Could KSL Radio return to the popular FM dial?

Yes, it could actually happen if the Federal Communications Commission grants approval for Bonneville International, parent company of KSL Radio, to buy Utah's KRPN-FM, alias "WKRP.""We believe that having an FM station would be a beneficial way to increase our service to the valley," said G. Donald Gale, vice president of Bonneville International in charge of news and public affairs.

KRPN, licensed in Roy, is at 107.9 on the FM dial - the highest FM frequency station available along the Wasatch Front at the extreme right side of the dial. The station, with an "oldies" type of music format, has been having financial difficulties, and its owner, KRGO Broadcasting, has been seeking a buyer for the past five years.

KSL used to own an FM station found at 100.3 on the dial, but was forced to sell it to Simmons Family Inc. in January 1978 to comply with FCC multiple ownership regulations that stipulate how many media outlets a company can own within the same market. That former KSL-FM station is now the highly successful KSFI (alias "FM-100.")

(Since Bonneville had to sell KSL-FM, it was able to buy KAFM radio in Dallas, Texas, that same year.)

Bonneville made the request to buy KRPN late last month, and it also had to make a separate request for a waiver of the FCC's current multiple ownership rules. Approval of those requests will take an indefinite period of time - from 60 days to as long as one year.

The FCC's limit on ownership of FM radio stations has been increased over the past decade to a maximum of 14 per owner. Bonneville now has only seven, but the real issue is centered in the Salt Lake area market, where Bonneville owns KSL-TV, Ch. 5, and KSL-AM (1160) radio. The LDS Church, Bonneville's owner, also operates one daily newspaper, the Deseret News.

Gale said Bonneville's request for an ownership waiver is based on two main arguments:

-That there's no danger in the Salt Lake market of having concentrated media ownership because there are already so many TV and radio stations located here. Also, Salt Lake is one of the few two-newspaper cities left.

-That since KRPN is in some financial difficulty, if Bonneville doesn't buy it, it will probably go off the air.

Attorney Bruce Reese, Bonneville International's legal counsel, said the FCC's multiple ownership rules are mainly focused on the level of concentration of media outlets in the nation's top 25 broadcasting markets. Thus, if there are at least 30 different owners of TV and radio stations in any one major city, then multiple ownership waivers are usually granted.

Reese said that although Salt Lake City isn't one of the nation's top 25 broadcasting markets, there are definitely more than 30 different owners represented among this market's seven TV and almost 40 radio stations.

Russ Wood, vice president/general manager of KSL Radio, said the possible acquisition of an FM radio station is currently a pure legal issue and that nothing can be decided with call letters, format or anything else until an FCC ownership waiver is secured.

One rumor has it that Bonneville simply wants to acquire an FM station so that it can have an AM-FM radio station combo that can more easily be sold to another owner. But, Wood said, "I know of absolutely no plans to sell KSL-AM."

If Bonneville does gain an FM station, it could simulcast its KSL-AM signal on the FM band, too, since four Wasatch Front stations are already broadcasting the exact same transmission on both the AM and FM band. But, all these simulcasts are FM-based and music-oriented. Also, KSL-AM is playing virtually no music in its "news-information" format, and so a simulcast appears unlikely.

A better bet for a new FM station would be that Bonneville would develop a music-oriented entity that would fit the basic FM style of more music and less talk. This FM station could also still utilize the strong "news authority" resources of KSL-AM for its streamlined FM newscasts.

Bonneville might also apply for the call letters "KSL" for a new FM station because it used to have them for its former FM property, and it might also make station identification easy. The call letters would be a rarity among local FM entities, since no other stations have just three letters in their names - they all have four.

No matter what route Bonneville took with a new FM station, it would greatly benefit from a return to FM radio, since that frequency band was not nearly as popular 11 years ago (when the old KSL-FM existed) as it is now.

For example, in 1972, FM radio only had a 25 percent share of the broadcast market, with AM still the kingpin of the radio world. Today things have reversed and it is estimated that FM has grown to command 76 percent of the U.S. radio market, compared to only 24 percent for AM.

In the Wasatch Front radio ratings, only two AM radio stations in the past six years have been able to consistently stay among the top 10 stations - KSL and KALL (AM-910, which also has a sister station on the FM dial, KLCY, 94.1). Both KALL and KSL's radio audiences have been gradually declining the past few years, probably because of this shift to the FM dial.