Starting in the 1960s a provincial government radio service called Northern News, broadcasting from Prince Albert, was hosted by its first producer Helga Reydon. The program, a 15-minute weekly series, addressed issues and matters of interest for fishermen and trappers in the north. However, those broadcasts were plagued by poor reception and unequal signal distribution as they were broadcast on an AM radio station in the southern part of the province and had to "skip" into the north. The program also did not air content that was culturally specific to aboriginals.
The provincial government realized its shortcomings in serving the northern citizens of Saskatchewan, and as a result in 1973 a new Northern News program started to be produced out of La Ronge by the Department of Northern Saskatchewan (DNS). This program was hosted by producer/announcerBarrie Ward, with aboriginal language content added by Cree and Michiflinguists Tom Roberts and Robert Merasty. The new radio program added more northern content and significantly included major aboriginal language content. The program, however, ended with the provincial government's disbanding of the DNS in 1982.
In the late 1970s, CBC Radio also began broadcasting a northern program, Keewatin Radio. The program contained some relevant northern content and was aided by better reception due to the installation of the low power FM relay transmitters in the north. The stories, though pertinent to the northern populace, were largely in English, and originated in Regina.
In 1983, the federal government introduced the Northern Native Broadcast Access Program (NNBAP), funded and supported by the Department of Canadian Heritage. The NNBAP program's aim was to enhance, protect and preserve aboriginal languages while at the same time allowing indigenous peoples to control their own communications services.
In March 1984 a full-time coordinating committee was formed and Merasty was hired to gather information. A survey was conducted of the residents of northern Saskatchewan, the results of which gave the organizers a better idea of what aboriginal people wanted to hear on radio. Following the survey, MBC's first board of directors was elected in 1984, with Merasty as the first CEO. The corporation implemented a basic radio skills training program in 1984 that was delivered through the local community college. The first MBC broadcast took place in February 1985 with Tom Roberts as host.
MBC's initial broadcasts were predominantly in English, with some Cree. A more advanced training program was launched at CJLR in 1986. A strong focus was placed on expanding the use of aboriginallanguages and the technical skills of its broadcast staff.
Today, MBC Radio provides a minimum of ten hours of Cree programming and ten hours of Dene programming per week, and strives to integrate the languages into everything from special programs, remote event coverage, and contests, to commercial content and more.
During its formative years MBC was dependent on the Canadian Secretary of State (now Department of Canadian Heritage) for funding and the use of CBC transmitters in carrying its programming. Through strategic planning by MBC's second CEO Nap Gardiner, MBC became much more independent of federal funding. Today, MBC is primarily supported by advertising revenue, along with gaming revenue from bingo broadcasts.
MBC's third CEO Marty Ballentyne brought about the corporation's move into TV production in 1998, serving on the board of directors for Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Canada's (and the world's) first independent aboriginal TV network. MBC has been a major contributor to APTN, producing 39 episodes of Heartbeat Of The Earth, a series for and about Saskatchewan's northern aboriginal peoples and their communities.
MBC has a digitalsatellite delivery system, thus eliminating reliance on ground distribution systems. MBC also facilitates and supports the growth and establishment of small community owned low power radio stations, and provides support and training services to them as needed.
The Saskatchewan Association of Aboriginal Broadcasters, also known as SAAB, was founded in 1996 primarily through the efforts of MBC and the community station managers across the north. SAAB has grown into a large cooperative entity encompassing services for all aboriginal broadcast outlets in Saskatchewan.
MBC's current CEO is Deborah Charles, the first female CEO of an aboriginal radio broadcast network in Canada. She also sits on the board of APTN.