Phelps Fisher

Phelps Fisher • Written September 2010

Phelps Fisher

An Insider’s View Of Fisher History

Fisher Communications Inc. was founded by the Fisher family, including my grandfather, Will.  The company began as Fisher Flouring Mills, incorporating on April 4, l910 and beginning milling operations in 1911.

I began my career with Fisher as a mill messenger at age 12, working every Summer through my junior year at the UW, when hours of sweeping floors and packing flour resulted in an allergy to flour dust, ending my milling aspirations.

Broadcasting was a new venture for the company when it bought the license for a radio station that first went on the air as KOMO on Dec. 31, 1926. My father, Ken, then a UW student, was very proud to have been an announcer on KOMO on its first day of operation. It was exciting to for me be part of the crew when KOMO-TV presented the first live color.

In my 63 years of working at Fisher, from mill messenger to chairman of the board, I learned that, while many things change, key marketing principles remain the same: understanding the needs of our customers and focusing on their success.



The company we now know as Fisher Communications Inc. was founded by the Fisher family, including my grandfather, Will.  All shared the drive to succeed, to manage business soundly, to be productive and to serve their communities. These traits carried over to future generations and permeated throughout the company, laying the foundation for it to become what it is today, a leader in local media innovation.

The company began as Fisher Flouring Mills, incorporating on April 4, l910 and beginning milling operations in 1911 with the largest flour mill in the western United States. For 90 years, Fisher Flouring Mills manufactured quality products that were sold to consumers and bakers in the western U.S. and shipped to customers in more than 60 countries worldwide.

I grew up thinking I would work in the milling operation and began my career with Fisher as a mill messenger at age 12, working every Summer in various capacities through my junior year at the University of Washington, when hours of sweeping floors and packing flour on the swing and graveyard shifts resulted in an allergy to flour dust, ending my milling aspirations.

Broadcasting was a new venture for the company when it bought the license for a radio station that first went on the air as KOMO on Dec. 31, 1926. My father, Ken, then a UW student, was very proud to have been an announcer on KOMO on its first day of operation.

Innovative marketing was a hallmark of the company, as indicated by the fact that my great uncle, O.D. Fisher, formed a group of local business leaders known as “Totem Broadcasters.” They subscribed to 100% of the advertising available on KOMO in its first year of operation.

KOMO radio’s first offices were located in Seattle’s Cobb Building and the station used the most up-to-date equipment available to assure listeners the best in live radio entertainment. In 1948, KOMO moved into the finest regional broadcasting facility in the country at 4th & Denny, which was built to be the home of KOMO radio and the future home of KOMO-TV.

Fisher’s long-awaited license to begin television operations in Seattle was granted by the FCC in 1953 and KOMO -TV signed on the air on Dec. 10 as an NBC affiliate. In June of 1955, I had the good fortune to make the transition from milling to broadcasting when I was hired as a floor director at KOMO-TV.

It was exciting to be part of the crew when KOMO-TV presented the first live color TV to the Northwest during the locally produced Deadline News, featuring Herb Robinson and Keith Jackson. Chief news cameraman Merle Severen had revolutionized the broadcast news business by discovering a way to process color film in 90 minutes, thus permitting same-day use.

In 1958, KOMO radio and TV entered into an agreement to become ABC affiliates, and, in 1959, after much fanfare, the switch for both was completed with great success, and KOMO-TV finished #1 in the prime-time ratings, in competition with KING-TV, KOMO-TV and KTNT in Tacoma.

Over the years, Fisher’s broadcast operations have grown, beginning with the addition of KATU-TV in Portland in 1962, the purchase of Gene Autry’s KPLZ-FM and KVI-AM in 1994 and the acquisition of the Walter Disney family’s Retlaw (Walter spelled backwards) Broadcasting 11 television stations in June of 2000. In 2006-2007, Fisher entered the Spanish-language TV field with the purchase of KUNS Seattle, KUNP Portland and KUNW+ Yakima/Tri-Cities, all affiliated with Univision, and most recently acquired the CBS and FOX affiliated stations in Bakersfield, CA (KBAK and KBFX).

Today, Fisher owns 20 television stations, reaching an estimated 4.5 million viewers weekly, and eight radio stations in Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho and Montana. Fisher TV station affiliations include ABC, CBS, FOX, Univision, The CW, THIS TV, RTV and MyNetworkTV.

The stations are continually acknowledged for their excellence, having earned national and regional awards, from the coveted Edward R. Murrow Best Newscast in America (KOMO 4 News) to countless Emmys. Fisher stations are woven into the fabric of the communities they serve, and not only are they considered the ”first responders” when big news stories occur, they also follow-up by helping meet community needs.

Fisher, which is traded on NASDAQ as NASDAQ: FSCI, has had a long history of innovation, which continues today. In 2006, the company created Fisher Interactive Network, bringing all of its online assets together as an integrated platform. Last year, Fisher stations completed the FCC-mandated transition from analog to digital and took advantage of the digital transition by launching multicast stations in most of its markets.

Also in 2009, it became one of the first companies in the country to broadcast ATSC Mobile TV, adding another distribution platform (TV/radio/Web/ mobile) for the KOMO News brand to connect with viewers and listeners.

This year, Fisher carried out its “broadcast-to-broadband” strategy by launching more than 120 community Websites with more than 1,600 local advertisers, bringing solutions to advertisers in its television markets. Fisher won the Innovator of the Year award for this service at the Borrell Local Online Advertising Conference.

Whether it’s radio, television or community sites, the marketing principles at Fisher are the same as those I’ve always practiced and still believe in. Every branch of Fisher, from the earliest days, focused on a quality product, customer service, the importance of “doing the right thing” and focusing on client results.

In my 63 years of working at Fisher, from mill messenger to chairman of the board, I learned that, while many things change, key marketing principles remain the same: understanding the needs of our customers and focusing on their success.

Over the years, the most fun I had was the personal involvement with clients, learning about their businesses and collaborating in their success. Today, Fisher continues to create opportunities to improve clients’ business and assist them in moving goods and services. I’m thrilled to see the Fisher sales team continue the legacy by providing creative marketing solutions to their clients.