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Cowles eyes sports network

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Pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission, a string of Montana television stations will have a new owner. The Spokane-based Cowles Company announced at the beginning of October it was negotiating to acquire seven broadcast outlets statewide from Max Media LLC in Virginia for an undisclosed sum. Cowles' broadcast footprint would subsequently expand from Washington, northern Idaho and parts of Oregon all the way across Montana.

Patricia McRae, spokesperson for Cowles and president of the company's NBC affiliate in Spokane, is now touring the Montana stations to meet with staff. She says the company is "very, very excited to be local broadcasters in Montana," adding that the company has been eyeing such an expansion "for some time." Cowles is also the owner of The Spokesman-Review, which company founder William H. Cowles helped build in the early 1890s.

While McRae won't discuss details of the acquisition"We are a privately held company," she explains, "as is Max Media"she is open about Cowles' plans for the Montana market beyond the string of NBC and ABC/Fox stations. In particular, Cowles hopes to launch a 24-hour sports and weather network similar to SWX, a channel it started in eastern Washington roughly five years ago.

"It really is all about local sports, prep sports, local colleges," McRae says. "We have produced, in eastern Washington, about 250 live, local sporting events a year. It's anything from high school football to high school basketball—both boys and girls—to boys' and girls' volleyball."

SWX has also aired wrestling, motocross and hydroplane racing.

McRae says the company's plans for a Montana sports network are still in the preliminary stages; negotiating for broadcast rights and securing the necessary equipment and staffing will take some time. But the network would likely operate out of the existing stations Cowles is acquiring. McRae says the company will eventually reach out to prospective partners in Montana"other entities and other production houses"for sports content.

McRae says it's also too early for her to comment on whether the purchase will impact current employees at any of the Montana stations. Cowles expects the deal to officially close Dec. 1.

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