Before coming to work at Pioneer, Hegland was a well known musician who toured the Upper Midwest with the glam rock band Argus. He was hired by Pioneer General Manager, Ansel Doll, who directed him to figure out his new production director position on his own. Hegland has fond memories of those early days when he and his fellow employees, Dale Lien and Scott Moen, worked to build Pioneer’s local program capacity from scratch.
“We were the right people at the right time,” explained Hegland. “Professionally trained people, would not have tried, given the condition of the studio and the antiquated equipment. It was the work ethic and improvisation we learned as farm boys that made it all possible,” he said.
From these humble beginnings, Hegland would go on to help create the critically acclaimed Country Spires series about historic country churches with Odessa native Cindy Dorn (nee Pansch). Narrated by Bill Holm, the program aired all over the country and was used by other PBS stations to raise funds. Hegland also launched the popular Prairie Sportsman series in the 1990s. He left Pioneer in the 2000s to work for Senate Media Services in St. Paul and he came back five years ago and was charged with giving a facelift and more professional feel to Pioneer’s station breaks.
Hegland first got the job at Pioneer as a result of his cousin Jim Hegland, who was a Board member at Pioneer, putting in a recommendation to Ansel Doll. “I want to say thanks to Jim for believing in a guy who had no education,” Hegland said. “I am most proud of the fact that we were largely self taught,” he added. “I taught myself about the guitar, television & computers. I enjoy the raw material phase to see if I can whip things into shape.”
Over the years Hegland saw Pioneer’s membership grow and then diminish due to the advent of cable and satellite TV and then start to rise again in recent years with an expanded viewing area and the sharing of quality local programs distributed over the internet.
When asked about his views on the recent decision to move Pioneer’s headquarters to Granite Falls, Hegland paused a long while before answering. He said that the idea to move the station was not a new one -- over the years he was part of several serious discussions to move that station to Morris or Marshall to gain access to a pool of student workers. “We have to remember that Pioneer belongs to the whole region -- it is not just Appleton’s station,” he said. “I have witnessed much loss; change hurts and we have to learn to deal with it -- it is sink or swim. The move is going to give the station a chance to recruit and retain much needed young talent so Pioneer can continue to serve as a media center for the whole region.”
“In the end, I believe that the board and management made the right decision, but Granite Falls is going to have some big shoes to fill -- when it comes to our Appleton volunteers,” he said.
Hegland says that in retirement he is looking forward to relishing in the prairie landscape he has helped to reestablish around his Hantho Township home. His imagination is stirred when he thinks about the oceans of tall grass that existed in pre-settlement days. “I would like to start painting again,” he mused. “I am so thankful that I came to terms with the prairie and learned to see the beauty in it.”
About Pioneer Public Television
Established in 1966, Pioneer Public TV is an award-winning, viewer-supported television station dedicated to sharing local stories of the region with the world. For more information visit: www.pioneer.org.