The Blue Mountain Translator District, which supplies TV signals to parts of Baker and Union counties, wants to start a local channel available by antenna and through online streaming and cable TV.
The new channel, which could air such events as local government meetings and high school sports, could launch later this year.
The District, which is based in La Grande, has issued a request for proposals to operate the low-power local channel and set up the streaming and cable options.
The new channel would be available to anyone who pays the District’s $100 annual subscription fee, said Alex McHaddad, the District’s executive director.
McHaddad said the District has been working on the project since the spring of 2019. It distributed community surveys last fall to learn what people want to see on a local TV channel, and the District’s board of directors has been working on a strategic plan.
In 2019 the Oregon Legislature passed a bill — SB 394 — that authorized the District to start a low-power station.
“Ideally we would want to be able to broadcast all local government meetings — city council, county commissioners, school board,” McHaddad said. “Of course each entity is going to be allowed to say yes or no.”
McHaddad also has other shows in development to offer on the streaming service.
“I’ve got like 120 television shows in development all together,” he said. “We’re looking at some local programing created in the Pacific Northwest, things like travel shows that we think a lot of people in the area are really going to enjoy watching.”
The District has also discussed with Baker High School officials the option of broadcasting Bulldogs sporting events.
“The big reason we’re trying to go forward in making a channel, one that you can watch over the air, stream online, and watch on cable is to get a different source of revenue going for the district,” McHaddad said. “Over the last 40 years we had the same system of collecting revenue and a lot of people really don’t like it.”
Each year the District sends letters to residents in Baker Valley and other areas outside city limits, as well as to residents who, based on the presence of a TV antenna, might be using the District’s signals.
Residents who return the letter and say they don’t use the signals aren’t required to pay the $100 annual fee.
Residents who fail to do so can have the fee added to their property tax bill.
The District broadcasts more than 20 HD channels.
McHaddad said the District will be seeking sponsors for the new low-power local station.
“They’ll be able to sponsor the online streaming and the goal of that is to generate enough revenue to support our operations so that we can reform the way that we make money,” he said.
The request for proposals seeks a firm that has experience in ad sales.
While a local firm would be preferred, the District will also consider proposals from Boise, Walla Walla, or the Tri Cities.
“We want somebody who’s able to get sponsors for this channel from this area so that local businesses are sponsoring local television,” McHaddad said.
The District is also interested in proposals from local residents about producing shows that could be shown on the new channel.
“Our goal here is to use television to reinvest in the community,” McHaddad said. “Part of our model is that we don’t want anything that’s created here just to be broadcast here, we’re going to be building syndication partnerships with other TV stations around the region and the country.”