Former MT U.S. Senator, Founder of Northern Ag, Conrad Burns Has Died



Former U.S. Senator, and the founder of the Northern Ag Network, Conrad Burns passed away Thursday at the age of 81.  He died at his home in Billings on Thursday afternoon.

The Northern Broadcasting System Family would like to pay our respects to the founder of our company, our good friend and voice for agriculture, the state of Montana, and our nation, Senator Conrad Burns. 


Biography produced by Root Communications and narrated by Conrad's former college classmate and long-time friend Leroy Van Dyke for the NAFB Hall of Fame ceremony on November 10, 2011.

Pioneer Montana agricultural broadcaster Conrad Burns became only the second Republican Senator in Montana's history, defeating incumbent John Melcher in 1988.

With a seat on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Burns brought over $1 billion in federal funds to the state while in office. He was been a champion of a fiscally conservative government and a strong voice for lower taxes to create new businesses and more jobs. He expanded Montana's job base by establishing more balanced trade with Canada and brought better education and health care to Montanans by encouraging hi-tech investment in the state. He pursued new markets for agricultural producers while securing millions of dollars in grants for research and marketing improvements.

Serving as Chairman of the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee for the 108th Congress, Senator Burns had jurisdiction over all the country's federal lands and the National Park Service. His love of the outdoors brought him back to Montana several times each month and has made him a guardian of the state’s vast natural resources. As a result of his work in the Senate, over 70 rural Montana communities have adopted enforceable drinking water protection programs and funding has become available to safeguard acres of Montana through the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

On the national level, Senator Burns was a critic of America's dependency upon foreign oil supplies, calling on Congress to ban imports and increase domestic production and research in fuel cell technology. He also co-sponsored a Senate bill to voluntarily arm airline pilots to protect against future terrorist attacks.

Burns became well-known in his 18 years in the U.S. Senate as a strong advocate for small-market radio stations, and free, over-the-air radio and television broadcasting.  His personal career experience in broadcasting, and his leadership in this area was invaluable to organizations like the National Association of Broadcasters.

In 1997, Senator Burns became Chairman of the Communications Subcommittee, one of the major regulatory posts in Congress. In that position he was praised as “one of the fathers of the modern Internet,” standing for deregulation, the roll-out of broadband in rural areas, and pushing for new Internet and mobile phone technologies. He authored section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and in 1999 unveiled the “Digital Dozen” proposal of telecom legislation. During the 107th Congress, Senator Burns pushed his “Tech 7” agenda, which aimed to bring greater security to the Internet. At the open of the 108th Congress, Senator Burns unveiled his “NexGenTen” Tech Agenda, ten top priority items to strengthen security and usher reform for 21st century communication.

Burns was born on a farm near Gallatin, Missouri on January 25, 1935 to Russell and Mary Frances (Knight) Burns. Graduating from Gallatin High School in 1952, Senator Burns enrolled in the College of Agriculture at the University of Missouri. Two years later Burns enlisted in the Marine Corps and was posted in East Asia.

Following his military service Burns began working for TWA and Ozark airlines until 1962, when he became a field representative for Polled Hereford World magazine in Billings, Montana. Named the first manager of the Northern International Livestock Expo in 1968, Burns began his career in radio and television broadcasting, reporting on agricultural market news and establishing his reputation as the voice of Montana agriculture.

In 1975, Burns began providing ag news and market programs to four radio stations known as the Northern Ag Network, which grew to serve 31 radio and TV stations across Montana and Wyoming when he sold in 1986.  In 1979 he and Dale Fairlee built the first radio station ever located in Laurel, Montana when they put KLYC on the air at 1490 on the AM dial.

Burns began his career in politics when he was elected to the Yellowstone County Commission, serving for two years before deciding to run for the U.S. Senate.  Senator Burns is the longest-serving Republican Senator in Montana history.

Family:  Married to Phyllis Burns
Children:  Daughter, Keely Son, Garrett
Education:  Attended University of Missouri
Career and Public Service:  U.S. Marine Corps, Founder and Owner of Northern Broadcasting System, Inc. 1975, Farm Broadcaster, Reporter for American Polled Hereford Association 1960-63, Auctioneer, Football Referee, Yellowstone County Commissioner 1986-88

Burns is survived by his wife, Phyllis and two children.

Funeral Service for Senator Conrad Burns

Friday, May 6th, 11:00 am

The Metra Park Arena, Billings MT

The public is welcome to attend.  Reception to follow. 

The family is requesting those who wish to make a donation in his honor should make them to Shriners Hospitals for Children, your local food bank, or the Kate Burns Memorial Scholarship c/o Atonement Lutheran Church at 1290 Sierra Granda, Billings, MT 59105. Cards, memorials, and other remembrances may be sent to the family c/o Congressman Ryan Zinke's Billings office at 222 N 32nd St, Suite 900, Billings, MT 59101. 



Source:, and Montana Broadcasters Association, Northern Ag Network

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