Celebrating 20 Years of Local News: Anne Hillman
Unalaska Community Broadcasting has covered local news for the past 20 years.
To mark the newsroom's anniversary, KUCB is spending every Thursday of 2019 looking back at our former reporters and sharing some of their stories.
In March, we focused on Anne Hillman, who worked in the newsroom from 2008 to 2011.
KUCB's Laura Kraegel sat down with Hillman in Anchorage to hear how she made her way to Unalaska.
ANNE HILLMAN: I went to journalism school after the Peace Corps because I didn't have any experience whatsoever. And I finished up my thesis and was looking for a job. There was a job at KDLG in Dillingham, so I was out in Dillingham for a year. Great community. But the station wasn't quite the right fit for me. And at that point, Charlie [Homans] was leaving KUCB, and I knew him just through the public radio network. And he was like, 'Hey! Apply for out here.' And I did, and luckily I got the job.
KUCB: What was it like when you arrived? What was the station like? What was town like?
HILLMAN: Not terribly different than it is now. When I arrived, the station was at the Burma Road Chapel. We just had the one studio. No extra sound booths. Nothing like that. The news department was one person. It was Charlie that I was taking over for. Pipa [Escalante] was doing the TV stuff, and she had some various volunteers. Lauren [Adams] was full-time [as general manager]. There was a guy named Daniel, who was a deejay.
KUCB: Daniel … Last name?
HILLMAN: Daniel Weirich. You've never heard of Daniel?
KUCB: Yes, I have. Weirich. Remind me what his show was, though.
HILLMAN: Oh, he was the deejay. He did a lot of — like, he was the reason everyone woke up to AC/DC at 8 a.m. That was Daniel.
KUCB: So Daniel's helping Unalaska rock out as a deejay. What were you doing as the news reporter? What are some of the favorite or most important stories that you remember doing?
HILLMAN: I think the ones that jump to my head aren't important. They're just quirky.
KUCB: We like those, too.
HILLMAN: Like, not long after I got there, there was this group of Russians who were going out to the Islands of the Four Mountains to set up a ham radio operation — to be the first ones to send radio signals and communicate for this competition. So they hired a boat and went out and set up tents with radio stuff. But on the way out there, Mount Cleveland erupted, so we were getting covered in ash from Mount Cleveland and then camping on its shore. So it was just a weird, quirky thing. But also: "Here's the sound of a volcano erupting."
KUCB: You say "we." Were you out there with them?
HILLMAN: Oh, yeah. Yeah. One of their guys couldn't get a visa, so I went out and I took the camera and I took the equipment. And Lauren was like, "Ok, sure." And got stories about Russian ham radio operators. It was weird.
KUCB: That's insane.
HILLMAN: Pretty funny.
KUCB: Were you guys in danger?
HILLMAN: No. There was a lot of ash. I can tell you that walking around on the grass with the ash poofing up right after was probably not the best for our lungs. But nah, we were in no danger.
KUCB: If you were there in 2008, does that mean you were there for the switch from KIAL to KUCB?
KUCB: What do you remember from that?
HILLMAN: It is so much easier to say KUCB than KIAL. Like a thousand times easier. And that's mostly what I remember. I mean, it was pretty seamless. Just started saying new things.
KUCB: That was a KUCB transition. But what about your transition from Unalaska to Anchorage, where you work at Alaska Public Media's radio station? Take me through all of that.
HILLMAN: When I was in Unalaska, I met my wife Jeanette, who worked at [the Alaska Department of] Fish and Game at the time. And when we decided to leave, we went traveling for about a year all throughout Africa. Didn't really know where to go next, and Jeanette wasn't done with Alaska. And I was like, "Alright. Anchorage. That sounds fun." So we settled here, and I actually did kind of a variety of things. I worked abroad for a while in South Sudan. Did a little bit freelance stuff here and kind of bounced around. And then eventually was hired on as the Anchorage reporter. Within a couple of years, that shifted to Urban Affairs, and my reporting all ended up coalescing around, basically, social problems. But you can't just report on problems, because there are actually people who are working to solve those. And if you just keep the narrative focused on the negative, nothing changes. So for the past about year and a half, I've been doing a project called the Solutions Desk, which is looking at what's happening around the state to help solve things like homelessness and help people reenter the community after prison. And I host a conversation series. People come together to talk about difficult issues. In Unalaska, it was a conversation around immigration and integration. And how do you make this very diverse, small community stay united? I've done a whole bunch inside of prisons — with people who are incarcerated and people who are not — talking about life inside the walls and how to transition out.
KUCB: Thank you, Anne, for speaking with me. Before I let you go, any final thoughts on your time working at KUCB or your time just living in Unalaska?
HILLMAN: I guess I just want to thank everybody out there. I was a young reporter when I was out there. And you get a lot of young reporters, which means that takes a lot of patience and giving on behalf on the community. So I'm grateful for that. I'm grateful that it was a great place to be while I was out there. I just met a lot of amazing people. It was beautiful. I learned a lot about different worlds that I normally wouldn't have intersected with — with the fishing industry, learning about Unangan culture. And you know, that changes who you are and how you interact with the world. So I'm grateful for my years out there.
Listen to some of Anne Hillman's reporting: