Back to Index








For Assignment of License of Station KRTV, Great Falls, Mont.


File No. BALCT-369




16 F.C.C.2d 837 (1969)


February 28, 1969



[*837]  The Commission, by Commissioners Hyde, Chairman; Bartley, Robert E. Lee, Cox, Wadsworth, Johnson, and H. Rex Lee, with Commissioner Cox issuing a statement and Commissioner Johnson dissenting and issuing a statement, granted the application for assignment of license of television station KRTV, Great Falls, Mont., from Snyder and Associates to Garryowen Cascade TV, Inc.





This is a difficult case for me.  I share Commissioner Johnson's concern about concentration of control of the media nationally, regionally or within a State.  However, I am also troubled by the problems of developing an economically viable free television service in sparsely populated areas.  In such regions it has sometimes been necessary to permit an existing broadcaster to build or buy other stations in the area -- some of them often mere satellites of his original station, and then to supplement these facilities with translators to reach people who still do not get service.  This is not an ideal solution, but it is better than having the people of the region depend on distant stations which reach them by way of CATV -- that is, those who could avail themselves of that service.


In this case it would perhaps be better if all the television stations in Montana could be individually owned, and could operate successfully  [*839]  enough to assure adequate and continuing service to the State.  But this would present some problems.  Billings is the 179th television market in the country in terms of net weekly circulation; Great Falls is the 187th; and Butte is the 190th.  Their aggregate net weekly circulation is less than that of the Austin-Rochester, Minnesota-Mason City, Iowa market, which is ranked 106th.  But the latter market's audience supports only three television stations, while the three Montana communities have five stations which must divide this audience and the advertising revenue it generates.


As a consequence, there is already a grouping of stations in order to develop audience levels that can sustain operations on a satisfactory basis. 


Harriscope Broadcasting Corp., owns stations in Billings and Great Falls, while KMSO-TV Inc., owns stations in Missoula and Kalispell (the latter having recently been upgraded from a translator to a satellite station).  And these groups, like the one here acquiring the station in Great Falls, own translators in other communities in order to strengthen the base of their operations and to extend service to areas which would otherwise not have it.  Thus only the stations in Helena and Glendive are individually owned -- and their licensees are involved in ownership of the local CATV systems.

Again, I quite agree that this pattern is not one which, in general, I like to see.  But I am persuaded, on balance, that this transfer will serve the public interest by strengthening local free broadcast service in the State of Montana.  We will have to look to the Fairness doctrine, section 315, and other of our policies to insure that this concentration of ownership does not disserve the people of the State.  For these reasons, with considerable reluctance, I have voted to approve this transfer.





The FCC today approves the acquisition of the television station in Great Falls, Mont. by Garryowen Cascade TV, Inc. For the new owners it will be their third TV station in the State of Montana.  I dissent.


There are eight television stations in the relatively sparsely populated State of Montana.  The applicants in this case now own KOOK-AM and TV in Billings, and KXLF-AM and TV in Butte.  They have now acquired KRTV-TV in Great Falls.  The majority -- without opinion or explanation -- has thus found it in the public interest for a single owner to control 37 1/2 percent of the television stations in a single State (as well as two powerful AM radio stations).  n1


n1 Since the preparation of this opinion Commissioner Cox has issued his own "individual statement." It is characteristically to-the-point, articulate, informed, candid, thorough, and rational.  The reasons he advances for his vote I would, under some circumstances, find persuasive.  I do not, however, share his judgment under the facts of this case.  And I remain regretful that the majority could not have undertaken the task of presenting its position in such a manner.


These three TV stations are among the most powerful in the State of Montana.  In terms of the net weekly circulation in Montana, KOOK-TV ranks first, KRTV ranks fourth, and KXLF-TV ranks fifth (as reported in "TV Factbook" for March 1967).  Together these three stations have over 50 percent of the net weekly circulation in the State.  There is no explanation as to how or why the further concentration of economic and political power in this single licensee can be sanctioned by this Commission as furthering "the public interest." In fact, there is no mention of any competitive issue in the application, and, of course, no word from the majority.


Problems surrounding the concentration of control of the mass media in this country take a variety of forms involving undue economic,  [*838]  political and ideological power.  Local media monopolies raise one set of concerns, national multimedia or conglomerate ownership another.  None of these problems are, apparently, before us here.  The problem is not that the licensee has total control over the local news reaching the residents of Billings, Butte and Great Falls.  Nor is there risk that common ownership of three television stations in Montana threatens full discussion of national issues throughout this country.  The concern is, rather, for the full and free dissemination of information and discussion of issues and opinion about and within the State of Montana.  These are problems somewhat similar to those existing when Anaconda copper was alleged to have extensive ownership of the newspapers in Montana -- a regional concentration of media control further complicated by Anaconda's obvious political and economic interests in the content of the mass media in Montana as a conglomerate corporation.  (See, Columbia Journalism Review, Summer 1963, p. 46.)


The argument has been advanced that a single television station, serving the largest city in a State, may reach as much as half the population of that State.  That is true.  But it is also inevitable -- it is impossible to own less than a single station.  It is not impossible to own less than three stations in a State.


Our rules provide an absolute maximum ownership limitation of five VHF television stations nationally.  17 C.F.R. Sec. 73.636(a) (2) (1968).  But that rule also provides that we will evaluate "the facts of each case with particular reference" to "the size, extent and location of area served [and] the number of people served * * *." It is difficult to imagine a more compelling set of facts than those here before us.


It is one thing for this Commission to fail to order divestiture of television properties by an owner of three stations in small communities in separate States.  It is quite another to make a formal, statutory finding that the public interest is served by a licensee's acquisition of his third property in a single State in which he reaches over half the population. 


I dissent.


Back to Top                             Back to Index