Plans continue to expand KFSM 5 in Northwest Arkansas, station will not keep iconic Fort Smith building

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 5,815 views 

Plans first made public in late 2015 by local CBS affiliate KFSM-TV, Channel 5, to move more of its operations to Northwest Arkansas from Fort Smith are ongoing, although the station will move out of its iconic Fort Smith office to a “more modern facility” in the city.

KFSM General Manager Van Comer confirmed Thursday (Feb. 2) with Talk Business & Politics that plans to move have not been delayed. He said the process just takes time.

“Actually, there is no delay. We knew getting through planning and approval phase would take time,” said Comer, who declined to say where in Northwest Arkansas the new facility would be built, saying only we “have scoped out several sites that will work.”

Comer first acknowledged the move in September 2015, saying that parent company New York City-based Tribune Broadcasting wanted to “increase the size of our operation” in the growing Northwest Arkansas market.

On Thursday, Comer reiterated the media company has outgrown its present facilities.

“KFSM has been in our present Fort Smith studios since 1969 and our Fayetteville studio since 1992,” he said. “We have simply outgrown our buildings and this investment will give our outstanding 5NEWS team modern facilities, which they very much have earned, and our audience will benefit from better newscasts with a fresh look and new technology.”

What remains vague is where the main KFSM anchors will operate. Some rumors suggest the primary studio will move from Fort Smith to the new Northwest Arkansas site. When asked about show production, Comer said: “It will continue to be produced from both locations, as it is now.” When asked where long-time anchor Daren Bobb and other anchors would be based, Comer noted only: “We will maintain a strong presence in Fort Smith.”

That presence will not be in what was originally the Carnegie Library in downtown Fort Smith. KFSM moved into what was then a 40-year-old building in 1969 when the city built a new library. The Carnegie Library was one of four built in Arkansas between 1906 and 1915 through grants from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The others were built in Eureka Springs, Little Rock and Morrilton.

When KFSM moves its studio and management offices to Northwest Arkansas, it will be the second of the two major TV stations in the designated market area (DMA) to do so. KHBS/KHOG 40/29 moved its studio and sales and management offices to Rogers in September 2007. Part of the move to Rogers included moving some staff in Fayetteville to Rogers.

The DMA in which KFSM and KHBS/KHOG operate covers 11 counties in Arkansas (Benton, Crawford, Franklin, Logan, Madison, Scott, Sebastian and Washington counties) and Oklahoma (LeFlore and Sequoyah counties). The market is ranked 99th out of 210 markets, with 304,670 households, according to Nielsen. That ranking places the region between the Tri-Cities of Tennessee-Virginia (98) and Greenville-New Bern-Washington, N.C. (100). Also, by way of comparison, the Little Rock market is ranked 57th, one ahead of the Tulsa market.

For the first nine months of 2016, Tribune Broadcasting posted a net income loss of $4.705 million, a wide swing from the $61.01 million gain in the same period of 2015. One time charges, including tax payments of $190 million contributed to the loss, according to the company. Total revenue during the nine-month period was $1.564 billion, ahead of the $1.462 billion in the same period of 2015.

Tribune owns or operates 42 stations, including WGN America based in Chicago. The company recently refinanced a $1.76 billion term loan.

Shares of Tribune Media Company (NYSE: TRCO) closed Thursday at $29.01, down 5 cents. During the past 52 weeks the price has ranged from a $40.72 high to a $26.10 low.