KFSM-TV is the CBS-affiliated television station for the Arkansas River Valley and Northwest Arkansas that is licensed to Fort Smith. It broadcasts a high definition digital signal on UHF channel 18 from a transmitter northwest of Winslow. The station is owned by the Tribune Broadcasting subsidiary of the Tribune Media Company, as part of a duopoly with the MyNetworkTV-affiliate KXNW (channel 34). The two stations share studio facilities located on North 13th Street in Downtown Fort Smith. KFSM also operates a secondary studio located on North Shiloh Drive in Fayetteville along US 71B.
The station also carries MyNetworkTV on a second digital subchannel. Originally, it was known on-air as My 5.2 and was the market's primary MyNetworkTV-affiliate. Though KXNW became the MyNetworkTV-affiliate after Local TV acquired it in 2011, KFSM still carries MyNetworkTV programming on subchannel 5.2 in simulcast with KXNW (with Antenna TV programming now exclusive to KFSM-DT3). KFSM-DT2 can also be seen on Cox digital channel 661.
As of spring 2016, the over-the-air digital signal for the KXNW-DT1 simulcast on KFSM-DT2 was upgraded the into 720p high definition; thus offering a high definition feed for MyNetworkTV for the first time in the Fort Smith/Eureka Springs, Arkansas area (and the entire Arkansas River Valley and Northwest Arkansas area and Beyond), with the Antenna TV programming being segregated out into its very own devoted Sub-Channel (via KFSM-DT3 Channel 5.3); although, the originating KXNW-DT1 feed remains in 480i 4:3 standard-definition. Antenna programming moved over to KFSM-TV's third subchannel, with Tribune Broadcasting replacing the hours programmed by Antenna TV with traditional syndicated programming, resembling most of Tribune Broadcasting's other MyNetworkTV affiliates.
KFSM is one of the oldest television stations in Arkansas. It signed on for the first time on July 9, 1953 as KFSA-TV on channel 22. It was owned by Donald W. Reynolds, who also owned Fort Smith's two major newspapers — the Southwest American and Times Record (later merged as the Southwest Times Record) — and KFSA-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, KNAC-TV signed on channel 5 and became a CBS affiliate, from studios in Van Buren. CBS was the top network back then with such hits as Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason and the 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 (50 km) from downtown Fort Smith, leaving many homes without clear television reception. The Fort Smith television market is a fairly large market geographically, spilling across a large swath of Arkansas and Oklahoma. Much of this area is mountainous. 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 television stations from Tulsa or 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) could not support two television stations at the same time. Talks between Reynolds and KNAC's owner, businessman Hiram Nakdeiman, resulted in an agreement to merge the two stations. The merged station would operate under the KFSA license, but they would use the stronger channel 5 facility. However, under the terms of an agreement with the FCC, it operated under the KNAC-TV call letters until the sale formally closed.
KFSA-TV, Channel 22, signed off permanently 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. After the license transfer was finalized in January 1959, the KFSA-TV calls were assigned to channel 5.
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 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 Federal Communications Commission (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, KFSA was sold 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/U.S. 62/U.S. 71. It has a construction permit to air on channel 44. But the license was cancelled on May 4, 2012.
On July 1, 2013, Local TV announced that its stations would be acquired by the 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).
The station's digital signal is multiplexed:
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP Short Name||Programming|
|5.1||1080i||16:9||KFSM-DT||Main KFSM-TV programming / CBS|
|5.2||720p||KXNW-DT||HD Simulcast of KXNW-DT1 / MyNetworkTV|
KFSM-TV discontinued regular programming on its analog signal, over VHF channel 5, on June 12, 2009, the official date in which full-power television stations in the United States transitioned from analog to digital broadcasts under federal mandate. The station's digital signal remained on its pre-transition UHF channel 18, using PSIP to display the station's virtual channel as its former VHF analog channel 5.
Syndicated programming on KFSM includes Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy!, Inside Edition, and Dr. Phil. All of which are distributed by the corporate cousin of KFSM's affiliate network, CBS Television Distribution.
KFSM currently provides five newscasts each weekday, and three broadcasts on Saturdays and Sundays, a considerable amount for a station in the 100th market. It also provides a 24-hour local newscast seven days a week on Cox channel 55 in Springdale and Fort Smith. This has since moved to digital channel 661. The station launched a mobile application in 2005.
Over the years, KFSM has been the ratings leader in the area. It was the only full-powered commercial station on VHF in the market due to a 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 and Texarkana to the south, Springfield and Pittsburg/Joplin to the north, and Tulsa to the west. This created a large "doughnut" in Northwestern Arkansas where there could be only one commercial VHF license plus a noncommercial license (eventually occupied by AETN's KAFT).
On April 21, 1996, a large tornado destroyed and heavily damaged much of historic downtown Fort Smith around the Garrison Avenue Bridge. The storm left 4 people dead in western Arkansas. KFSM-TV covered the tornado and produced a documentary of the event shortly after called "Sunday's Fury". Days later, the Eads Brothers Furniture Building was destroyed by one of largest fires in Fort Smith's history.
Until January 2012, KFSM-DT2 simulcasted the weekday morning show and then re-aired it in a rotating cycle. It also simulcasted the weekday noon and nightly broadcasts. The simulcasts were discontinued shortly after Local TV consummated on its purchase of the former KPBI and changed its call letters to KXNW, and were replaced with Antenna TV and syndicated programming as KXNW began to simulcast KFSM-DT2. On March 12, 2012, KXNW/KFSM-DT2 began airing a new hour-long 7 am newscast on weekday mornings and a 30-minute newscast at 9 pm nightly. On weeknights, the latter newscast competes with the prime time newscast which airs on Fox affiliate KFTA-TV; KXNW was the only station which airs a 9 pm newscast on weekends until August 2012 when KHBS/KHOG began producing a nightly 9 pm newscast for their CW Plus-affiliated digital subchannels.
At some point during summer 2012, KFSM became the first station in the Fort Smith-Rogers–Fayetteville market and the last primary Local TV-owned station to begin broadcasting its local newscasts in high definition. The shows on KXNW remain in downscaled 4:3 standard definition because its main signal and its simulcast on KFSM-DT2 are not transmitted in HD.