KSL Newsradio, the oldest radio station west of the Mississippi River, will celebrate its 100th birthday Friday.
“We are dependable, stable; we are like a big oak tree,” said Amanda Dickson, co-host of KSL Newsradio’s morning show. “We have been there for so many people’s lives for generations. ... It gives them a feeling of ground under their feet, like at least this doesn’t change. Everything else in the world changes, but at least this thing is still there.”
The achievement includes 52.5 million minutes on air, 50,000 watts and 200,000 shows, covering local and national news from prohibition to World Wars, putting a man on the moon and the world-changing events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Oh, it’s amazing. It truly is,” said Doug Wright, Utah’s longtime midday radio voice. “There are very few radio stations anywhere in the country or even the world that can claim that kind of a legacy under basically the same ownership with the same mission and in serving the same community. It really is quite remarkable.”
KSL’s 100th anniversary plans
After several months of planning, here is what KSL has prepared to celebrate the momentous milestone this week:
- Thursday, May 5, 11 a.m. — Wright, Dickson, Tim Hughes and Maria Shilaos — four of KSL’s longest-tenured employees — will host a Facebook Live to talk about the anniversary.
- Friday, May 6, 5:45 a.m. — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox will join Hughes and Dickson on Utah’s Morning News to declare May 6 as “KSL Day.”
- Friday morning — KSL Newsradio will feature stories in each newscast about KSL’s 100th anniversary.
- Friday, 9 a.m. — Wright will replace the first hour of his movie show with a 1-hour special focused on the 100th anniversary, featuring a few special guests.
- Friday, 3-6 p.m. — Jeff Caplan will broadcast live from Smith’s Ballpark as the Salt Lake Bees host the Tacoma Rainiers, scheduled for 6:35 p.m. KSL is the game’s sponsor and will hand out 2,500 free cupcakes and give away other items throughout the evening. “It will be a fun evening,” said Ike Yospe, KSL’s promotion director. “It’s our birthday party at the Bees.”
- Friday, 6 p.m. — KSL Newsradio will re-broadcast the KSL TV documentary, “KSL Radio 100 years.”
Because funeral services for the late Sen. Orrin Hatch are also scheduled for Friday, KSL will temper some of the tone of its celebration as part of its mission to cover major news events.
“Honestly, the convergence of events illustrates what KSL’s community coverage is all about,” said Kevin LaRue, KSL Newsradio’s program director.
KSL Newsradio’s 100th anniversary video shoutout
As part of the celebration, KSL produced a “Happy 100th KSL Newsradio” video featuring thank you’s and shoutouts from entertainers, celebrities, politicians and other prominent names in Utah. Some of those in the video include:
- Entertainers Donny, Marie and Merrill Osmond.
- University of Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham and former receiver Britain Covey.
- BYU head football coach Kalani Sitake.
- Jon Schmidt of The Piano Guys.
- Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.
- Singer Alex Boye.
- Filmmaker Jared Hess.
- Composer and musician Kurt Bestor.
- Gail Miller, businesswoman.
- Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.
- Former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
- Derek Miller, president and CEO of Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance.
- John Kimball, president of Real Salt Lake.
- Erin Mendenhall, mayor of Salt Lake City.
When Amanda Dickson passed on a law career
Dickson was hired at KSL in 1990. She left the radio station for 18 months at one point to practice law — a stint she describes as a “momentary lapse in judgement” — before returning to spending more than 30 years behind the mic.
Most of Dickson’s KSL career was spent alongside her co-host and “brother” Grant Nielsen, who signed off in 2015.
The very first time Grant and Amanda were on the air together, there was a problem with the transmitter and they were turned off for almost an hour, the one and only time that happened in their 25 years of co-hosting “Utah’s Morning News.”
“We thought, ‘Is this some kind of really bad omen that this is not meant to be?’” she said with a laugh. “They got the signal back up but it did give us a little pause.”
One of Dickson’s most cherished memories of her time at KSL came when she accompanied her elderly father, a Marine during World War II, on a KSL-sponsored Utah Honor Flight back to the nation’s capital to tour memorials.
During a dinner, she watched as her father stood, flanked by two younger Marines, and sang the Marine’s hymn, “The Halls of Montezuma.”
“It was extraordinary. It was just one of those many, many things that I had no business getting to be a part of, but because I work at this radio station, I got to be there with my dad,” Dickson said. “It was this beautiful moment of camaraderie. I thought, ‘I thank God every day that I stopped being a lawyer and came to work at this radio station for that moment alone.’”
Doug Wright’s first day on the job
Wright’s first day on the job happened to be in June 1978. He was just barely getting to a point when he could operate some of the equipment when suddenly the newsroom “exploded” with breaking news.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had announced a new revelation on race and the priesthood.
“It was a crazy day and I was so brand new, but that’s a day you don’t want to make a mistake,” he said. “I remember that like it happened yesterday.”
Wright has experienced 44 of KSL Newsradio’s 100 years, and “it’s been a great, really rewarding career,” he said.
Wright remembers doing a remote broadcast from near where the “spaghetti bowl” interchange of I-15/I-80/U-201 now is during its construction when he lost contact with the studio and had no commercial breaks for at least a half hour.
He followed Mitt Romney around the country doing shows during Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
Of course, he and Dickson will never forget the tragic events of Sept 11, 2001. The entire KSL team worked from the first reports in the morning until a special Tabernacle Choir broadcast with President Gordon B. Hinckley that evening. Wright said he was driving east on I-80 when he heard the beautiful sound of the choir, which combined with the tragedy and exhaustion of the day, caused tears to flow.
“I just burst into tears almost to the point where I needed to pull over. It was a dark day, but it was an amazing day,” Wright said. “To see the work of my fellow broadcasters at KSL Radio and Television, it was an indelible day for my generation. That’s our ‘December 7.’ That’s our ‘Remember the Alamo’ moment.”
Mr. Hughes goes to Washington
Hughes started out in the Salt Lake radio market by spinning records at a country music station across town in 1979. But he aspired to work for another radio station.
“I dreamed of being (at KSL) because they did such amazing things back in the day,” he said. “It was always, in my mind, as far as career goes, the pinnacle of the business.”
Hughes got his shot at KSL in 1988. His first big assignment was to travel back to Washington D.C. and spend a week covering the presidential inauguration of George H.W. Bush.
“It was intimidating for sure, but one of the highlights of my career,” said Hughes, who has since worked at KSL Newsradio for close to 28 years.
In its 100-year run, KSL has not only been an informative source for the community but a place where the community can gather and be inspired during tough times, most recently amid earthquakes and a worldwide pandemic, Hughes said.
One note people may overlook is that KSL was one of the original dozen 50,000-watt radio stations in the nation, set up as an emergency system across the United States.
“It came with a big responsibility that I think KSL has really lived up to over the last century,” Hughes said.
Looking into the future of KSL Newsradio
For both Wright and Dickson, the future of KSL Newsradio looks bright.
“I think local radio, as long as you do it well and as long as you don’t let the folks down, I think it has an amazing future,” Wright said. “I think there will always be a place and there will always be a demand to get that local news, that local participation and that local perspective.”
Starting out, Dickson never imagined her radio job would expand to include social media posts and other digital media platforms. But even as technology continues to change at a fast pace, she agrees there will always be a need to focus on local issues and events.
“I don’t know what the medium will be because it keeps changing, but that is something we can uniquely serve,” she said. “As long as we serve the community and share their stories, in whatever medium is the medium of the day, then I think there will be a place for this heritage station to continue to be of service.”