Kansas City pubTV buys Triple A music station

By Ben Mook

A new kind of public media signal expansion will rock Kansas City, Mo., under a license transfer agreement announced April 19 by Kansas City Public Television (KCPT).

The Missouri-based community licensee is purchasing KTBG-FM, a split-format NPR News and Triple A music station licensed to the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg. KCPT will pay $1.1 million in cash to the university and provide $550,000 worth of in-kind services, according to Kliff Kuehl, KCPT c.e.o.

“I’m a big fan of the station and love what they’ve been doing,” Kuehl said. “We want to make it a place to go for live, local music, the arts and culture of the nonprofit community in the Kansas City area.”

KCPT’s plans for its new station include an $600,000 engineering project to boost the KTBG’s signal and reach. The station’s transmitter will be relocated to a site 20 miles closer to Kansas City. “They’ve been running a really great Triple A station there for a long time,” Kuehl said. “But, they’ve only been able to reach maybe 400,000 potential listeners and we want to blanket the Kansas City market and reach up to 1.4 million listeners.”

KTBG, which brands itself as “The Bridge,” broadcasts a 90,000-watt signal at 90.9 MHz from Warrensburg, which is about 60 miles southeast of Kansas City.

Kuehl credited KTBG Program Director Jon Hart for building the station into a successful noncommercial Triple A operation. Hart led the station through a format change from NPR News and jazz to Triple A music, a switch that preserved the station’s eligibility for CPB funding and bolstered its audience service. In 2011, KTBG received a $166,932 CPB Community Service Grant, according to CPB records. Kuehl also credited Hart for identifying and giving exposure to up-and-coming bands from Kansas City and elsewhere.

He plans to retain Hart as p.d. after the license transfer gains FCC approval. KTBG will drop NPR News programs and devote its schedule to contemporary music programming. “This will remove the duplication in the market since KUCR-FM is already doing it,” Kuehl said, referring to the NPR News station serving Kansas City. “We have no intention of competing with them — this is a real ‘raise all boats’ kind of situation.”

Officials at the University of Central Missouri decided to sell KTBG’s license after a strategic review of UCM operations, according to a news release. UCM also operates KMOS-TV, which won’t be affected by the transfer.

“This is a decision that was made after carefully considering our overall mission and the university’s recent academic and administrative reviews,” said UCM President Charles Ambrose, in a statement. “The university is very pleased with the overall agreement with Kansas City Public Television. In conjunction with transferring ownership of KTBG, we are also establishing an exciting, multi-dimensional relationship with KCPT and the Kansas City community, which will greatly benefit both parties.”

The Colorado-based consultancy Public Radio Capital brokered the purchasing agreement, which was approved by UCM’s board of governors April 18.

Most signal expansions in public media over the past several years have been pursued by public radio licensees looking to super-serve news listeners and classical music lovers on separate channels, and, in many cases, to preserve classical radio within their market. But a handful of recent acquisitions have put new noncommercial contemporary music stations on the air.

In January KUT in Austin, Texas, launched KUTX, an all-music station broadcasting on 98.9 FM. Dallas public TV and radio operator KERA purchased a 100,000-watt religious station in 2009 and relaunched it as Triple A music service KXT.

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