KFSM-TV, virtual channel 5 (UHF digital channel 18), is a CBS-affiliated television station licensed to Fort Smith,
Arkansas, United States, serving the Arkansas River Valley and Northwest Arkansas (including Fayetteville). The station is owned by Tegna Inc. KFSM-TV's studios are located on South 48th Street in Johnson (with a Springdale mailing address), and its transmitter is located northwest of Winslow, Arkansas. KFSM also operates a secondary studio and news bureau on North 13th Street in downtown Fort Smith (site of its former main studio).
"KNAC-TV" redirects here. It is not to be confused with WNAC-TV.
KFSM signed on for the first time on July 9, 1953 as KFSA-TV on channel 22. It was owned by Donald W. Reynolds and his Donrey Media Group alongside Fort Smith's two major newspapers — the Southwest American and Times Record (later merged as the Southwest Times Record) — and KFSA radio (AM 950). KFSA radio personality Pat Porta hosted the first broadcast. The station's studios and transmitter were located in the Times Record/Southwest American building at 920 Rogers Avenue in downtown Fort Smith. It carried programming from all four networks of the time — NBC, CBS, ABC and DuMont — but it was a primary NBC affiliate.
Initially, KFSA-TV relied on kinescopes of network programming and various live performers in the Fort Smith area. Local talent included Clint Fisher, Freddie Rose and programs from Camp Chaffee (later Fort Chaffee). Most commercials were live since videotapes were not yet available. A local TV-Appliance dealer, Bill Engles (a.k.a. "Wild Bill") along with Engles TV & Appliance, bought the first commercial live spots for $1.00 per minute.
At that time, the network live signal reached only as far towards Memphis, Tennessee. However, the networks extended the AT&T coaxial cable to Little Rock in 1957 to provide live coverage of the Little Rock Crisis. Reynolds then built a microwave transceiver on Mount Magazine to relay live programming from the Little Rock stations. Although the system was less than dependable, it was far better than kinescopes' which aired as many as three weeks after the original air date. Many old timers remember the station's microwave problems that disrupted several games of the 1954 World Series.
In 1956, KFSA-TV gained a competitor when KNAC-TV signed on channel 5 from studios in Van Buren as a primary CBS affiliate and secondary ABC affiliate. At that time, CBS was the top network with such hits as Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason and Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town and later, Your Show of Shows. The network was number one in viewers and KNAC-TV quickly became a favorite because of its VHF signal and CBS affiliation. Meanwhile, channel 22's UHF signal didn't reach much farther than 30 miles (48 km) from downtown Fort Smith, leaving many homes without clear television reception. At the time, UHF stations could only be seen with an expensive converter, and even with one picture quality was marginal at best. Additionally, the Fort Smith television market is a fairly large market geographically, spilling across a large and mostly mountainous swath of Arkansas and Oklahoma. UHF stations do not get good reception over large areas or in rugged terrain. It did not help that viewers in Fort Smith could receive stations from Tulsa and Little Rock by using large masts and rotary antennas.
During the late 1950s, both KFSA-TV and KNAC struggled for advertising and viewers. By 1958, it became apparent the Fort Smith market (which soon merged with Fayetteville) was not large enough to support two television stations. Talks between Reynolds and KNAC's owner, businessman Hiram Nakdeiman, resulted in an agreement to merge the two stations. The merged station operated under KFSA-TV's license and call letters under the ownership of the wealthier Reynolds, but using the stronger channel 5 facility. However, under the terms of an agreement with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the merged station used the KNAC-TV call letters until the sale formally closed.
KFSA-TV signed off permanently from channel 22 on August 16, 1958. The two stations' operations were merged at a converted furniture warehouse in downtown Fort Smith at North 5th and B Streets that had originally been renovated for KNAC-TV. After the license transfer to Donrey's broadcasting subsidiary, American Television Company, was finalized in January 1959, channel 5 changed its calls to KFSA-TV. The merged operation benefited from a technical quirk in the FCC's original television allocation plan. Most markets received two commercial VHF licenses plus a noncommercial VHF license. However, Fort Smith and Fayetteville are sandwiched between Little Rock to the east, Shreveport/Texarkana (channels 3, 6, and 12) to the south, Springfield (channels 3 and 10) and Pittsburg–Joplin (channels 7 and 12) to the north, and Tulsa (channels 2, 6, 8, and 11) to the west. This created a large "doughnut" in Northwest Arkansas where there could be only one commercial VHF license, plus a noncommercial license (eventually occupied by AETN's KAFT).
Many of the personnel at channel 22 (Pat Porta, Harry Freeman, John Candler, and wrestling promoter Jimmy Lott) made the transition to channel 5. KNAC's weathermen LeRoy Stollard and Cy Spicer were also staff members of the new operation. All became icons in Fort Smith's broadcasting history. Many had started their broadcasting careers on KFSA radio just after the war.
Until 1964, the station operated without a dedicated news department, instead relying on reports from its sister newspapers. However, that changed with the addition of Cliff Walker, who became the outlet's first news director. Walker had worked for KFSA radio and earlier for Nakdieman at KWHN.
In 1969, the FCC barred common ownership of newspapers and broadcasting outlets. Donrey owned one other newspaper/broadcasting cluster, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and KORK-AM-FM-TV. While Reynolds was able to get grandfathered protection for his Las Vegas cluster, he was unable to get it for his flagship cluster in Fort Smith. As a result, the KFSA stations were sold off, with channel 5 going to Buford Television in 1973 and renamed KFSM-TV (after the airport designation for Fort Smith Regional Airport). The station was purchased by the New York Times Company in 1979.
Aside from KNAC's brief time on-the-air, KFSA/KFSM was the only station in Fort Smith for 18 years. However, the Fayetteville area was served by KGTO (TV) in the late-1960s and 1970s. The station lost its CBS affiliation when KFPW-TV (now KHBS) signed on in 1971. It lost ABC in 1978 when KFPW-TV surrendered its CBS affiliation to new sign-on KLMN-TV (now KFTA-TV). KFSM swapped affiliations with KLMN in 1980 and became a CBS affiliate, which it remains today. At some point in March/April 2010, KFSM added MyNetworkTV to its second digital subchannel. Previously, the subchannel had served as a local news repeat channel. Eventually, new newscasts and sports call-in shows will be added. The area's original affiliate, KPBI-CA which was repeated on full-power KPBI, went silent after its owner Equity Media Holdings went bankrupt. Full-power KPBI, at one point a standalone RTV affiliate, officially became KFSM's sister station on January 5, 2012 with an FCC "failing station" waiver and changed its call letters to KXNW; at that time, KXNW dropped all remaining RTV programming in favor of a simulcast of KFSM-DT2, which had for a while also carried a part-time affiliation with Antenna TV in addition to its primary MyNetworkTV affiliation (until Antenna TV was ultimately segregated out onto its own dedicated sub-channel via KFSM-DT3, as of spring 2016).
The New York Times Company sold its entire broadcasting division, including KFSM, to Local TV in 2007. During the analog television era, KFSM was the only big three affiliate that did not need a second full-power station to reach the entire market.
On September 1, 2010, the FCC granted KFSM a construction permit for a fill-in translator in Van Buren on channel 24. KFSM operated a low-power analog translator, K62DQ channel 62, licensed to Fayetteville with a transmitter in Johnson along I-540/US 62/US 71. It had a construction permit to air on channel 44, but its license was cancelled on May 4, 2012.
On July 1, 2013, Local TV announced that its stations would be acquired by Tribune Broadcasting. The sale was completed on December 27. With the completion of the deal, KFSM and KXNW became Tribune's smallest television stations by market size (previously, the company's New Orleans duopoly of WGNO and WNOL-TV held this distinction).
Aborted sale to Sinclair Broadcast Group
On May 8, 2017, Hunt Valley, Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group announced that it would acquire Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, plus the assumption of $2.7 billion in debt held by Tribune. Had the deal received regulatory approval, the transaction would have given KFSM and KXNW new sister stations in the company's ABC affiliates in bordering markets, KTUL in Tulsa and KATV in Little Rock. Three weeks after the FCC's July 18 vote to have the deal reviewed by an administrative law judge amid "serious concerns" about Sinclair's forthrightness in its applications to sell certain conflict properties, on August 9, 2018, Tribune announced it would terminate the Sinclair deal, intending to seek other M&A opportunities. Tribune also filed a breach of contract lawsuit in the Delaware Chancery Court, alleging that Sinclair engaged in protracted negotiations with the FCC and the U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division over regulatory issues, refused to sell stations in markets where it already had properties, and proposed divestitures to parties with ties to Sinclair executive chair David D. Smith that were rejected or highly subject to rejection to maintain control over stations it was required to sell.
Sale to Nexstar Media Group and resale to Tegna
On December 3, 2018, Irving, Texas-based Nexstar Media Group—which owns NBC affiliate KNWA-TV (channel 51) and Fox affiliate KFTA-TV (channel 24)—announced it would acquire the assets of Tribune Media for $6.4 billion in cash and debt. Nexstar is precluded from acquiring KFSM and KXNW directly or indirectly, as KFSM and KNWA both fall within FCC criteria prohibiting common ownership of two of the four highest-rated television stations in any market nor does it allow ownership of more than two stations in the same media market. Therefore, Nexstar will be required to sell either KNWA/KFTA or KFSM/KXNW to a separate, unrelated company to address the ownership conflict. On March 20, 2019, Tysons, Virginia-based Tegna Inc. announced it would purchase KFSM-TV from Nexstar upon consummation of the merger, as part of the company's sale of nineteen Nexstar- and Tribune-operated stations to Tegna and the E. W. Scripps Company in separate deals worth $1.32 billion. KXNW was not named in the sale, which opens the possibility of either the formation of a de facto triopoly between KFTA and KNWA (which Nexstar plans to retain through an existing satellite station waiver that predated KFTA's conversion into a separately programmed Fox affiliate in 2006) or the retention of its existing duopoly partnership with KFSM, pending disclosures by Nexstar in subsequent paperwork concerning the deal. The sale was completed on September 19, 2019; this made KFSM a sister station to fellow CBS affiliate KTHV in Little Rock.
On June 14, 2019; KFSM moved most of its operations to a newly built studio in Johnson, a suburb of Fayetteville and Springdale. According to station manager Van Comer, the new facility is located near the population center of KFSM's 11-county, two-state primary coverage area. When the station announced plans to build the facility in 2018, original plans called for a newer facility in Fort Smith to serve as its main studio. However, by 2019, the planned Johnson studio had become the main studio, with its longtime home in Fort Smith serving as a River Valley bureau.