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While Missoula television station KECI soon will add a 5 p.m. newscast to its 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. operations, KTMF has discontinued its early-evening broadcast of Big Sky News.

University of Montana graduate Jenny Kuglin, who was doing the morning news on KECI's "Montana Today" with Monte Turner, will co-anchor the early broadcast with Chris Boehm.

Boehm also will continue to co-anchor the 6 p.m. broadcast with Heidi Meili, while Lauren Phinney will move into Kuglin's "Montana Today" slot.

"It really gives us a real edge on the competition not only if breakings news happens, but to be able to give more local content," said KECI General Manager Keith Sommer, about the newscast, which also will be broadcast on the company's stations in Kalispell, Butte and Bozeman.

The early newscast, which is targeted to start March 8, will be followed by "NBC Nightly News" at 5:30 and the usual 6 p.m. local newscast.

"It will be neat basically to have a 90-minute block of news when people come home from work," said Sommer. "Our goal is not only to have a little bit more in-depth on certain stories but to have different content" on the two newscasts.

The station likely will tease certain stories with a capsule of information and follow it up with broader coverage at 6 p.m. Reporters from the company's other three station's also will contribute to the report and some support staff has been added to accommodate the change.

KTMF, the ABC affiliate in Missoula and Kalispell, began offering two regional newscasts featuring news anchors based in Davenport, Iowa, in October, 2002. Other Max Media stations in Great Falls, Butte and Bozeman also took part in the broadcasts.

But according to Linda Baumann, KTMF's general manager, the early deadlines required for such a newscast proved difficult for reporters.

"Just because of the regional nature of our news operation with the reporters in different markets and the deadlines we had for the 5 p.m. newscast, it just proved to be too limiting for the reporters," she said.

The demise of the 5 p.m. broadcast is not an indicator that there will be less area news, said Baumann, but a chance for the stations to expand coverage.

"We've actually just elected to focus our energy and our resources on the 10 p.m. newscast," she said

Plans are in the works to add a reporter in Helena in the next six months "and expand our Montana and Pacific Northwest newscast," said Baumann. "I think you'll see in the future that we'll make some other steps towards providing more local news."

Max Media, which purchased the five-station group from Continental Television Networks in March, 2001, spent over $1.5 million upgrading traffic systems, automated the master control centers and converted to a fiber optic-microwave network to provide a more reliable picture.

The Arkansas based company announced last year its intentions to also buy KULR, an NBC station in Billings, and KFBB, an ABC station in Great Falls and also has entered into a "shared service agreement" with Equity Broadcasting Corp. to operate KMMF, channel 17 in Missoula, a Fox affiliate.

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