Probably because of all my years as a print journalist, I never formed the habit of watching the local TV news. After all, these people didn't have the staff or the airtime to cover much of anything. And, unlike bigger cities, small-town Montana seldom had fires or bleeding with which to lead the broadcast.
But about a month ago I re-caught the Jeopardy bug. "THIS is Jeopardy!" finds me moving to the front of my seat, ready (or not) for the challenge.
Jeopardy is broadcast on a Great Falls station, Channel 9, just after the local news. But while Great Falls is 90 miles to the north, I discovered that the local news is HELENA local news! (It's the same on the Butte station, 65 winding mountain miles to the south.) Have people in Great Falls and Butte suddenly developed a craving for news from the capital city? I rather doubted it.
So I did some digging. It didn't take long. It turns out the new reality dates back to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which required planning to begin on changing TV stations from analog to digital. It's taken a while, but you might remember those scary warnings that as of June 12, 2009, your analog TV is junk without a conversion box. One of the purposes of the act was to free up broadcast spectrum space, and analog takes far more space than digital does. Now, broadcasters have room to play. That's why those mini-channels are popping up.
I must report that local TV news hasn't improved much, wherever it comes from. But I finally took a close look at the Channel 9 logo. On my TV, it says Channel 9.1.