Documentary celebrates KSL Radio’s 100 years
SALT LAKE CITY — This weekend, KSL Newsradio and KSL TV will simulcast the documentary KSL Radio 100 Years to celebrate KSL radio’s 100th anniversary.
The documentary not only looks back at the legacy station’s history it also reveals how innovations in digital broadcasting and podcasting are shaping the station’s future
The documentary airs on KSL TV and KSL Newsradio Saturday, April 2, 2022, at 4 p.m. MDT.
On May 6, 1922, Utah became the broadcast home of the first clear channel radio station in the western United States. Heber J. Grant, then President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, delivered the state’s first radio message. At the time the call letters were KZN, as in K-Zion, and broadcasts were done from a shack on top of the Deseret News Building. The call letters were changed to KSL, as in K-Salt Lake, two years later.
The church’s investment in radio began with an interest by Melvin R. Ballard, the father of current president of the Quorum of the Twelve, M. Russel Ballard. He had a role with Deseret News as a circulation manager.
“He built the first tower to send out the signals and was carrying Morse code activity between Denver and some other places,” said President Ballard. “My father was a very creative remarkable man.”
The church and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had made recordings before but without a microphone.
“Many people today take microphones for granted but microphones were a technological marvel,” said historian Richard Turley.
They were also expensive, and the Church didn’t have a lot of extra funds, so the Deseret News decided to build its own radio tower.
“Those early days it took visionary people, and I would say Melvin R. Ballard would be classified as one of those who had the vision to see what could be,” said President Ballard.
In 1932 KSL’S voice matured to 50,000 Watts, and its position on the dial moved from 1130 to 1160. With that super signal, entertainment, civic, religious, and news programming filled the airwaves. Music, dramas, even game shows entertained.
Religious programming featured devotionals, speeches, and of course Music and the Spoken Word, the Tabernacle Choir broadcast that is now the longest-running network program.
Sports also became an integral part of KSL’s offerings, from the Bonneville Salt Flats to local arenas. KSL has been a place for people to interact to find the right route home and, above all, to get the latest news and information. Whether it was World War, the War on Terror, or a pandemic, news has been a KSL staple.
Building up communities and families
From the beginning, KSL radio has existed to build up families and communities. In 1966 KSL embarked on a project called Quarters for Christmas.
“What we found out was one of the greatest needs were shoes,” said former promotions director Lee Pocock.
People are encouraged to donate their spare change and 100% of that money goes to making sure Utah kids stay warm during the cold months. In 1976 KSL expanded their efforts to help kids and approached Primary Children’s Hospital about staging a radiothon.
“We started with the radiothon, and that proceeded the telethon and then the Give-a-thon. Through all of that we’ve literally brought together thousands and thousands of people bringing tens of millions of dollars to help children and parents really at their most difficult time,” said Katy Welkie, CEO Primary Children’s Hospital.
“Since the beginning, our ownership has recognized the power of media to have influence on communities,” said Darrell Brown, president of Bonneville International which is the parent company of KSL Newsradio. “We put purpose before profits, and I think that’s why KSL enjoys the reputation that it does.”
Leader in broadcast innovation
“We helped pioneer radio but if that’s all we ever did, we would not be around for 100 years,” said Tanya Vea, Executive Vice President and General Manager. “As technology changes, we have to change with it, and we have done that.”
In 2005, KSL began simulcasting on 102.7 FM, making it the first Utah radio news outlet on the FM dial and the first station in Utah to simulcast on both AM and FM. In 2018, KSL released the groundbreaking COLD podcast series which shed new light on the disappearance of Susan Powell and quickly rose to the top of the podcast charts.
“We continue to expand into digital broadcasting with new podcasts, new personalities, and new shows,” said Kevin LaRue, Director of Programming. “We want to serve people who are used to hearing us on the radio and also people who are now asking to hear us on their smart speaker.”
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