Paul C. Hedberg, 81 years old | News, Sports, Jobs
Paul Clifford Hedberg died on May 27, 2021 at his home in Southlake, Texas; he was born on May 28, 1939, in Cokato, the eldest child and only son of Florence (Erenberg) and Clifford Hedberg.
The foundations for Paul’s future business success were laid early in his life, when he spent long summers in the bottling business of his maternal grandfather. While he enjoyed traveling the delivery routes and working the production line, his favorite job was to use the public address system to make announcements. Once he heard his 12-year-old voice amplified throughout the factory, Paul became addicted to the power of the microphone.
Based on this experience, at the age of 15, Paul bought a modest amateur radio installation, he and his father threaded a wire antenna between two streetlights in front of their house and he began studying for his HAM radio license. . Paul’s father, who was co-editor of the Cokato weekly, was fascinated by the potential of his son’s hobby. Inspired by the relaxed FCC licensing rules and energized by Paul’s enthusiasm, in 1956 Cliff Hedberg left the newspaper business to establish a new AM radio station (KMRS) in Morris.
Moving the 100 miles to Morris meant Paul would be spending his final year at another high school. Naturally sociable, he quickly made new friends and became famous for his after school shifts and live record store remotes on KMRS. He was popular, and he liked it; the caption under his photo in the 1957 Morris yearbook said it all: “Just call me ‘Doc’ – I operate anywhere.”
With the encouragement of his father that it would be helpful to gain experience working at larger radio stations, in early 1958 Paul moved to Mason City, Iowa, to become the program director of the new Top 40 format at KRIB (which included a side concert as emcee at the legendary Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa). There he adopted a new nickname, “The Swede who swings” (still proud of his ancestors, Paul was a single Norwegian great-grandparent who was not 100% Swedish).
Six months later, at his mother’s insistence that he try college, Paul moved to the Twin Cities. With the help of the director of KRIB, he secured an on-air job at WMIN before the start of the fall semester. Over the next four years, he DJed at a succession of increasingly powerful metro radio stations: WTCN, WLOL and KDWB. Paul was fortunate to have discovered what he wanted to do in life at a young age and – through his talent and hard work – to have been granted multiple opportunities to advance in the industry of radio before turning 22. But college was not for him – no classroom or curriculum could provide him with the education he was receiving on the job (and he was right).
At KDWB, Paul found himself in an amazing team of announcers fighting daily for the ears of the Under 30 crowd. While this kept his work days full of excitement, something much bigger happened to him at the same time: one of his new colleagues introduced him to Juliet Schubert, and he was smitten. Two events loomed on the horizon, however: Paul was going to join the Coast Guard reserve for six months of active duty, and he and his father had been licensed to build a new AM station in southern Minnesota. With all of these things happening, he and Julie got married on December 30, 1962 in Minneapolis. Paul would tell you that if marriage is life’s biggest bet, he hit the jackpot by marrying Julie!
In August 1963, KBEW aired on Blue Earth, the second of what by the late 1990s would reach a total of 21 radio stations, spread across 10 communities in Minnesota and Iowa. Paul emphasized his stations’ commitment to live and local content, and their success was built on being in tune with the rhythms of small rural communities; what mattered most was not the format of the programming, but what was broadcast around the music.
Paul was often told that his stations took on his personality, and that gratified him. Her resonant voice and fluid delivery stood out, as did her penchant for puns, imaginative promotions and creative programming. He was an excellent interviewer and developed a popular program on KBEW, “Welcome to travelers”, it put his skills to the test: in the summer he would visit local gas stations and a nearby rest area looking for out-of-state license plates; not all of the guests were naturally talkative, so he had to listen very carefully so that he could ask questions that engage people and put them at ease.
Paul’s business and community interests outside of radio were numerous. In the early 1970s he brought cable TV to Blue Earth and also – a complete generation before the internet arrived – devised a service that broadcast up-to-the-minute commodity prices to individual subscribers of farms and elevators. He was instrumental in the operations of Blue Earth’s Industrial Service Corporation, which included a successful appeal to the state’s Department of Transportation to redirect Interstate 90 further south. This generated untold revenue for local businesses, but also gave Paul the impetus for the biggest public display of his promotional ingenuity: the installation of a 55ft tall fiberglass Jolly Green Giant just south of the Blue Earth exit of I-90. At the time, it was the fifth tallest free-standing statue in the United States; to this day, it still prompts thousands of passing travelers to leave the highway for a closer look. In the late 1980s, Paul was instrumental in reviving the historic amusement park in Arnold’s Park, Iowa, and in establishing the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting in St. Louis Park.
Paul received many honors during his four decades of radio career: he was elected president of the Minnesota Association of Broadcasters; he served three terms on the board of directors of the National Association of Broadcasters; KUOO in Spirit Lake, Iowa won the NAB’s Marconi Award as the country’s Small Market Station of the Year in 1994; and in 1998, he was named Broadcaster of the Year by the Iowa Broadcasters Association. Paul’s lifelong commitment to local radio culminated with his induction into the Minnesota Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2001. As a testament to his influence and impact on the industry, a number of former Paul employees later joined him in the Hall of Fame.
Paul is survived by his wife of 58 years; her son, Mark (Kristi) Hedberg, and daughter, Ann (Paul) Kieffaber; grandchildren Sydney Hedberg, Natalie Hedberg and Jack Kieffaber; and his sister, Alice Hedberg.
Paul was predeceased by his parents; his sister, Kathy Hedberg; her in-laws, Don and Helen Schubert; and many aunts and uncles.
A celebration of Paul’s life well lived will take place in Spirit Lake, Iowa, later in the summer. Submissions can be sent to the Pavek Museum of Broadcasting, 3517 Raleigh Avenue, St. Louis Park, MN 55416.