Local news will never be the same in Eastern Idaho. On Wednesday, Nov. 27, a fixture in the community will say for the last time, “That’s it for this newscast. Thanks for watching. Good night.”
Jay Hildebrandt has anchored and reported at KIFI Local News 8 for 35 of his 42-year career in television news. After graduating from Brigham Young University, he took a job at KMVT in Twin Falls where he anchored for two years before moving to Fort Wayne, Indiana to anchor at WKJG. He stayed there for four years before he took a job at KIFI.
The career and success of a journalist are often measured by how big of a TV market they work in or national network they work for. Hildebrandt could have moved to bigger cities to pursue his career, but he decided to make Idaho Falls his home.
“I thought for me success is just being happy, being at a community that I love to be in, a place where the kids can thrive and do well and feel safe,” he said. “This has been a successful career by my standard as I’ve sort of adjusted that standard as I’ve gone along.”
Hildebrandt actually got his start in broadcasting as a 12-year-old voice for Public Service Announcements for the Wisconsin Council of Safety. He voiced the PSAs until he was 15.
His voice has mostly lost the Wisconsin accent. It’s now instantly recognized throughout eastern Idaho as he’s become part of the daily lives of thousands and thousands of people over his three-and-a-half decades of anchoring newscasts here.
Hildebrandt has covered all the major local and national stories over the years. Often, he goes to Boise to report about the legislature. He’s informed viewers about the Berlin Wall coming down, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and eight presidential elections.
His most cherished stories, however, are his Wednesday’s Child reports. Every Wednesday for 28 years, and intermittently afterward, he shared stories about foster children who would like to be adopted. Many of them were and he would follow up with them throughout the years.
“There have been many occasions where people have seen a Wednesday’s Child on TV and felt very strongly that that child should be in their family and they could be from 2 years old to 16 years old,” he said. “It makes a difference.”
For nearly 30 of his years at Local News 8 he’s had the same partner in Karole Honas. She says she’s now in “crisis mode.”
“I’m a little rattled,” she said. “It’s like having a dancing partner, you just know exactly what the other person’s going to do we read each other’s body language, we finish each other’s sentences, we can tell when somebody’s grasping for a word and can’t quite find it, you jump in and you help. It’s a very unique relationship.”
Honas said their unique relationship is similar to a marriage and has lasted longer than many marriages. She said she has spent more time with Hildebrandt day-to-day than she has with her husband.
“It’s a work marriage. We’ve made it work very well,” she said.
As Hildebrandt retires, his co-workers are sharing why they’ve enjoyed working with him for so many years. Honas called him “St. Hildebrandt” as she thought about what makes him inspiring.
“He is the quintessential gentleman of the world,” she said. “He just is kind. And solid. And kind of quiet.”
Michael Coats, KIFI’s chief meteorologist who has worked with Hildebrandt since 2006, said Hildebrandt and Honas are the captains of the “Starship Channel 8.”
“We fly this thing every night and Jay is the steady captain… he’s like the Jean-Luc Picard (from “Star Trek the Next Generation”) of the newsroom, he’s like our captain,” he said.
Dylan Carter, KIFI’s sports director, grew up in southern Idaho and watched “Jay and Karole” on TV before he started working with him in 2000. Carter said he appreciates the calming influence Hildebrandt has on the newsroom.
“He’s always going to be Jay,” he said. “He’s going to be the steady rock that calms us all down and shows that kindness is still a thing in this world.”
Todd Kunz is the anchor for KIDK Eyewitness News 3, which operates from the same building as KIFI in Idaho Falls. He’s worked with Hildebrandt on and off since 1996. Hildebrandt was the news director when he hired Kunz to join KIFI who had been working in radio, not TV.
“I put together this little demo tape of my own and my wife helped shoot it for me, so she was on the other end of the camera,” he said, “I guess they liked it and Jay hired me.”
Working in live television has its so-called hazards. Hildebrandt is recognized whenever he’s in public, which he said he’s glad to have happen because “it means they’re watching.”
Another hazard comes in the form of bloopers. Every reporter and anchor has them. Hildebrandt is no different. He and Honas separately remembered one particular blooper where Hildebrandt read a story about an infestation of tarantulas at a golf course. The only problem, the word was separated on the teleprompter, so he read it “taran-toola.”
“I laughed for so long!” Honas said.
You can give Hildebrandt a well-deserved congratulations at a public reception for him on Wednesday, Nov. 27 from 7 – 9 p.m. at the Willard Arts Center in Idaho Falls. Also, don’t forget to watch his final newscast that night at 10 p.m. on KIFI Local News 8.