By Tim Leeds
It's looking like Havre will have it's own TV station broadcasting by the end of the year.
"After two years of talking with NBC, we finally have an agreement to start broadcasting as a satellite of the Helena station," said James Rogers, president of Sunbelt Communications.
Rogers said the agreement has been signed to approve KBBJ, a National Broadcasting Company-affiliated station in Havre.
Sunbelt, which is headquartered out of Las Vegas, proposed building a station in Havre in 1998, later including starting a station in Lewistown to its plans. The plans have been delayed because of negotiations with the network.
Ralph Toddre, executive vice president of Sunbelt, said the delay had been because they wanted to make sure the plans were OK with NBC before continuing. He said the project is currently moving ahead at the rate they expected it to. Toddre said the equipment for the Havre and Lewistown stations is ordered.
"We don't know the exact delivery date," he said, "but it should be pretty soon."
Toddre said setting up the stations will "kind of go in phases." He said at first, the stations will rebroadcast the transmission of KTVH, Sunbelt's NBC affiliated station in Helena, with some local broadcasting possible. Full local coverage would come later.
Rogers said that they plan to start working on developing local programming "after the sun comes out and the snow melts." He said once planning for the local programming goes further, they will decide whether to build or rent a news building.
Initial operations would consist of a transmitter, a building to house it, an antenna and tower and a microwave relay to pick up the Helena signal. Initial discussion included locating the station on the Montana State University-Northern campus, but Toddre said it's too early in the discussion to make any statements about that. He said they do broadcast off of the Carroll College campus in Helena, as well as in other locations, so it's not unusual for them to do that.
Mike Rao, chancellor of Montana State University-Northern, said this could be a good opportunity for the institution. He said it could provide internship positions for the students, and opportunities for students interested in both the technical aspects and other areas of broadcasting.
Rao said they have talked with Sunbelt about the possibilities of scholarships for students in fields relating to the company's operations, and about exploring MSU-Northern developing a program in technical communications and broadcasting.
Rao said the presence broadcast journalism could also create an desire to improve the telecommunications capabilities in the area, and possibly provide an economic stimulus as well.
Rao said the station could provide an opportunity to create a link to sporting and athletic events in the community, depending on the facility's staffing and the requirements by NBC.
Rao said that while he has heard concerns that having another medium will take advertising dollars from other media, he feels that the station could be enough of an economic stimulus to make up for such problems that they are no longer an issue.
Sunbelt currently has eight stations broadcasting in five states. KBBJ would be the first television station to broadcast from the Hi-Line.