Stay tuned for county television agreement

Posted 6/4/09

The cost to upgrade them is estimated at more than $600,000 — a price county commissioners are reluctant to pay.

The county held a meeting with local station representatives on Tuesday, asking them to take over its translators.

“If …

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Stay tuned for county television agreement


TV stations willing to take over some translatorsPark County's TV picture is coming in a bit brighter than it was last month.The county owns 27 TV translators across eight sites, which beam over-the-air television to nearly everywhere in the county. However, those translators — whose broadcasts are picked up by antennas — are old and run down.

The cost to upgrade them is estimated at more than $600,000 — a price county commissioners are reluctant to pay.

The county held a meeting with local station representatives on Tuesday, asking them to take over its translators.

“If no one ends up interested in it, we may just shut them down,” said Mike Conners, county chief information officer.

However, the engineers from KTWO in Casper and KTVQ and KULR in Billings said their stations are open to taking over the county's largest translators.

“We certainly want to keep free TV going,” said Andy Suk, KTVQ's corporate engineer. “That's our livelihood.”

All three stations said they were interested in replacing and upgrading their respective translators at the McCullough Peaks site. That site serves the Powell area, as well as Cody.

The Spring Creek site which serves Meeteetse, and the Cedar Mountain's site, which provides TV up the North and South forks, were also mentioned as possibilities.

That was music to the county's ears.

“Gosh, we're almost all in agreement,” said Commissioner Bucky Hall. “This is stunning.”

It is unlikely, however, that any changes will be coming soon — likely at least a year.

“For us, it's going to be a slow process,” said KULR engineer Mark Huller.

The stations were less enthusiastic about sinking money into the smaller translators — Wood River, Draper, Dead Indian, Clark and Ghost Creek — where few viewers tune in.

“If it's a town of 12 people, we've got to look at if we want to spend $30, $40,000,” said Terry Lane, KTWO engineer.

But Suk of KTVQ said it might be possible to look at upgrading those translators as money allows and viewership demands.

“Rather than saying, ‘The heck with those folks, let's let them dump' ... we would certainly be willing to take a look at what's out there,” he said.

Exactly how many people use the eight different sites is unknown.

Powell technician Pete de Haan, who services the county's equipment, said all the translators are used by at least a few residents.

“We don't have a single site that, if it goes down, we don't have people call,” de Haan said.

Early last month, through newspaper advertisements, the county commission asked residents to notify the county if they pick up TV signals via antenna.

Just fewer than 300 households (115 in and around Powell) responded — representing around 600 TV viewers.

The actual number is likely greater, as not all residents read or respond to the county's notification.

Of those who did respond, nearly all asked the commissioners to find a way to continue the service, often citing limited money to spend on television, and reliance on the stations as a source of local news.

“It's the only way we have ever gotten our TV signal,” wrote Fred and Marlene Muffley of Powell. “We realize how tight money is and are glad that you are so conservative, but surely you could find a million to do this.”

A couple of residents said it was not the county's place to be invovled in the TV business.

“Why should Park County government willingly provide a free service that urges county residents to go spend money in Billings, or to a lesser extent Casper? Television stations do not exist to provide useful content like movies, programs, news, and entertainment ... THEY ARE COMMERCIAL ADVERTISING CONDUITS,” wrote Cody resident Dewey Vanderhoff.

That position was echoed by Conners on Tuesday.

“We're really in a position here where we'd like to get out of the translator business,” he said.

“We would like to step aside as much as we can,” said Commissioner Dave Burke.

The county is now working to draft an agreement with the stations where they would take over certain broadcasting licenses and translators from the county. That would be similar to arrangements already made with Wyoming PBS, which took over its Park County translators years ago.