EVERETT — It’ll be a chance to play to a whole new audience.
Everett’s two commercial radio stations — AM stations KRKO and KKXA — just received approval to broadcast programming on FM frequencies.
The stations will reach a much broader audience since the majority of radio listeners only tune to FM.
“There are a lot of people who aren’t even aware that AM even exists anymore,” joked Stitch Mitchell, KKXA’s morning show host.
KKXA, which goes by Classic Country KXA on air, plays country music from the ‘50s to the ‘90s. KRKO broadcasts sports including Silvertips and AquaSox games, the nationally syndicated Dan Patrick Show and the locally produced Jeff “The Fish” Aaron show.
KRKO and KXA will continue to transmit on AM channels, 1380 AM and 1520 AM respectively. Starting as soon as next month, the programming on those channels will simulcast at 95.3 FM for KRKO and 101.1 FM for KXA.
The stations are owned by Andy and Craig Skotdal, who also own several downtown Everett office and apartment buildings.
To be able to broadcast on FM is “kind of like moving an advertising sign from a side street to Interstate 5,” said Andy Skotdal.
“We didn’t think we would have this opportunity,” Skotdal said. “The fact it’s here now, we’re thrilled. The bottom line is we’re thrilled. I don’t know how else to say it. It was something that we never thought we’d have the chance to do.”
When the stations start transmitting on FM, the signals will displace two Canadian radio stations that currently reach into Snohomish County. Those stations are CKZZ, known on air as Z 95.3, and CRMI, that goes by Rock 101.
“There may be some people who listen to those stations down here and may be disappointed that they won’t be able to listen to them,” Skotdal said. “But I’m more focused on all of the people who don’t know we even exist who are going to find us for the first time.”
The FCC is granting permission for AM stations across the country to simulcast programming on FM channels if an FM frequency is available in the area. It’s what’s called the AM Revitalization Act.
As of September, the FCC has received 939 FM license applications and 824 have been approved.
“I think it’s an excellent opportunity for AM stations across the country to bolster their businesses,” said Keith Shipman, president and CEO of the Washington State Association of Broadcasters. “Andy and his family have done a great job serving the community with KRKO for years.”
Shipman owns several radio stations in central Oregon. His was one of the first stations in the country to start simulcasting AM content on FM frequencies and he said it’s been great.
KXA and KRKO will transmit the FM signals from existing radio antennas in the Everett area. The stations will be broadcast at 250 watts or enough to reach most of the western part of Snohomish County and parts of eastern Island County.
Somewhere between 20 to 30 percent of radio listeners tune into AM programming, said Chuck Maylin, the general manager for KRKO and KXA. The rest tune in to FM stations.
“In general, when you’re looking at the radio universe, there’s a much larger segment of the population on the FM band,” Maylin said.
The FM signals for the stations will reach to about 1 million potential listeners, he said.
FM frequencies do a better job at penetrating into buildings to reach indoor radios, Skotdal said. Possibly more important in the future, almost all cell phones have chips to be able to receive FM channels, but not AM channels. Skotdal said that the chip exists, but is not activated in iPhones.
KRKO has been broadcasting since the 1920s and is one of the oldest radio stations in America. KXA has been broadcasting since 2011. The Skotdal family purchased KRKO in the late 1980s and started KXA new.
When the FCC started allotting frequencies for radio stations in the 1960s and 1970s, the agency awarded 23 commercial FM stations to King County and 11 to Pierce County, Skotdal said.
Snohomish County only received one: KCMS or Spirit 105.3 FM in Edmonds.
“It’s almost like somebody hated Snohomish County the way this county got shafted on signals,” Skotdal said. “It was just unbelievable.”
Radio — and, in fact, all media — is an important community resource, Skotdal said. Communities with more signals tend to grow faster than those without.
“If all you hear is Seattle, Seattle, Seattle, pretty soon you start to orient that way,” Skotdal said. “Bringing two more signals to Everett is one way to counter the Seattle vacuum effect.”
With so much consolidation in the radio industry, it’s great for a city like Everett to have a locally run radio stations, said Maylin, the general manager.
“When you’re an announcer sitting in a booth looking outside at the Space Needle, what are you going to talk about?” Maylin asked.