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Seattle Radio History
by Alex Cosper

see also American Radio History

The Seattle-Tacoma radio market has had a long history of being ahead of the national curve in radio programming. KRAB, founded by Lorenzo Milam in 1962, pre-dated freeform radio and became a leader in community radio. KNDD (The End) became a ground-breaking alternative station in the early nineties, prior to the Seattle music scene blasting into the national spotlight. As KISW gained credibility over many years as a successful rock station, KUBE became synonymous with top 40 success in America, from the early eighties through the present.

The earliest call letters in Seattle were licensed in the early twenties. Some of those stations included KDP, KHQ (which became KAQQ), KJR, KTW, KZC, KDZT, KFHR, KFIY, KFJC, KFPB, KFQX and KTCL. Call letters, dial positions and ownership changed frequently in the first few decades of commercial radio. By the early forties, the dial became more stable after an FCC reallocation. The AM stations of this period included KVI (Tacoma, 570), KIRO (710), KXA (770), KJR (950), KOMO (1000), KRSC (1150), KTW (1250), KOL (1300). FM stations began to arrive in the forties and fifties, but mainly as simulcasts of AM sister stations. It wasn't until the sixties and seventies that FM stations began to attract audiences large enough to sell advertising. By the early eighties, FM had become the dominant band for music listeners while AM/FM became known more for news/talk stations.

At the close of the eighties, according to Arbitron, the station that consistently ranked number one in the entire market was Bonneville station KIRO-AM (710), with its news/talk format. The contemporary hits battle between Golden West's KPLZ (101.5) and Cook Inlet's KUBE (93.3) had both stations near the top of the ratings. Other top stations of the period included Fisher's adult contemporary station KOMO-AM (1000), EZ Communications' KMPS country simulcast combo (1300 AM and 94.1 FM), Entercom's beautiful music station KBRD (103.7), Nationwide's rocker KISW (99.9), their rock rival KXRX (96.5), owned by Shamrock, King's classical station KING (98.1) as well as King's news/talk station KING-AM (1090).

Deregulation of the radio industry from the eighties through the 2000s led to frequent ownership changes and mergers. Inevitably, the Telecom Act of 1996 led to the formation of giant radio corporations such as Clear Channel and Infinity. Entercom became the first major player in the market, owning seven stations within a year of the new legislation. Those stations included the KIRO AM & FM news combo, which was still number one in the market. Other Entercom stations were oldies simulcast combo KBSG (1210 AM and 97.3 FM), alternative rocker KNDD (The End, 107.7), heritage rocker KISW, adult alternative station KMTT (The Mountain, 103.7) and another news/talk station, KNWX-AM (770).

For awhile in the nineties it looked as though the Seattle rock music scene was leading the nation with hometown bands Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and several others offering a long list of national hits. The excitement of the scene was driven by KNDD, which first flipped to alternative in 1991, the year Nirvana and Pearl Jam broke in America. It was first consulted by the 91X San Diego programming team of Kevin Stapleford and Michael Halloran. The End's first programming team that made national radio history was PD Rick Lambert and MD Marco Collins. They took the station to number one (12+) in 1995, which was the first time an alternative major market station hit number one in its market. However, after a series of personnel changes and a general national decline in the radio format and in record sales, ratings for the alternative format began to fizzle in the new millennium.

In the 2000s, Entercom owns seven stations in the market: KBSG (oldies), KIRO-AM (news/talk), KISW (rock), KMTT (The Mountain, adult alternative), KNDD (The End, alternative), KTTH-AM (talk) and KQBZ (talk). Clear Channel owns contemporary hit leader KUBE along with KJR-FM (classic hits), KJR-AM (sports), KFNK (rock) and KNBQ (country). Fisher owns the market's most successful AM station, KOMO (news) and KVI-AM (talk). Sandusky has also remained a strong player in the market with KRWM (adult contemporary) and KWJZ (Smooth Jazz). CBS Radio (formerly Infinity Broadcasting) stations are country leader KMPS, which has also been the market's number one station, KZOK (classic rock), KBKS (contemporary hits) and KJAQ (adult hits).

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