Bach, Beethoven and Brahms fans, rejoice! KBYU-FM will not be dropping its classical-music format after all.
Instead, BYU Broadcasting has purchased a second local radio station that will be home to its BYUradio broadcasts, meaning nothing will change at KBYU-FM. And that will come as a relief to those who protested the previous plan when it was announced in October 2017.
Michael Dunn, managing director of BYU Broadcasting, said he heard the “passion and fire of these listeners. We’re trying to be responsive to that, and do it in a way that we can still maintain our strategic focus.”
That focus is on BYUtv (seen on cable and satellite systems across the country) and BYUradio (heard on Sirius XM). As previously announced, KBYU-Channel 11 will exit the PBS system and begin telecasting BYUtv over-the-air on June 30.
But, rather than airing on KBYU-FM, BYUradio will be heard on KUMT-FM 107.9, which BYU will buy from Community Wireless, the nonprofit that operates NPR-affiliated KPCW-FM out of Park City.
Neither BYU Broadcasting nor Community Wireless released any information about the purchase price.
KUMT has been an automated rock station format; it will begin carrying BYUradio’s lineup of talk — shows about travel, parenting, literature, faith and sports — once the Federal Communications Commission approves the sale and some technical issues are resolved. The tentative plan is for the switchover to come this summer; the station will be operated out of the BYU Broadcasting building on the Provo campus.
The purchase of KUMT “will allow us to have an over-the-air presence for BYUradio along the Wasatch Front,” said Dunn, who pointed out that it has been available only to the limited number of Sirius XM subscribers in Utah, which is “kind of silly.”
“This is like if the Catholic Church had a worldwide radio station and the only place you couldn’t hear it over the air was in Vatican City,” he said.
And he’s certain “many delirious fans” will be “thrilled we’ll be able to retain Classical 89. … It really is a win for everybody.”
“Oh, wonderful! This makes my day!” said Sandy resident Ellie Ienatsch, who had urged KBYU-FM to continue airing the “unique treasure” of classical music. “I was just thinking, ‘Oh dear, it’s only two months until the change.’ This is super news!”
“I can’t believe it,” said Becky Durham, the executive director of Utah Chamber Artists. She wrote letters and made calls to BYU Broadcasting, but had resigned herself to KBYU-FM dropping classical music at the end of June.
“The impression we got was they’d made up their mind but they would listen to people’s complaints,” Durham said. “It’s music that’s kind of tied in with education and history and philosophy and beauty. So I was really disappointed. Now, I couldn’t be happier.”
Crystal Young-Otterstrom, executive director of the Utah Cultural Alliance, said she is “absolutely ecstatic” about the change of plans for KBYU-FM. “What this shows is the power of collective advocacy and the strong support that the state of Utah has for arts and humanity.
“And the entire cultural community thanks BYU and the LDS Church, not only for listening to us, but for finding this solution.”
It wasn’t just the protests that turned the tide, Dunn said. The fact that KBYU-FM is Utah’s only remaining over-the-air classical station, combined with Brigham Young University’s “commitment to the arts,” set off a search for alternatives.
A classical-music subchannel, like the one KUED-FM operates, was considered “until we realized that we’re back with the same issue,” Dunn said. “A lot of our listeners tend to skew older” and “the prospect of adding HD radio was just that one extra step that was a barrier to them.”
Buying another station wasn’t part of the plan until BYU Broadcasting learned KUMT was for sale.
“We said all along, ‘We will look at every option because we really want to make this work for everyone,’” Dunn said. “And, lo and behold, this emerged as an option that, frankly, I didn’t even consider going in.”