The KNOM History
KNOM is the oldest Catholic radio station operating in the United States.
The continuing mission has been possible only by the hard work, sacrifice, dedication, and love of thousands of people: our staff and volunteers, listeners and community members, and the thousands of donors who have kept the lights on and the transmitters running.
KNOM has been broadcasting to Western Alaska since July 14th, 1971, when the station aired its very first program. The development of KNOM – both preceding and following our first broadcast – has been filled with colorful stories, exceptional challenges, and an incredible tradition of support and cooperation. The station’s volunteers have made do with blinding snowstorms, mountains of red tape, and sometimes-imperfect equipment, and amid it all, they’ve helped to broadcast events from bathtub races to sled-dog races, from political conventions to volcanic eruptions.
The story of what would become KNOM begins in the mid-1960’s. It became evident that regular village parish visits from Catholic priests throughout bush Alaska was difficult, due to the large land area to cover and shortage of priests. The complex situation birthed the idea of starting a radio station. This was tested with an experimental public-address system in the Yukon village of St. Mary’s, to relay educational, religious, and cultural information.
Here are some key times in KNOM’s history:
1966: After the successful operation of the experimental communications system in St. Mary’s, fundraising began for the start of an AM radio station that would reach homes throughout Western Alaska. Professional legal and engineering advice was sought to guide the effort.
1968: With the help of Alaska broadcast pioneer Augie Hiebert, a pro-bono lawyer and engineer team began the first planning phase and filings for KNOM-AM.
1969: An FCC application was filed for a 780 kilohertz AM radio station (KNOM) in Nome, AK.
July 1, 1970: The FCC granted the KNOM-AM construction permit, and construction work began at the KNOM studio and transmitter sites.
July 14, 1971: KNOM-AM signed on with 10,000 watts on July 14, 1971 and upgraded to 25,000 daytime watts / 14,000 nighttime watts in January 1998.
1985: The FCC granted KNOM and 13 other Alaska stations Class A status. Recognizing the distant reach of our signals, the FCC affords us five times greater nighttime protection from interference than they grant any station in the Lower 48.
1993: KNOM-FM debuted at 88 watts and upgraded to 1,000 watts on July 14, 2006, simulcasting to Nome in compact disc quality stereo.
Throughout, we’ve been thrilled – with your help – to stay on the air. As you’ll frequently hear in birthday greetings on our hotlines program, we hope to remain Yours for Western Alaska for “many more years to come.”
Note: Tragically, it came to light in the early 2000s that a priest involved during the early years was sexually abusive. The Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks’ letter of apology to KNOM and its listeners can be found here. KNOM’s Board of Directors put out a statement that can be read here.