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Les Brown, DJ and Volunteer Engineer

Man with white beard and headphones sits in front of computer screens and radio microphone
Les Brown in KNOM Studios, September 2018. Photo: Margaret DeMaioribus, KNOM.

Les Brown was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1942, and grew up in the nearby town of Swansea.

His long broadcasting career was born in Fall River, too: it was there, at the age of only 16, that Les accepted a position as a deejay and board operator at WALE, working 11-hour air shifts on Sunday nights.

Les’ early years were saturated in Rhode Island radio: WERI in Westerly; WYNG in Warwick; and WXTR and WLKW, both in Providence. During his tenure as WXTR’s program director, Les also cut his teeth in engineering during a station format change. He found it enjoyable enough to earn a first-class license with the FCC and, soon thereafter, transition to work in television, as an operator/engineer, at WTEV (Channel 6) in New Bedford, MA.

It was during some downtime at WTEV that Les found an advertisement in an issue of Broadcasting Magazine for announcers and engineers for a then-brand-new radio station in remote Nome. Amused at the prospect, Les took the ad home to show it to his wife, Paula, asking in jest if she’d like to go to Alaska. Her only response: “When?”

Les and Paula arrived in Nome in July 1972 — only a year after KNOM-AM first signed on the air — and stayed through the following June. In that time, he helped construct several buildings at the KNOM in-town and transmitter sites (all of which have long since been sold and moved to make way for the present facilities). 

On their way back to the Lower 48 from that first year in Nome, Les and Paula stopped in Ohio to visit one of Paula’s relatives, who offered a passing bit of friendly advice that turned out to be decisive: for Les to transition out of television work and into a career in sales. Les did so with Grass Valley Group, a company that manufactured hardware for TV stations. The decision to work for Grass Valley was the “foundation for so much of our wonderful life that followed,” Les says. The job took him and Paula to California, where they lived for nearly 20 years; Les became Grass Valley’s regional sales manager for Canada and for all of South and Central America, including the Caribbean. (And all because of a momentary bit of advice from an in-law, on a trip that only happened because of Les’ decision to serve at KNOM.)

All the while, during their decades in California, Nome remained close to their hearts — and frequently on their itineraries. Les returned repeatedly for weeks or months at a time to help Tom and Florence Busch and other KNOM staffers train new volunteers arriving at the station. One of his visits was arranged on very short notice: the station found itself short-staffed when business manager Lynette Schmidt went into labor with her sixth child. The previous year’s volunteers had already departed, and the new “class” hadn’t yet arrived, so general manager Tom Busch’s plea for help was especially urgent. Les was back in Nome the next day — leaving Paula to tend to the new lawn they had just planted.  

A few years later, Les and Paula both went to Nome on a more permanent basis, this time for seven years; Les worked as a paid engineer and on-air host for KNOM, and both of them became active members of the community.

From 2006 onwards, Les and Paula have lived in Palmer, Alaska. Les makes regular volunteer trips back to Nome to help with technical upgrades and hardware maintenance, working in concert with fellow Anchorage-area engineer Van Craft. In recent years, Les has also been the voice of the overnight KNOM show Burning the Midnight Oil; it’s a reprise of his announcing work during the wee morning hours in the early 2000s.

When he’s not voicing Midnight Oil or visiting KNOM in Nome, Les enjoys life — and morning coffee with friends — in “quiet little Palmer.” KNOM staffers relish opportunities to spend time with Les during his trips north.