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Norma Ashby Smith recalls trail-blazing TV career

Norma Ashby Smith
Posted at 1:04 PM, Dec 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-27 21:12:29-05

GREAT FALLS — December 27th, 2022 marks the 87th birthday of Norma Ashby Smith, often referred to as the "First Lady of Montana TV."

Norma joined KRTV in 1962, four years after the station's first air date. She debuted on "Today in Montana" with station-owner Dan Snyder. Between 1962-1988, her career consisted of all sorts of memorable experiences.

She recalled, "Twenty-six years of doing that daily show, 260 shows a year, 26,000 guests, it never got boring. It was lots of fun. It was the heyday of Montana live television."

From Presidents John Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, and the most well-known Hollywood celebrities during their time, such as Clint Eastwood and Joan Crawford, Norma met them all. Other notable celebrities included Bob Hope, Evel Knievel, Vincent Price, Oliva DeHavilland, and Johnny Cash.

She says her most memorable experience was back in 1967 when Cyril Colarchek, a rancher from Raynesford, slaughtered a live rattlesnake on air, resulting in 13 baby rattlers spilling out on to the studio floor. 

Extended interview with Norma Ashby Smith

While she was known for her on-air experience, her civic engagement played a major role throughout Great Falls. She was instrumental in founding the C.M. Russell Art Auction. She was also made an honorary member of the Blackfeet Tribe. In 1985, Norma was named TV Broadcaster of the Year, and the most influential woman in Great Falls.

While her days of television may be over, her involvement in the community continues to this day. She currently runs the annual Paris Gibson Award, where a community member is nominated for their contributions to the Great Falls community and best embodies the vision and excellence exemplified by Paris Gibson.

“It’s just been so wonderful to see these projects take off and get the community involved," Norma said. "We have a lot of community pride here.”

When asked about her advice to aspiring journalists, she said, "Maintain your own set of values. Don’t let other people shove their values down your throat. Make sure you know what your values are. I was never questioned about my values when I was on the air, and they respected that. They loved my sense of humor. Remember that you are never going to please everybody all the time.”