LA GRANDE — Union and Baker county residents who receive their television signals from the Blue Mountain Translator District soon will be closer to the emergency pulses of their communities.
The district may be just a week away from getting a non-commercial, public access-type television channel on the air that will allow many Union and Baker county residents to keep up with what their government is doing on the local level and receive emergency information much more quickly.
BMTD Executive Director Alex McHaddad said on Saturday, Sept. 5, he hopes the channel can be launched on Sept. 14.
The new channel will provide live broadcasts of meetings of county commissioners meetings, city councils and school boards, information about emergency situations and more. It also will carry what the translator district has been livestreaming on its website since mid-April.
“It will be a simulcast of the livestream,” McHaddad said.
BMTD had planned to have the channel on the air last spring but the project was held up because of a delay in the arrival in some of the equipment it needed.
McHaddad said the new channel will primarily benefit those in Union and Baker counties who rely on the district for their television signals and do not have internet connection. He said he believes many of these Northeast Oregon residents are seniors.
McHaddad said emergency service providers, including Union County and Grande Ronde Hospital, will be able to get urgent messages out on the public access channel quickly.
The BMTD Board is working with TelVue Corporation, a broadcast technology firm, and Sinclair Broadcasting in airing the channel at a cost of about $23,000. McHaddad said he hopes sponsorships will help offset the cost.
Tim Wallender, president of the BMTD board, said the new channel will serve a particularly valuable role during the COVID-19 pandemic because in many instances people are not allowed to attend meetings of school boards, county commissions and city councils due to social distancing rules.
“This is one government entity helping other government entities get their word out,” Wallender said.
Senate Bill 394, which the Legislature passed in 2019, made the addition of the channel possible. The bill allows a public translator district the authority to use the technology to create public access-like channels.
The Blue Mountain Translator District, founded in 1978, has broadcast towers on Mount Fanny and Mount Harris in Union County and Beaver Mountain in Baker County and is funded by service fees. It provides about 24 channels to viewers, including ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.