts who got into fist fights. The punching pair was let go as a result, leaving Phillips and Budwill to fill in. With their sense of humor and popular musical taste, the team stuck. Phillips and Budwill, in fact, became so successful they were picked up by a Seattle radio station and moved to Washington.
During that time, according to Budwill, the Seattle Times had a wedding section in the Sunday edition. The duo dressed as bride and groom, had their picture taken and published with the other Times’ wedding photos.
“We told our listeners we would give them $100 if they could find our picture in the paper,” he said.
It took some time, according to Budwill. Finally, one listener called in and said, you know, I noticed the bride in one of those wedding photos doesn’t really look too happy.
For their 20 year celebration, Phillips and Budwill threw the baseball at the start of a Mariners game. They also played on Wheel of Fortune.
“We helped a single mom win a lot of money,” Budwill said proudly. “We became good friends too; I am still in touch with her.”
Budwill credits Phillips with the success and longevity of the show, noting that his partner in crime, who, as program director, had both the creativity and foresight to alter the format of the show as times changed.
It was also Phillips that, as Budwill became increasingly tired of city life, suggested he move full time to the islands and air from his home.
“No one could really tell — even on windy days — that I wasn’t in Seattle,” Budwill explained. Technology has become so good, the sound of his voice did not skip a beat.
Technological advances have been astounding, and, he assures, there will always be a place for radio. However, Budwill is concerned by the trend of large conglomerates purchasing local stations. Like small newspapers, he said, it is important that communities have local radio stations as well. They both benefit the community by providing a voice and jobs for locals.
“Star is small, though,” he clarified, “they are a very local company and only own two other stations.”
As of the new year, Phillips will move his now solo show to the afternoon slot, and new morning hosts will take over.
During his last segment of “Kent and Alan,” Budwill hinted a podcast may be in his future.
“Podcasts are where all DJs go to die, right?” he joked.
Budwill has been archiving material, he told the Journal, and is considering recording a podcast centered around whales, particularly the Southern resident orcas that frequent the San Juan waters.
“It would be based on science, but also accessible to people; fun and interesting,” Budwill said.
First, however, he will first take time to enjoy the community he has grown to love.
“I love it here. These are my peeps,” he said enthusiastically, noting he has been blown away by the island community and how its members rally around each other during difficult times.
This story originally appeared in The Journal of the San Juans, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.