I have now reached an age where final farewells have become a more common occurrence. I also know such occasions will not become less frequent.

This past Wednesday, final farewells were said in Great Falls for an individual who played a significant role in my broadcast career and in one chapter of Missoula broadcast television. I couldn't attend the services, so I feel compelled to pay at least passing tribute here.

Pete Friden deserves whatever credit (or blame) is due for being the first to pay me a wage for appearing on the public airwaves. Pete was the first station manager of KPAX-TV when it opened its doors as a separate station in 1977 - the same year my broadcast education crossed over from radio to television.

Our paths first crossed the following spring, when the station needed some temporary help in the news department and I applied. Within three months I had moved from a $10-a-story stringer to a full-time reporter and evening news anchor. In time, I became a bureau chief and local news director.

I can imagine what Pete, a conservative career salesman, saw in this slightly shaggy, eccentric-looking 22-year-old sporting the arrogance of youthful years - and I cringe a bit with the thought.

We had challenges in those days that now seem quaint at best and horrific at worst. We shot all of our news pictures on 16 mm film and had to rely on a downtown processing lab, which required two or more crosstown trips for drop-offs and pick-ups.

We edited silent and soundtrack film together at breakneck speed and combined it with audio tape cartridges to produce our on-air stories. Since we contributed to a statewide newscast and had no outgoing microwave link, we used buses and airplanes to send stories to our statewide headquarters.

Our studio was incredibly basic. We once did our portion of the statewide newscast with no studio cameras because both were being repaired. We had days when events beyond our control enraged our viewers and left us with no recourse but to take the abuse. We had days I'll always remember fondly and days I've tried hard to forget.

That Pete coped with all of that while trying to build a station is a marvel to me now, even though I didn't give him much credit at the time. I can recall instances when he was right and I was unwilling to recognize it, when I mistook his practical wisdom for middle-aged fogeyism.

I'm sure he was grateful in 1983 when he moved on to a manager's position in Great Falls, at a station with far more history and resources. In fairness, though, I'm sure the problems didn't shrink or become fewer in number.

As things turned out, it was his last relocation. He completed his broadcast management career in Great Falls, retired young, watched his sons begin their own lives and careers and finished out his days with his wife, Sheryl. I must admit I was surprised to find out he was only 57 years old when he died. I never had considered that our ages were so close, well within "older brother" range.

Over the past 15 years, I saw Pete sparingly. I last saw him about 10 months ago when I made a presentation at the Great Falls Rotary Club. He looked much the same, maybe a little thinner, certainly a little grayer. We exchanged pleasantries and he had more practical wisdom for me - about saving money for retirement.

I recall telling him that I appreciated his work now more than I had as a young man. If we'd had more time to chat, I suppose we would have laughed about events of 20 and more years before. We might have recalled proud moments and I might have apologized for any sleepless nights I caused him. More than anything, though, I wish I'd told him the most obvious and important thing.

"Thanks, Pete. I couldn't have started without you."

Ian Marquand is special projects coordinator for KPAX-TV and the Montana Television Network.

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