What Augie Made Possible

Two women stand next to a large sign reading “KNOM Radio Mission | 780 AM | 96.1 FM | Augie Hiebert Broadcasting Center.”

KNOM would not exist without the help of Augie Hiebert, a legendary Alaska broadcaster who avidly championed the mission for decades.

Grey-haired man wearing blue plaid blazer and polo shirt, standing in front of rural Alaska landscape.

Augie Hiebert. Photo: KNOM file.

In early 1967, Augie learned of a floundering Nome Catholic radio project. There was a strong desire for a Catholic station, but no one in Nome had the tiniest bit of broadcasting expertise. So Augie flew to Nome to lay the groundwork for the new Catholic station, selecting a chunk of land at the mouth of the Nome River for an AM transmitter site.

On February 16, 1968, he convinced Washington, DC, communications attorney Joseph Hennessey to provide all legal work for the proposed station at no cost. (He continued pro-bono work for another 22 years.) He suggested the clear channel frequency of 780 kHz for the new station and asked Gaithersburg, Maryland, consulting engineer Peter Gureckis of John H. Mullaney’s firm if he concurred. He also elicited free engineering work from Gureckis.

In July, 1968, Augie flew to Washington, DC, to meet with Hennessey and Mullaney.

On March 14, 1969, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that they would allow the Nome Catholic station to move forward, undoubtedly persuaded by the lobbying of Augie’s close friend, Senator Ted Stevens. On that day, Hennessey filed the paperwork to apply for a construction permit.

Black-and-white photo of two crew workers dangling from a support cable next to a radio tower near the shoreline of Nome, Alaska.

Early KNOM AM tower work, circa 1970.

En route to Nome to become the Catholic station’s volunteer chief engineer, Tom Busch was asked to drop in on Augie when passing through Anchorage. It was February 3, 1970. KTVA-TV’s receptionist was amused that this young greenhorn would have the audacity to call on Alaska’s most powerful broadcaster without an appointment, but when Augie learned of Tom’s connection, he swept everything off his desk and took care of Tom for the rest of the day. He handed Tom several inches of paperwork and said, “it’s all yours, now, son.”

Augie sent his engineers to the project three times to check on Tom’s work. Within a year, he sent an engineer to Nome at no cost to the project, which now had the call letters “KNOM,” to help commission the transmitter. He continued to be a loyal supporter for nearly a half-century.

KNOM honors Augie’s legacy: the Nome radio station building bears his name. KNOMers affectionately refer to Augie as the mission’s “Grandpa.”

Image at top: A new sign for the Nome studios, displayed by Augie Hiebert’s daughters, Cathy and Terry. Photo: Lynette Schmidt, KNOM.