Broadcast station KFBB has existed for nearly a century. In 1922, while President Harding was introducing the first radio in the White House, KFBB was introducing Montanans to the first radio broadcast in the state. Ahead of the curve, the station’s administrators recognized that radio could be a valuable tool to the people of Montana. It would allow them to experience current American news and cultural entertainment, and perhaps most importantly, it would update them on the weather. Rural Montanans beyond telephones or telegraph service could finally get important weather reports. Radio could alert sheepherders in covered wagons and ranch hands on the range to incoming hazards, allowing them to plan accordingly.
In fact, KFBB Radio was featured in an article titled “Wild West” in the January 31, 1944 edition of TIME which cited the Radio Station’s focus on weather as a major reason for its success. The article begins, “KFBB . . . is the kind of broadcasting station that U.S. radio-network executives envy.”
Along with weather updates, TIME noted that KFBB held the attention of its listeners by establishing personal connections. In one instance, KFBB addressed a farmer’s wife on air, letting her know that her husband was stuck in town due to a storm and not to worry about him. Another time, KFBB broadcasted that a man had left his fair tickets at home; the station then provided instructions on how one of his neighbors could break into his house and retrieve the tickets for him.
Once, KFBB called for volunteers to help control a prairie fire 35 miles south of Great Falls. Three hours later, the sheriff called in to report that there were 500 volunteers on hand.
KFBB quickly became the voice of Montana, representing and catering to the people. When the station moved from Havre to Great Falls in 1929, its first radio program in the new location was a seven hour lineup of local singers and musicians. By the 1950s, 43% of Montana’s population lived within KFBB’s listening area and by the 1960s, KFBB Radio was reaching more than 20,000 Montana homes and receiving mail from fans as far away as Australia.
Around that time, KFBB was also gaining fans through television. Recognizing the public’s growing interest in TV, KFBB started Great Falls’ first television broadcast station in 1954. Programming ran from around 1pm to just before midnight Monday through Friday, and from around 3pm to just before midnight on the weekends. Early KFBB programming included popular shows such as Red Skeleton, Lawrence Welk, Superman, Fury, Jackie Gleason, and many others. News, weather, and various sports programming would play throughout the day as well, although the sports on TV at that time would be considered unconventional by today’s standards. Boxing, wrestling, and bowling were shown frequently on the station, with Championship Bowling named the top KFBB sporting event in 1954.
As with radio, KFBB was dedicated to interacting with the community and building relationships on a personal level. Besides local news, the station would run contests and promotions to keep viewers involved. One promotion – LANDER-Hi, The Friendly Guy – was advertised in KFBB’s April 1957 Radio-TV Programming Guide as follows:
Promotions such as this were not just a means to keep ratings up but a way to connect people and businesses within the community.
This passion for community involvement has been present since KFBB’s founding as a radio station and remains present in KFBB-TV to this day. “Each of us at KFBB is personally invested in some aspect of the community,” says KFBB station manager Keith Teske. “We’re stewards of community. Community is what we are.”
Read more about KFBB’s community involvement in future issues of Treasure State Lifestyles. And watch what’s going on in your community right now by tuning into KFBB-ABC channel 5.1 or KFBB-FOX channel 5.2.
Every Thursday at 6:00 o’clock, Art Weber, KFBB-TV personality brings you LANDER-HI, The Friendly Guy, and a chance to win a dinner for two at a place of your choice in the Great Falls area.
All you have to do is answer “HIGHLANDER” instead of “Hello” when your telephone rings Thursday night at 6:00-6:15. If you’re a lucky winner, Missoula Brewing Company, makers of HIGHLANDER beer, will send you credit certificates for dinner, good anywhere.