One century ago in early May, Utah became the broadcast home of the first clear channel radio station in the western United States when President Heber J. Grant delivered the state’s first radio message.
The original call letters were KZN, as in K-Zion, before being changed to KSL, for K-Salt Lake, in 1925.
Since then, Utah has relied on KSL for breaking news and information on everything from presidential elections to general conference and local sports, among many others.
This weekend KSL Newsradio and KSL-TV will simulcast a documentary, “KSL Radio 100 Years,” on Saturday, April 2, at 4 p.m., as part of its special general conference programming.
“Since the beginning, our ownership has recognized the power of media to have influence on communities,” Darrell Brown, president of Bonneville International, the parent company of KSL Newsradio, said in a news release. “We put purpose before profits, and I think that’s why KSL enjoys the reputation that it does.”
Utah’s first radio broadcast
The initial voice broadcast originated from a wood and tin shack on top of the Deseret News building on May 6, 1922.
The broadcast began with a welcome by Nathan Fullmer, the Deseret News business manager. Heber J. Grant, then president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, read a scripture and delivered a religious message. The mayor of Salt Lake City and others, including President Grant’s wife, Augusta, also spoke, according to historian Richard E. Turley Jr.
What happened would not have been possible without the ingenuity and vision of Melvin R. Ballard, the circulation manager of the Deseret News and the father of M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Melvin Ballard persuaded Deseret News management to fund equipment for a wireless station and voice transmitter atop the Deseret News building. He also built the tower.
“Melvin foresaw the day when church members would gather in their places of worship to hear from the president of the church via the wireless station,” according to President Ballard’s biography, “Anxiously Engaged.”
The Deseret News Building (later the Union Pacific Building) served as Broadcast House for KSL Radio from 1922 to 1962.
KSL radio highlights through the years
- The first broadcast of general conference was aired in 1923 when the station was one year old. The entire proceedings were broadcast the following year, a tradition that continues today.
- Tabernacle Choir broadcasts began in July 1929. The weekly broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” still continues as the longest-running nationwide network radio program in history.
- KSL’s voice matured to 50,000 watts in 1932 and its position on the dial moved from 1130 to 1160.
- KSL’s first mobile sports coverage was a Malcom Campbell speed run on the Salt Flats in 1936, which was also broadcast via shortwave radio to England.
- In 1961, Church of Jesus Christ President David O. McKay asked Arch L. Madsen to serve as president of the church’s KSL radio and television stations. Under Madsen’s leadership, KSL expanded to become one of the leading broadcast operations in the nation.
- Over the years, KSL has started several community-based fundraising programs, including Quarters for Christmas to help needy children (1966) and the annual Radiothon (1976) for Primary Children’s Hospital.
- In 2005, KSL began simulcasting on 102.7 FM, making the station the first Utah radio news outlet on the FM dial and the first station in Utah to simulcast on both AM and FM.
Innovations in digital broadcasting
The documentary will not only reflect on the station’s history and community service, but also discusses innovations in digital broadcasting, podcasting and other technology that will shape the station’s future.
KSL released its successful “Cold” podcast series in 2018 to shed new light on the disappearance of Susan Powell.
“We helped pioneer radio but technology is evolving and so we continue to innovate,” said Tanya Vea, executive vice president of Bonneville International and Salt Lake general manager. “At our core we are a content company distributing information to reach our audiences wherever they are — their cars, online or through a smart speaker.”
Read about the rest of KSL’s general conference programing at KSL.com.