CBS Dropping Kiro-TV, May Pick Up Kstw -- Industrywide Shake-Up Finally Hits Seattle Area

CBS television is ending its 36-year relationship with KIRO-TV (Channel 7), as a shock wave of the network-affiliation earthquake finally hits Seattle.

The development, confirmed by station sources, is not surprising but is monumental for the nation's 13th-biggest TV market, where network affiliations have been stable for more than three decades.

CBS has been talking with Gaylord Entertainment Co., the owner of KSTW-TV (Channel 11). With KIRO's planned announcement today that CBS will leave Channel 7, another announcement could be imminent regarding CBS, Gaylord and Channel 11.

At the very least, the change means viewers are certain to be spending more time with KSTW than before, and KIRO - for now, anyway - is soon without a network, prompting a scramble for more syndicated or local programming.

Moreover, the broadcast industry has been buzzing with reports here and around the country that Bonneville International Corp., the Mormon Church-owned holding company, is selling KIRO-TV. Sources at KIRO said an announcement today could include news of a sale of the TV station, or that could come later.

Among the reported possible buyers: Dallas-based A.H. Belo Corp., which owns the Dallas Morning News, ABC affiliate WFAA-TV there and five other stations, mostly in the South.

Neither KIRO officials nor KSTW general manager Gary Schneider would comment before a news conference today at KIRO.

The developments in Seattle come four months after upstart Fox Broadcasting Co. stunned the industry by stealing affiliates from CBS, ABC and NBC in 12 markets. Fox won 10-year affiliation deals by investing in New World Communications Group, which owns a growing chain of TV stations.

In all, since that May shake-up, there have been network-affiliation changes announced in more than 27 cities. Since most TV stations are under group ownership, changes in one city often affect other markets.

Take Seattle, for example. The roots of change here are in Dallas.

CBS had already been stung by Fox's interception of its National Football League contract. Adding further injury to its stature, CBS was the hardest hit in the initial Fox raid of the Big Three henhouse, losing eight affiliates.

One of them was KDFW-TV in Dallas-Fort Worth, the No. 8 market, the one place where CBS could not quickly sign up a new station.

Enter Nashville-based Gaylord, which owns the Grand Ole Opry, country-music cable channel The Nashville Network and four TV stations, including independent KTVT-TV in Dallas. Neither side has confirmed reports of CBS-Gaylord talks, but industry leaders have been planning accordingly.

In considering signing its Dallas station with CBS, Gaylord no doubt also sought a lucrative and prestigious network affiliation for Tacoma-based Channel 11, unaffiliated for 32 years.

Any CBS-Gaylord deal has not been without roadblocks.

Gaylord had planned to affiliate its Seattle and Dallas stations with Time Warner-owned WB Television Network, planned for launch in January. With the prospect of affiliating with CBS, one of the Big Three, Gaylord changed its mind about WB. Gaylord and Time Warner Inc. have sued each other over the matter.

Now it's KIRO that could be looking to WB for affiliation, or another planned upstart network, Paramount. To complicate matters, corporate mergers could jeopardize the launch of WB, and there's no telling what a potential new owner of KIRO-TV would do.

Ironically, KSTW, then known as KTNT-TV when it was owned by the Tacoma News Tribune newspaper, was an early affiliate of CBS, from its sign-on in 1953 until 1958, before KIRO-TV even existed.

When KIRO signed on, CBS dropped KTNT and picked up KIRO. But KTNT sued and won its CBS affiliation back. So from 1960 until 1962, Seattle-Tacoma had two CBS affiliates.

Queen City Broadcasting Co., which owned KIRO-AM radio (710), launched Seattle's fifth television station in 1958. The company's president, Saul Haas, sold controlling interest of KIRO-TV, KIRO-AM and KIRO-FM to the Mormon Church in 1964.