40 Under 40: Alumna, Award-Winning Broadcaster Heather Waliga Proud To Serve East Tennessee
Alumna Heather Waliga (‘06) co-hosts 10News Today for WBIR-TV and Fox43 News This Morning in Knoxville. She joined the team in March 2018. Pictured, from left to right are: Morning News Anchor Abby Ham, Meteorologist Rebecca Sweet and Waliga.
Knoxville native and alumna Heather Waliga (‘06) was thrilled to accept the anchor position at WBIR-TV in 2018.
“I love doing this job in the community that I grew up in because I feel even more connected and invested in the people who live here and it’s really fun to tell the stories of people here in East Tennessee,” Waliga said.
It was also a full-circle moment for Waliga, who interned at WBIR as a college student before accepting her first broadcasting position post-graduation.
Waliga’s passion for storytelling started at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and has since bloomed into a decades-long career in the broadcasting industry. In recognition of her personal and professional success since completing her degree, Waliga was recently named one of 2024’s Volunteer 40 Under 40.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Waliga said. “When I look at the list of people who are on it this year and past, it really just blows me away. I feel really proud to be part of this group.”
Attending UT was always Waliga’s plan after graduating from Karns High School, but studying journalism was not. A chance encounter with a journalism and media student led her to enroll in a few classes just to try it out.
And she loved it.
“The first time I remember falling in love with journalism was in Dr. Bob Legg’s production class,” Waliga said. “We were making short films, tape editing, and learning nonlinear editing. I loved the idea of being able to shoot stuff and then put it together. I thought it was really fun.”
Her love for storytelling only deepened after meeting another mentor, Professor Emeritus Sam Swan. She said Swan’s instruction, enthusiasm, and dedication to his students helped her grow as a journalist, whether in the classroom or through working at The Volunteer Channel.
Swan and Legg were also honest about the realities of the profession and what it would take to advance in the industry. As a student, Waliga found this refreshing to hear and felt it prepared her for her first job and first time away from home when she accepted a position at WJHG-TV in Panama City, Florida.
At WJHG-TV, she did a little bit of everything, from pitching and field reporting, to anchoring and producing shows.
“It was a great learning experience,” Waliga said. “It pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I think this has served me well in other positions later.”
Waliga would go on to be an anchor and reporter at Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum News) in Charlotte, North Carolina, and ABC11 Eyewitness News – WTVD in Raleigh-Durham, before returning to Knoxville.
In her almost two decades in the industry, she has traveled to cover NCAA Championships, reported from the red carpet at the 50th Annual CMA Awards in Nashville, co-hosted a live Emmy-winning broadcast of the 75th Miss North Carolina pageant, and covered the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
Her reporting has garnered a number of accolades such as “Best Spot News” and “Individual Achievement” from the Florida Associated Press, and an Associated Press award for her investigative coverage of recalled food products in local convenience stores.
Serving the Community
While her portfolio includes a litany of high-profile and historic coverage, Waliga loves using her platform as a reporter to be an advocate for the communities she serves and furthering good causes dear to her heart.
She is an advocate for Down Syndrome research and education and has leveraged her platform in the communities she was stationed to grow awareness and support.
Her connection to this cause is personal as the big sister of 15-year-old Cassie Cabe, who was born with Down Syndrome. She recalls Cabe’s impact on her family and saw an opportunity as a journalist to help other families caring for a loved one with a disability or special needs.
“I feel really proud that my family and I, specifically at the TV stations, have been able to give a voice to people with disabilities,” Waliga said. “It’s just been very rewarding.”
She is also an advocate for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee. Her introduction to the organization was through a childhood friend who served as the organization’s president when she moved back to Knoxville.
They revitalized a segment at WBIR called Live A Little, which highlighted kids on the waiting list for Big Brothers Big Sisters, and mentors. Waliga said their efforts increased mentorships. The Tennessee Associated Press Broadcasters and Media Editors also recognized the series for helping to spread the word about this particular need in the community.
Following the footsteps of her mentors, Waliga also makes time to speak to college students and loves mentoring student journalists at WBIR. She understands the media landscape is quite different from when she started; along with technological advancements and the exponential growth of social media, Waliga said smaller broadcasting markets where many fresh- out- of- college students used to cut their teeth are going away.
That is why she is always happy to help another if she can and pay forward the mentorship she received to the next generation of Vols.
“I am so proud of the way UT has evolved and the people that they continue to produce,” Waliga said. “All of the students that come out of there are doing amazing things. It makes me really proud to be a Volunteer.”