Andy Hilger was radio pioneer

Categories: Around the Diocese

August 30, 2013, edition
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully

Hitch-hiking to Brainerd in 1958, Andy Hilger stopped at a highway phone booth to call to the WJON radio station.

The call led him to a job as a nighttime DJ, going by the name “Tin Pan Andy.” He already had some experience working at radio stations including KASM in Albany, KCIM in Iowa and a KYMS in Mankato.

At WJON he “grabbed every chore he could find,” and eventually became part owner. In the years that followed he would bring cable television to St. Cloud by starting WJON Cablevision. He also started 98 Country and 93 FM, which became Spirit 92.9, and purchased Oldies 94.9.

After more than 50 years in radio, Hilger was inducted into the Pavek Museum Broadcasting Hall of Fame, and in 2009, he achieved his life-long dream of starting a Catholic talk radio station, K-YES 1180, which can be heard throughout the St. Cloud Diocese.

andyhilgerThough Hilger eventually sold WJON Cablevision, WJON, WWJO and KMXK, he donated KKJM, Spirit 92.9, to the St. Cloud Diocese. K-YES 1180 and Spirit 92.9 are both part of Gabriel Media today.

He continued to work on K-YES 1180 until fall 2010, when his Alzheimer’s Disease got in the way. On August 19, at age 83, he breathed his last breath. He died of Alzheimer’s Disease and was buried Aug. 23 in Assumption Cemetery in St. Cloud.

“He was a visionary,” said Deb Huschle, general manager of Spirit 92.9 and K-YES AM 1180. “He could always see things that we couldn’t see. No matter what anyone else told him, if he believed it was the right thing to do, he would forge ahead.”

Huschle said his initiative played out, for example, when he changed the format of K-93 from adult contemporary to Christian contemporary music. At the time, in the late mid-1990s, there were not many Christian radio stations. Today, the Christian radio station is still standing and helps the community, she said.

“He was a man of conviction,” said Carol Hilger, Andy’s wife. “His conviction was the Catholic church. That’s what led his heart.”

Though Hilger ran commercial stations for many years, his faith led him in his projects and business relationships, Carol Hilger said. For WJON he generated editorials that were pro-life, pro-family and pro-community.

“He was clearly into his faith and practiced it and took time for it,” said Steve Gottwalt, who worked for Hilger at WJON and later served as communications director for the St. Cloud Diocese. “As much as he was a man of the world, a business man, a community leader, he was a deeply spiritual person. It was so clear in the way he cared for his family and how that played out at the radio station.”

Gottwalt recalls Hilger supporting family values and broadcasting a family Christmas radio program.

“What struck me most was the way Andy set the theme,” Gottwalt said. “A principled, community-minded leader and philanthropist. . . . His influence wasn’t just based on what he said, but in what he did and how he practiced what he preached.”

Though known for his contributions in radio, Hilger was also very involved in the community. He helped found St. Cloud Area United Way and the Central Minnesota Community Foundation. He led numerous community fund drives and capital campaigns and was named St. Cloud’s most influential citizen in the late 1980s in a poll by the St. Cloud Times.

“His legacy lives on beyond his time with us,” Gottwalt said.

Gottwalt sees his legacy living on when he listens to K-YES and notes it provides spiritual nourishment. He sees it continuing in Spirit 92.9, which provides a positive family Christian alternative. But he also thinks it will live on as people remember him as someone who would step up whenever there was a need in the community.

”What a tremendous gift we were able to receive in Andy,” Gottwalt said.