So long, ‘KOMO Country’: KOMO Radio sold, gets a new name

Next Wednesday there will be a major change at one of Seattle’s oldest radio stations.

KOMO Radio, 95 years on the air, 1000 on the AM dial, a brand name associated with slogans such as “You’re in KOMO country” and “Your Husky Station”, will no longer be KOMO.

It’s just business. Radio and TV stations are bought and sold all the time.

What happened is that there is KOMO the news and talk radio station, which was sold in May 2021 by the Sinclair Broadcast Group. And there’s KOMO the TV channel, which Sinclair kept.

The sale of the radio did not include the KOMO brand name. A Sinclair spokesperson had no comment.

The new KOMO Radio call letters will be KNWN, for “Northwest News”.

“I could have found something a little more eye-catching,” says Jason Remington, creator and publisher of the PugetSound.Media website.

You can place yourself in Seattle history with what you remember from the KOMO Radio brand.

You know, this is the station that, from the late 1970s to the early 2000s and then again in the mid-2010s, hosted Husky football. That’s pretty much the brand name you can get in the Northwest.

In today’s world of search, digital optimization, strategy, marketing, pageviews, a KOMO legacy name matters. There are still many locals who didn’t come to town a few years ago.

Some radio fans who heard about the name change expressed dismay.

“I was born in 1952. To me, it’s like The Bon or Frederick & Nelson are going, another big name,” says Mike Garland, 69, of Milton, a town near Tacoma. He was a public service presenter on various local radio stations, including a stint on KOMO.

Now it’s a grumpy old man who posts on Facebook: “For us old timers, it’s another end of an era. There are few sacred things in Seattle.

Sinclair is the Maryland giant that owns 185 television stations across the country. In 2013, it paid $373 million to Fisher Communications for KOMO-TV and 19 other television stations.

The conservative society annoys the progressives of this blue city. They blasted the company’s Channel 4 here for its 2019 documentary ‘Seattle is Dying’.

The 2013 sale included “Newsradio” KOMO-AM and FM, “Star 101.5” KPLZ and “Talk Radio” 570 KVI.

But Sinclair’s main business is television, and it sold the radio stations to Lotus Communications of Los Angeles for $18 million in cash and “other consideration.”

Lotus specializes in radio, with 48 stations in the West. On its website, the company touts its “vision to produce local programming.”

Meanwhile, KOMO Radio, as it’s still known for the next few days, is developing a marketing plan, says Rick Van Cise, program director and afternoon news co-host.

“There will be no difference in the sound of the radio station,” he says. “The personalities, the journalists all remain the same.”

And, really, the only time listeners will hear new call letters is at the top of the hour, as Federal Communications Commission rules require.

Paul Heine, editor of Inside Radio, an industry site, says that for listeners, “it will take some getting used to at first. A name change can be shocking at first. But if the station is still considered accurate and trustworthy as a medium, over time listeners will understand.

Casual listeners might not even notice the name change, because even after Wednesday they will still hear the name KOMO on the radio station.

Van Cise says the relationship with KOMO-TV will continue.

The station will broadcast news and other material produced by KOMO-TV, as it does now, he said, and it will be identified as coming from “KOMO 4” or “KOMO 4 weather center”. Articles produced by the radio station, he says, will “go directly to the host” without identifying the station.

KOMO Radio has carved out a place for itself among the thirty or so Seattle-Tacoma stations, the 12and largest metropolitan market in the country.

The station does that with a format that repeats every hour. There is traffic and weather every 10 minutes. Sports at 10 and 40 minutes after the hour. Money news at 20 and 50 past the hour.

The 35 to 64 age group “is where we find the sweet spot,” says Van Cise. “We usually rank in the top three radio stations,” he says.

Although terrestrial radio – that is, AM and FM stations – is sometimes considered dead technology, it is still part of mainstream listening habits. In 2020, 83% of Americans ages 12 and older listened to terrestrial radio in any given week, according to the Pew Research Center.

Seattle radio’s main formats are certain variations of rock or hit music, and news/talk. In our local radio tastes, we range from the Stones to Adele to Dori and those pensive NPR stories.

In the Seattle metro area, in the coveted 25-44 age group, over a one-year period ending August 2021, the top five stations were, in order, KISW (rock), KQMV (hits), KBKS (hits), KUOW (news and talk) and KZOK (classic rock).

In the 35-64 group, the top five stations were, in order, KIRO-FM, KISW, KZOK, KUOW and KJR-FM (classic hits). In this particular survey, KOMO and KRWM (adult contemporary) are just out of the top 5, with a tiny percentage difference.

Everything is progressive in the notes. A #5 station has a share of total listening audience in the bottom 4%. A #1 station has a share in the lowest 7%.

The mind-numbing details: All rankings are based on research by Nielsen Scarborough (Scarborough is a joint venture with Nielsen) from August 2020 through August 2021, Monday through Sunday, 6:00 a.m. to midnight, based on the average number of people listening to a particular station for at least five minutes during a 15-minute period.

KOMO Radio was first broadcast at 3 p.m. on New Year’s Day 1926.

The lineup began with an orchestra playing “Stars and Stripes Forever”. The station’s downtown headquarters included a “concert artist studio, a special speaker booth, and a large studio for bands and orchestras”, reported the Seattle Times.

It was OD Fisher who, together with his brother OW Fisher, founded Fisher Flouring Mills in 1911, on Harbor Island, “whose own enthusiasm for radio” resulted in KOMO Radio, the Times said.

It didn’t hurt that the station also helped advertise Fisher’s Blend Flour.

KOMO Radio was not flashy. Loud jocks would have been anathema.

A 1971 ad featured reporter Bryan Johnson, who sounded, looked, and acted like a straight-up reporter. “KOMO is STILL Seattle’s number one adult radio station thanks to the likes of Bryan Johnson,” the ad was headlined.

It’s hard for local media owners to stay local.

When Fisher Broadcasting sold to Sinclair, that was it for the area’s last local television station, said a June 7, 2013, article in the Puget Sound Business Journal. By 2002, Fisher had already sold youhe unprofitable flour business.

“This distinction might have had sentimental value to some, but it has little relevance in the modern media landscape, which is increasingly dominated by a handful of national giants,” the article said. Large Fisher shareholders had pressured the board of directors to sell.

For now, KOMO Radio broadcasts from Fisher Plaza near Seattle Center, right next to the TV. Eventually, he will move to a new location, Van Cise says, just as he will create a new website for the station, which is now part of the primarily television-focused KOMO News site.

OK, now, quick quiz.

What are the new call letters?

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