Ex-logger turns the tables with Scandi flair

<I>AUDREY WIRKKALA photo</I><BR>Lyle Haataja hosts the Scandinavian Hour on KMUN-FM every other Saturday, 2 p.m.-3 p.m.

ASTORIA - Several generations of listeners in the Lower Columbia region have enjoyed listening to a radio program dedicated to Scandinavian music. For years, the Sunday morning program on station KVAS was a staple in many households. Then, the station format, which allowed that program to be a regular feature of weekend listening for the people of the area who enjoyed the music of the five Scandinavian counties, was changed. Suddenly, the Scandinavian Hour was in danger of going off the air - permanently.

The public radio station for the Lower Columbia region, station KMUN-FM, broadcasting as KMUN 91.9 FM, in Astoria and KTCB 89.5 in Tillamook, stepped into the breach. KMUN began broadcasting a program called the Scandinavian Hour, which is on the air from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday afternoons.

The program, which features the songs of the five Scandinavian countries, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, has been played for the last 10 years by a volunteer disc jockey with Rosburg-Naselle roots.

That host is Lyle Haataja, a Rosburg native and a product of the local school system, including Grays River Valley Grade School in Rosburg. He graduated in 1965 from Naselle High School.

Lyle said, "We used to listen to the Scandinavian Hour for years - with Jorgen Madsen - when it was on commercial radio. The Scandinavian Hour on KMUN is a totally different entity than the Scandinavian Hour that was on KVAS. There have been several people, starting with Ed Niska, who have had Scandinavian programs on KMUN over the years. The current KMUN version of the Scandinavian Hour first aired on Dec. 7, 1995."

The route that took Lyle from his Rosburg farm to the radio studio across the Columbia River in Astoria was not a short journey of just a few miles.

Lyle was raised as one of three children of Harold and Kathleen Haataja whose Finnish ancestry has roots in the Kuusamo, Finland area.

Lyle, with his typical low-key sense of humor, said, "I live with my wife Loanne on the family farm (on the Barr Road) in Rosburg so I guess I haven't gone far in life." That journey in life took Lyle to Bellingham for a year at what was then known as Western Washington State College in 1965-66. He then attended Lower Columbia College in Longview before entering the Navy in 1967.

Lyle attended the Navy's Basic Propulsion School, Great Lakes, Ill., the Submarine School, New London, Conn., and was an instructor in the Training School, Treasure Island, Calif. During his sea duty, he served on the USS Trench. Getting out of the Navy in 1971, Lyle began a 30 year career as a logger. He said, "From 1971 to 2001, I worked at various logging operations in California, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. I independently manufactured the highest-quality logs for 25 years. I was also a tree climber and topper for three years in Washington and Alaska and I was competent in many jobs in the logging industry until a career-ending injury in 2001."

In commenting on his logging career, Lyle explained, "I was a timber faller for 25 years in four states. I was a single jack, in that I fell the trees and bucked them up into logs myself, as opposed to the old days when they had a faller and a bucker." As for his career-ending injury, Lyle's comment was, "... only to say that the Lord was watching over me on that day."

How then does one go from a logging background to being a radio disc jockey for a Scandinavian music program? Lyle explained, "I grew up listening to music - Mom played the piano and there was quite a collection of old 78s we could play whenever we wanted. Sunday morning we listened to Scandinavian music on KVAS. Over the years I have developed quite a collection of Scandinavian music.

"In 1993 I was working in Wrangell, Alaska, and their local station KSTK put out an announcement they were looking for volunteer radio announcers. I showed up, made a demo tape, and then spent the rest of my five-month tour in Wrangell doing a weekly program (jazz or world music). I also filled in one time each for a rock 'n' roll, an easy listening, and a Christian music show."

Returning to Rosburg, Lyle continued with his work as a logger until the injury ended that career. He also had a yearning to continue with the radio work that he had begun in Alaska and applied at KMUN.

"I originally applied for a jazz program but they didn't need a jazz programmer at the time. The interviewer saw my name and asked where it came from. I responded 'from Finland,' and she asked if I would like to do a Scandinavian program. And the rest is history," explained Lyle. "I did it for six years by myself until the summer of 2001 when Sirpa Duoos so graciously joined the program." Now, Lyle and Sirppa take turns hosting the show on alternating Saturdays.

Lyle's career as a logger, with Saturdays spent as a disc jockey on KMUN, continued until Lyle was injured. Then, as he recovered from the injury, he enrolled in Clatsop Community College where he earned an associate's degree in general studies in 2004, graduating with honors, on the Dean's List, and as a member of Phi Theta Kappa. Lyle has continued with his radio work where he plans and engineers his own radio program. He also volunteers as a disc jockey once a week at Clatsop Care Center, is active in the Astoria Scandinavian Midsummer Festival and the Naselle Finnish-American Folk Festival, where he was recently elected co-chair of that group.

Lyle said, "I have two daughters, Kelly and Rachel, who both graduated from NHS; two stepdaughters, Kim (Longview) and Terese (San Diego) and stepson Lee (also of San Diego). My wife, Loanne, and I have four granddaughters and two grandsons." One of Lyle's sisters and her husband have also recently moved back to Rosburg.

A native son, who has traveled some distance to return to where he began, Lyle Haataja continues as a Scandinavian supporter in the volunteer work which he is doing. When asked if he has plans to continue as a professional in radio or related fields, he replied, "No but it's an interesting thought."

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