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The Real Reason That KPTV Ended Up On VHF?

by K.M. Richards

It has been speculated for decades that NBC's cancelling the affiliation for George B. Storer's Miami UHF station, WGBS-TV/23, spurred him to sell KPTV, causing the nation's first U to go dark as it merged with the new owner's KLOR-TV/12. Clarke Ingram, the founder of this site, unearthed an earlier (and convoluted) deal Storer tried to make the year before selling channel 27 which lends credence to that speculation.

Here are the facts, as reported by Broadcasting-Telecasting magazine in 1956-57, in chronological order. The accompanying commentary is mine.

May 1956: Storer makes a deal to buy construction permit for KSLM-TV/3, not yet on the air in Salem -- about 55 miles to the southwest of Portland -- with the intent of moving it to Portland and shifting KPTV to the VHF channel.

The main stumbling block was not that KPTV would move to VHF but that the ownership limits at the time prevented anyone from owning more than five VHF stations, and channel 3 would have been Storer's sixth. It is important to note, in context, that Storer's application specifically referred to NBC having advised cancellation of the affiliation of WGBS-TV, invoking a "90-day notice" clause and that the KPTV contract had an identical provision. Add to the situation that KPTV was already competing with both KLOR-TV and KOIN-TV/6 and that KTLV/8 was under construction (all three of which filed objections to the Storer proposal), and there appeared to be good reason for Storer to be worried.

June 1956: The filing "woke up" Oregon broadcaster Carl H. Fisher, who filed his own application for channel 3, which would have made the Storer deal moot.

Fisher, who held controlling interest in four radio stations and lesser ownership stakes in Oregon television stations KVAL-TV/13 Eugene and its satellite KPIC-TV/4 Roseburg, included with the FCC filing a petition to vacate the existing channel 3 grant that Storer was seeking. It is not a stretch of the imagination to conclude that Fisher believed the need for Storer to obtain a waiver of the ownership rules put his own petition and application in a stronger position. However, it must also be noted that the Supreme Court was on the verge of issuing a ruling on the Commission appeal of a lower court ruling favoring Storer by vacating those limits.

July 1956: Storer's response to the Fisher filing was to amend his application. Now, instead of moving channel 3 to Portland, he proposed moving the KSLM-TV transmitter site to a point 12 miles south of Portland (presumably still moving the KPTV call letters and network programming there) and either selling channel 27 or taking it dark.

What is not known, because time has essentially erased the records, is whether Storer's new proposed channel 3 site was at or near those of channels 6, 8 and 12. That same month, the FCC rejected the competing Fisher application and petition.

By that time, the Supreme Court had upheld the earlier appellate court ruling on ownership limits, in a case which Storer had brought as a result of the Commission's refusal in 1953 to accept his application for channel 10 in Miami (ultimately, the lower court ended up reversing its original decision, saying the FCC's numerical limits were "based on the Commission's experience"). Storer then filed a petition for reconsideration of the FCC's original denial of a waiver, charging that the refusal was "in contradiction to its stand that its rules were not inflexible."

November 1956: The FCC refused to grant Storer a waiver in Portland as well, and in the process denied his bid to acquire KSLM-TV and move it closer to Portland.

Broadcasting-Telecasting opined at the time that Storer would keep KPTV and try to make a go of it as the lone UHF in what was becoming the typical VHF-dominated market:

December 1956: Storer filed a petition for reconsideration, and KSLM-TV refiled the application to transfer the CP to him:

Fisher similarly refiled his application for channel 3, and KGW-TV (the renamed KTLV) filed an objection to the Storer petition.

April 1957: Storer, after revealing the previous month that he had sold an option to KLOR-TV's new owner to acquire KPTV's facilities and contracts, asks to take channel 27 dark to consummate that deal:
Note that this followed by two weeks his taking WGBS-TV dark, after operating for nearly nine months without the NBC network affiliation and showing an operating loss of over $350,000 (the equivalent of $3.3 million in 2021 dollars) in two years of operating the Miami station. My conclusion is that, stymied from moving KPTV to VHF after being similarly prevented from doing so with the Miami station, and the experience of trying to operate the latter as an independent, Storer saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall, and exited UHF altogether. The call letters and network affiliation of KPTV moved to channel 12 the day after channel 27 went dark.

POSTSCRIPT: For some reason, Haggarty wasn't even satisfied having a high VHF channel and tried to have it moved to a new channel 2 allocation, only six months after the transaction with Storer:
Haggarty's application was denied in July 1958, largely due to his proposed transmitter site failing the minimum adjacent channel mileage separation requirements. The following month, he was granted a power increase for channel 12, to 158kW. In an ironic twist, after KSLM-TV's owner finally lost the CP in 1958 after five extensions, Haggarty filed for channel 3 in Salem (the application was finally denied in 1961, by which time he had already resold KPTV). Channel 3 finally went on the air in 1970 as KVDO, then six years later was sold to the Oregon Educational and Public Broadcasting Service, which converted it to a PBS affiliate, later moving it to Bend as KOAB-TV in 1983. In a further ironic twist, the sale of KVDO came as a result of the station's consistent losses in the ratings to KPTV.

Storer's interest in UHF was restored only after a hiatus of nearly ten years, when he purchased WSBK-TV/38 Boston in 1966 and later, KCST-TV/39 San Diego CA in 1974.

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