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Hiebert

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Hiebert, 'Father of Alaska TV,' dies

FIRST: He helped Alaskans see Armstrong live on the moon.

Pioneer broadcaster A.G. "Augie" Hiebert, who launched Alaska's first television station a half-century ago when TV sets were a rarity in this state, died early Thursday morning in Anchorage. He was 90.

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Often called "the father of Alaska television," Hiebert had several firsts to his name.

He came to Alaska in 1939 to help Austin E. "Cap" Lathrop put Fairbanks' first radio station, KFAR, on the air. He helped build KENI radio in Anchorage in 1948, and later founded Northern Television Inc., which launched the state's first television stations, KTVA in Anchorage and KTVF in Fairbanks.

Hiebert also founded the state's first FM radio station, KNIK, in Anchorage in 1960, and is credited with bringing television to the Bush.

When KTVA signed on in December 1953, Hiebert was broadcasting only a few hours a day, showing programs flown up from the Lower 48.

On July 20, 1969, on small black-and-white sets, Alaskans watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon, live, without waiting as usual for a taped version, thanks to some serious wheeling and dealing Hiebert and other station owners did with Alaska's congressional delegation and the U.S. military for a satellite setup.

Hiebert sold Northern Television Inc. in 1997. He was 80 at the time, and said he wanted to travel and "smell the flowers" while he was still able to smell them.

Hiebert's contributions to this state in telecommunications, as well as his philanthropy, got him named Alaskan of the Year in 2001.

"Good old Augie," sighed Mel Sather, who first went to work for him at KTVA as a teenager nearly 50 years ago.

"He had daughters and was always looking for someone to be his son," Sather said. "Everybody got a turn."

Although Hiebert didn't have a very long fuse, as Sather put it, at the same time he was always fair.

"I just remember him coming in at 4 or 5 in the morning; he'd usually get mad at us for something and then he'd take us to breakfast. He absolutely insisted.

"He was like that to the day he died. Mercurial in his kind of temperament.

"Even though he was sometimes crusty, he had a heart of gold. He loved kids. He really went out of his way to encourage young people."

An Associated Press story quoted broadcast icon Walter Cronkite saying in a prepared statement: "The great state of Alaska has lost one of its most distinguished citizens. Augie Hiebert was the pioneer of communications who brought radio and later television to his beloved home state.

"Augie was a great friend and a gracious host to the many who were privileged to be welcomed to his doorstep," Cronkite said. "He will be sorely missed by all of us."

Hiebert's health had been declining lately, although you'd hardly have known it.

"He had a stroke but it never slowed him down much," Sather said.

In recent years, until a few weeks ago, even, Hiebert gave so much of himself to Mirror Lake Middle School that he had a permanent visitor's badge.

He played a major role in creating the school's video-news program, which broadcasts school news on closed-circuit TV. He was also the key player in getting the school's low-power FM station, KAUG, licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, the first in the nation for a middle school, according to Jeanne Fischer, principal at the time.

"He was always just a wonderful friend to the kids," she said.

"It's been quite a draining day for us here at Mirror Lake," Emily Blahous said of the news. As technology facilitator, she worked closely with Hiebert on these school projects.

"He was such an important part of our school."


Find Debra McKinney online at adn.com/contact/dmckinney or call 257-4465.


A CLOSER LOOK: To learn more about Augie Hiebert, see the book "Airwaves Over Alaska: The Story of Pioneer Broadcaster Augie Hiebert" as told by his daughter, Robin Ann Chlupach, with a forward by Walter Cronkite.

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