Media Watch


If you still listen to terrestrial radio in its old-fashioned form—with an actual radio and not some "smart" device—it can be a bit of a bummer when the signal that has your attention starts to fade as you get out of range. Occasionally, you'll reach the point where another station's signal bleeds through and fights for frequency dominance.

If you're heading out of town and you know you're getting out of range, you expect that sort of thing. However, it can be quite annoying when it happens in the middle of the city,

Yet that's exactly what's been taking place on the dial at 104.9 FM for the better part of the year. Let's say you're a sports-talk radio fan driving across town and you like listening to Colin Cowherd talk up the awesomeness of big market teams, or whether Paul Goldschmidt is still the only Diamondback who can get a hit. And Zach Clark keeps you up to speed on the Arizona sports scene in the afternoon.

You're getting your sports fix, and it's cool. But then you enter an area bordered roughly by Fort Lowell Road, Alvernon Way, Broadway Boulevard and Euclid Avenue, and chances are you're getting a dose of Frampton or Foreigner along with Cowherd or Clark.

There's nothing wrong with your radio. You've entered a section of town where two radio stations claim they have the right to the same frequency. The Journal Broadcast Group operates KFFN, the sports frequency, on a translator. However, some years ago, KZLZ LLC, which owns and operates KWCX, a classic rock station formerly licensed to Willcox, changed the city of license for that station to Tanque Verde for the purposes of making inroads in Tucson.

Care to guess where KWCX is on the dial? Both sides are being stubborn, and the lawyers for the respective organizations are making their cases as to why they should have access to the frequency.

KZLZ says that since it has a station licensed to Tanque Verde (although not an incorporated town, it is recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau) it should have priority to broadcast from that frequency. Journal argues there is no such viable location at the address given in Tanque Verde and the KZLZ proposal should be voided.

"When KZLZ LLC became aware of the first FCC filing by Journal, we were very surprised at the allegations and insinuations they made about us and we immediately reached out directly to Journal to resolve the matter, including our willingness to sell KWCX to them so that they would not lose this channel as expected under FCC rules," KZLZ managing member Todd Robinson said via email. "Journal did not wish to deal directly with us so we have been working through our respective attorneys and a broker to resolve this issue.  After we offered to sell KWCX to Journal in late 2012, they indicated via their attorney that they did not think we had a suitable site for them to purchase KWCX.  So, we spent the better part of the next year working on zoning and permitting several possible sites to take to them for their review.

"Given our good faith actions on seeking a new site for a sale to Journal, we were even more surprised and disappointed with the further FCC filings by Journal that questioned our integrity and alleged various bad deeds on our part.  These are very serious matters that Journal has alleged and it may take years to resolve these through the FCC, which only benefits Journal since their translator has not been ordered off the air yet, pursuant to normal FCC rules."

But then why is a station licensed to Tanque Verde only available over the air in a small corridor in central Tucson? Because KWCX is broadcasting on that frequency, not from its designated location in Tanque Verde but from the roof of the KZLZ FM offices at Grant and Country Club. That antenna has a small reach, but happens to cut through KFFN's translator signal in some highly traveled and populated portions of town.

Robinson is confident his company will win the case and get access to the frequency.

"Per FCC rules, full power stations like KWCX have priority over translators like Journal's since they are considered secondary services," Robinson said. "There is not an example anywhere of a translator winning against a full-power station."

Even though he says he's confident KZLZ will win the case, Robinson says his company is pursuing the sale option to expedite the situation since it's possible this could "drag on for years."

"We remain more than happy to resolve this matter with Journal, including a sale or various swap scenarios (and we have proposed several options) and are happy to work directly with them or through intermediaries as they have insisted thus far," Robinson said. "Compared to Journal, we are a very small company and this matter has affected our business and cash flow in a very negative way.  We have shown that we are a very responsive and responsible local broadcaster in Tucson via our operation of KZLZ."

The reality is that it's a lose-lose for both signals. There's pretty much no way Robinson and his group are going to persuade advertisers in Tucson to purchase time on a station with limited range that is battling for broadcast space against a competing radio outlet. It's also a significant burden for Journal, which loses the FM access to its already limited translator signal in the middle of town.

Journal officials did not respond to a request for comment on the case.

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