KREX-TV, virtual channel 5 (digital channel 2), is the CBS-affiliated television station for most of western Colorado, based in Grand Junction. Owned by Nexstar Media Group, it operates its digital signal on VHF channel 2.
|Channel||Video||Aspect||PSIP short name||Programming |
|5.1||1080i||16:9||KREX-HD||Main KREX-TV programming / CBS|
|5.3||KGJT-SD||Simulcast of KGJT-CD / MyNetworkTV|
KREX-TV also operates a satellite station in Montrose, Colorado, KREY-TV (virtual channel 10, digital channel 13). KREY transmits from Flattop Mesa, a hill northeast of Montrose. Due to its relatively weak signal and the area's very uneven terrain, the station uses six translators to relay its signal to the Uncompaghre Valley and surrounding San Miguel mountain communities. Local studios are located on North 1st Street in Montrose. In its earliest days, local programs including "Letters To Santa," in which area children were invited to sit on Santa's lap on live television, were made in cramped quarters at the transmitter building, which doubled as KREY's studio through the 1970s. KREY previously produced short news inserts during KREX's weeknight newscasts, though this has since ended.
Formerly, KREX-TV operated two additional satellite stations, KREZ-TV channel 6 in Durango, Colorado and KREG-TV channel 3 in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. KREZ had made several attempts at regional news programs over its 30 years as a semi-satellite of KREX. Eventually, the cost of supplying a 270-mile (435-kilometer) microwave link to Durango plus the relatively small revenue base led to the sale of KREZ in 1995. It is now a satellite of Albuquerque's KRQE. KREG had previously operated as standalone independent station KCWS from 1984 to 1985; after going dark for two years, it returned to the air as a satellite of KREX in 1987. In 2017, following the merger of Nexstar Broadcasting Group and Media General, KREG, which is considered to be within the Denver television market, was spun off to Marquee Broadcasting.
In addition to KREY, KREX operates the largest translator network of any commercial station in Colorado, comprising 60 low-power repeaters.
Channel 5 first went on the air on May 22, 1954 as KFXJ-TV, owned by Colorado broadcasting pioneer Rex Howell along with KFXJ radio (AM 920). Howell had founded KFXJ in Edgewater, south of Denver, in 1926. It quickly established itself as one of the leading stations in Denver, but was beaten out for a CBS Radio affiliation by KLZ. In response, Howell moved KFXJ to Grand Junction in 1931, and relaunched it as the Western Slope's first radio station. Intrigued by the growth of television, Howell made plans to sign on a television sister in 1951, but a delay in delivering the 343-foot tower pushed the sign-on date back three years.
Channel 5 shared a studio with its radio sister on Hillcrest Manor, north of downtown Grand Junction. Howell had built the art-deco and block glass structure in 1931 for the radio station, but expanded it to two stories to accommodate television. At the time, Hillcrest Manor was the highest populated point in the city. The stations' broadcast tower was located on the grounds next to the studio building.
The station carried programming from all four networks, but was a primary CBS affiliate. It lost DuMont when that network shut down in 1956, but continued carrying programs from CBS, NBC and ABC. During the late 1950s, the station was also briefly affiliated with the NTA Film Network.
In 1956, Howell moved the KFXJ calls to a newly opened satellite station on channel 10, located some 65 miles south in Montrose, Colorado. The Grand Junction stations then changed their calls to KREX-AM-TV, after their founder. KREX-FM (92.3) signed on in 1960, transmitting from the same tower used by channel 5 at the Hillcrest location. KFXJ became KREY-TV in 1965, shortly after the opening of Durango-based KREZ-TV on channel 6. This three-station network became known as "XYZ Television", with the calls of all three stations corresponding to the word 'king' ('Rex' coincidentally meaning king in Latin, with 'rey' the Spanish word for king).
Howell sold his stations to a group of Cincinnati businessmen in 1966. However, they missed several payments, and Howell reclaimed control in 1969, running the stations until his death in 1978. In 1984, his heirs sold off his broadcasting empire, with channel 5 and its satellites going to Russell Withers, who retained the stations until selling them to Hoak Media in 2003.
For 25 years, KREX-TV was the only television station in western Colorado. However, cable providers supplemented it with the Denver stations. Channel 5 finally got some local competition when KJCT signed on in 1979. KJCT took ABC full-time, leaving KREX-TV to shoehorn CBS and NBC onto its schedule. This was very unusual for a two-station market, but made sense in light of the fact that ABC was the top-rated network at the time. Channel 5 finally lost NBC in 1996 when KKCO signed on. For a time in the 1990s, KREX also carried some Fox programming in the off-hours.
KREX-TV relocated its analog transmitter to the Black Ridge electronics site at the Colorado National Monument west of Grand Junction in 2002. It increased power eightfold, from 12.9 kW to 100 kW visual. The digital transmitter remains at the studio location, operating at a licensed power of only 834 watts.
KREX-AM eventually moved its frequency to 1100 AM, and increased its power to 50,000 watts. It is now KNZZ, the top-rated radio station in the market. It transmits from Whitewater, a desert community 12 miles (19 kilometers) south of Grand Junction. KREX-FM is now KKVT, broadcasting soft rock from a transmitter at the Black Ridge electronics site. It and KNZZ are now owned by MBC Grand Broadcasting.
The KREX studios were ravaged by a fire that broke out on January 20, 2008. The five occupants of the building (2 news reporters, 2 master control operators, and one cleaning person) escaped without injury, and the fire's exact cause remains unknown.
The Grand Junction Fire Department was forced to pull firefighters from the building shortly after arriving on the scene. The 77-year-old building had been renovated several times, creating many dead air spaces. Fire officials were concerned by the potential for backdrafts, and decided to battle the fire from the exterior only. More than 18,000 gallons of water were required to fully extinguish the blaze, which continued to smolder for over 24 hours.
The United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assisted with the investigation. It was revealed that the fire started on the top floor (ground level offices) and continued down to the basement. Investigators focused on a heater in the hallway of the upper floor; however, it may be impossible to definitively determine the fire's cause. This was due to the profound level of destruction within the building as well as the decision to allow the fire to burn itself out. Ironically, the station had passed a fire inspection by the Grand Junction Fire Department only a few weeks prior to the fire.
Damage to the facility was estimated at roughly $6 million, making it the most significant fire loss in Grand Junction history. In addition to the losses of equipment and infrastructure, decades of file tapes were lost in the fire, as well as irreplaceable photographs and other archival material, wiping out a comprehensive catalog of the Grand Valley's history.
The station's CBS and Fox feeds went off the air around 10:30 a.m. However, within a few hours, the national CBS and Fox feeds were picked up by the then-local cable provider, Bresnan Communications. Dish Network temporarily replaced KREX and KFQX with their then network-owned Denver counterparts, KCNC-TV and KDVR, respectively. (DirecTV did not have an established local Grand Junction feed.) Due to the high penetration of cable and satellite in this area, most of the area's residents didn't lose access to CBS programming. Cable and satellite are all but essential for acceptable television in much of western Colorado due to the market's rugged terrain. The fire also temporarily knocked out programming to KREX's satellites and massive translator network, as they either were controlled from KREX's studios, or fed off of the source originating at KREX's transmitter.
Recovery and reconstruction
According to KREX General Manager Ron Tillery, the studios were a total loss and the structure is almost demolished. However, the $130,000 transmitter survived without significant damage, as it was housed in a 1960s-era bomb shelter located in the basement of the building. It took crews three days to reach the shelter due to debris and obstructions.
The transmitter was reassembled in a newly built outbuilding located on KREX's current property, and the control room was temporarily housed in a mobile home directly behind the transmitter. The station's master control equipment was completely replaced with all-digital equipment, and the trailer featured three separate master controls for KREX's CBS, Fox, and MyNetworkTV affiliates.
The KREX news division moved into temporary quarters at the PBS broadcasting studio at Western Colorado Community College, and staff also worked directly from their homes.
KREX-TV and its three full-power satellites returned to the air on January 30, 2008, with KFQX coming online the following day. As of mid-March, KREX and KFQX both began carrying a full slate of network and syndicated programming, and local news. KGJT-LP began repeating KREX's programming with no variances in the schedule; this lasted until Fall 2008, when a separate schedule with MyNetworkTV programming resumed.
The station's owner, Hoak Media, pledged to reconstruct a "state of the art media and news gathering operation." A number of local businesses donated equipment and other materials to aid in the station's recovery. On August 10, 2009, KREX's new studios were completed. That day, the station premiered its new news set created by Delvin Design Group, its new graphics from VDO, and became the second station behind KJCT to launch local news in high definition.
In June 2012, KREX and other Hoak-owned stations were pulled from Dish Network after they failed to renew a carriage agreement. The refusal to renew reportedly surrounds Dish Network's "Hopper" digital video recorder and its controversial commercial-skipping feature AutoHop—which has also led to complaints from the major U.S. television networks.
On November 20, 2013, Gray Television announced it would purchase Hoak Media and Parker Broadcasting in a $335 million deal. Since Gray already owns KKCO and operates KJCT (which is owned by Excalibur Broadcasting), it decided to spin off KREX and its translators, and KFQX (which is being acquired by Excalibur) to a third-party. On December 19, Gray announced, in a side deal related to the Hoak acquisition, that KREX and its satellites will be sold to Nexstar Broadcasting Group, while KFQX will be sold to Mission Broadcasting, for $37.5 million. The sale of KREX was completed on June 13, 2014, while the KFQX sale was finalized on March 31, 2017.
KREX was the leading news station in the area for many years, but for most of the last decade has been runner-up to KKCO. Some of KREX's newscasts are simulcast on its sister stations, KFQX and KGJT.