IDAHO FALLS – For nearly 100 years, KID 590 AM has been a fixture on eastern Idaho radio dials. But in November 2021, the signal suddenly went off the air.
The station was forced to surrender its license last month after a year long legal dispute.
Rich Broadcasting owns the station, and its president Rich Mecham tells EastIdahoNews.com the initial reason it went off the air is because a farmer knocked down one of their towers in Iona.
“Rich Broadcasting spent almost a year working on getting an insurance settlement. We then received a letter from the owner of the land stating he (had claimed ownership of the tower) and had received the insurance payment. Since Rich Broadcasting was so close to the end of its lease agreement, he was not going to replace it,” Mecham says.
But on paper, Mecham says everything is filed under the name Rich Broadcasting. He hired an attorney to dispute the landowner’s claims.
In the process, the property owner demolished two remaining towers at the Iona site, destroyed the transmitter building and removed all of the broadcasting equipment.
Ultimately, Mecham determined the cost of keeping the FCC license, and replacing what had been destroyed was too steep a price. It would’ve cost between $1.5 and $2 million and they would’ve had to find someone to lease the property on top of that.
“AM is not exactly the hottest format in the world right now, and it just didn’t make sense,” Mecham explains. “I would’ve done just about anything to keep the heritage call letters, but this guy put us in a position where we had to surrender our license.”
Since the late 1980s, listeners have tuned in to 590 AM for conservative talk programs. Today, it’s the home of Glenn Beck, Jimmy Failla, Sean Hannity and Lars Larson. It’s simulcast on 106.3 FM and 92.1 FM, which allows it to have a broader reach.
Though the loss of 590 AM was a hard pill to swallow, Mecham says the two FM signals will continue to have a massive footprint in eastern Idaho.
“News talk is the coolest format in America. It’s appointment listening … and the number of people who stream it is off the charts,” he says. “I would’ve stayed in it on the AM band if I could but I’m thrilled we have the two FM bands. We’re providing a signal that pretty much everybody in eastern Idaho can hear.”
A long history in eastern Idaho
KID went on the air for the first time in the 1920s. It launched on Dec. 7, 1928 under the call letters KGIO at 1320 AM. It became KID in February 1929 before moving to 1350 in 1941. It landed its permanent spot at 590 AM in 1950.
Bob Ziel worked as an on-air host at 590 AM from 1978 to about the late 1990s. He describes it as “the best outfit” he ever worked for and says the station had a prestigious and credible reputation during his tenure.
“In every town, you always have the main station, like WABC New York,” Ziel says. “KID was that (recognizable brand for eastern Idaho). We were the credible station. If you wanted to know what was going on, you tuned in to 590 AM.”
During the 1990s, Ziel hosted a conservative political talk show called Public Pulse, where he interviewed local politicians like the Idaho Falls mayor, Bonneville County commissioners and then second Congressional district Rep. Mike Crapo.
One of Ziel’s most prominent memories is his interview with Democrat Richard Stallings, a former U.S. representative who narrowly beat Republican incumbent George Hansen in 1984.
Ziel says Stallings had reservations about appearing on his program but Ziel was able to win him over by promising to treat him fairly.
“We had this fool from Arco call in and say, ‘What are you putting this communist on the air for?’ I said, ‘He’s a Congressman, you treat him with respect,'” Ziel recalls. “After the show, Stallings said to me, ‘Anytime you want me on, Bob, I’m there.’ He knew we had disagreements politically but he knew I respected him and I treated him the way he should be treated.”
Noting the station’s long history in eastern Idaho, Ziel says he’s sad to see 590 AM taken off the air.
In today’s world of podcasts and on-demand streaming, Mecham says radio still reaches 93% of the country. As long as radio continues to serve local communities, he says it will remain relevant and have a place in people’s lives.
“Radio is still the No. 1 source for music discovery. Sixty-seven percent of all new music is discovered on over-the-air radio stations,” says Mecham. “Two or three years ago, for the first time in its history, radio passed television as the (media format with the most reach). If we can’t figure out a way to capitalize on that, then we’ve lost our minds.”
With the recent departure of a local afternoon host, Mecham is excited about a new program that will be launching soon. Rich Broadcasting is in the process of hiring a new news talk host and producer, and he has high hopes for the show and the future of the media group’s news talk brand.
“I love the afternoons because I think it’s a fun way to wrap up your day. I love that local presence and if I could figure out a way to expand an hour, I’d definitely do that. We’re going to be back live and local by the end of the month,” he says.