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KUAT Experience indicates the digital transition may not be so bad




KUAT Channel 6 prepared for the worst but got fairly pleasant results when it turned off its analog television signal earlier this month.

The concern, of course, was that many viewers would be without programming, but once the switch actually took place, problems were minimal.

"We set up for a much higher call volume than we got. It wasn't a high-water mark by any stretch," said KUAT and Arizona Public Media spokesperson Steve Delgado. "KUAT personnel fielded 25 calls the first all-digital day, and 28 the day after, and many of those calls were not related to the abruptness of the switch. Most of the questions were technical support, asking how to hook up their converter, and not asking, 'Why is the KUAT TV 6 signal gone?'"

The questioning included queries regarding where one can pick up converter boxes, whether KUAT is giving them away (uh, no) and performance issues related to the converter box.

It's hard to gauge whether this is a good sign for the digital transition as a whole, or just a good sign for KUAT. The PBS affiliate has been a significant local player in the massive digital-switch media blitz, and will continue to broadcast reminders up until the June 12 deadline for all stations to switch. KUAT has also been among the easiest signals to retrieve for converter-box converts already immersed in the transition process. However, other TV managers hope it's a good general omen for the day when the other stations come aboard and get this process handled once and for all, in about six weeks.

"(The digital-switch messages have) been all over," Delgado said. "If you've been watching KUAT, you've seen spots pretty frequently. It's been in the papers. It's been on every television channel. You'd really have to be out of the loop altogether not to hear this message. I take it as a testament to the preparedness of viewers who were probably ready in February."


Longtime Tucson radio owner Jim Slone might be finishing up his final radio performance.

Once the sale of KCEE AM 1030 to Good News Radio Broadcasting becomes official, the 72-year-old will be out of the business, for the second time this decade.

"I have probably ridden my last horse down my last trail," Slone said in an e-mail. "I don't have any serious plans at this point in time. At this point, I simply want to get in better physical shape and feel stronger physically in order to get back to playing racquetball. I would like to feel free of any pressure at this point in my life."

Few Tucsonans have had greater success in the business than Slone. He arrived in Tucson in 1963 and had part-ownership of floundering KCUB AM 1290 by the early-1970s. By 1976, KCUB was the city's top radio station, and at one point was named the No. 1 music station in the world by Billboard Magazine.

Slone also saw the writing on the wall—an impending transition from AM to FM dominance, thanks to the latter's clearer signal, especially for music. He purchased what would become KIIM FM 99.5 in 1983 for $2.65 million and parlayed that into a five-station empire under the auspices of Slone Broadcasting. He sold the group to Citadel Broadcasting in December 2000 for well more than $60 million.

His first retirement came to an end a couple of years ago when he bought KCEE, and Slone's spin on the adult-standards format proved successful. KCEE made steady progress up the ratings ladder and regularly finished at or near the top when compared to other stations in the adult-standards format on the AM band. The station's online streaming also garnered a fan base throughout the country.

"It will be nice leaving the station on a high note, knowing that a lot of people really loved it," Slone said.

KCEE will turn to a talk format in the near future, while a format similar to Slone's adult-standards mix will slide down the dial to KVOI AM 690.


It didn't long for FM talker KQTH FM 104.1 to pronounce itself the No. 1 talk station in Tucson.

Those promos appeared almost instantly after an Arbitron winter-trend report moved the rapidly accelerating talk station to fourth overall in the market, with a 4.4 12-and-older-listener share. That bested KNST AM 790's 4.2 share for the same trend.

Actual Arbitron numbers for the whole winter-ratings period, or book, will be released soon.

Nevertheless, it's the first time in memory that KNST has been challenged in the talk-format game—and by memory, we're talking at least 20 years.

Even with the slide, Clear Channel-owned KNST remains the only AM station in the market ranked in the top 10. If the winter trend rating holds, KNST will come in fifth. The next highest-rated AM is Slone's KCEE at 13th, nearly two ratings points below KNST.

More importantly, it shows that Journal Broadcasting's gamble to give talk a shot on the FM dial appears to be among the better recent radio-programming moves in the market. KQTH started off slow, but has consistently moved up book to book. It's gone from a rating of 1.5 to numbers higher than 4 in just three ratings periods.

KQTH aggressively pushed for high-profile conservative-talk programming. Among its more noteworthy acquisitions, The Truth lifted syndicated host Laura Ingraham from KVOI AM 690, Bill O'Reilly from KJLL AM 1330 (O'Reilly has since discontinued his radio show) and Michael Savage in his live afternoon slot from KNST. Savage still runs on KNST, but in the evenings.

Local morning host Jon Justice has also delivered strong numbers for KQTH.

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