by Alex Cosper
see also American Radio History
St. Louis is a unique radio market because it has several high-powered 100,000 watt stations. The beginning of commerically-licensed St. Louis radio paralleled the nation with 1922 being the opening year. WEW at St. Louis University was the first license issued to the area followed by The Post Dispatch's KSD, the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce's WAAE, Stix-Baer-Fuller's WCK and Benwood's WEB. In 1921 KSD had done some experimental broadcasts, but this was long after WEW had given weather broadcasts in Morse Code as early as 1913. WEW began using human voice for weather in 1921 and is considered by many historians to be the first station in America to give spoken weather reports over the radio on a regular basis.
In 1923 Calvin Coolidge became the first U.S. President to give a presidential address over the radio. One of the six stations to carry this address to Congress was KSD at 550 AM. In 1926 KSD became an early member of the NBC Red Network. The call letters remained the same for many years until flipping to country as KUSA under Gannett, but restored to KSD in 1993 under EZ Communications, only to become KTRS under Dorsey Media Group in 1997.
Stations and owners changed frequently in the early years. After the establishment of the FCC in 1934, broadcasting began to reflect industry rules set by the FCC. Rules put limits on ownership and signal strength. In 1941 the FCC reallocated frequencies around the country in perhaps radio's most dramatic year ever for sweeping changes. In St. Louis the AM dial landed as follows: KSD (550), KXOK (630), WEW (770), KMOX (1120), WIL (1230), KWK (1380) and WTMV (1490).
FM stations started out as sister properties and simulcasts of AM stations. FM stations started gaining popularity beginning in the late sixties. By the late seventies AM was being overtaken by FM as a band from music listening. By the end of the eighties the number one station in town was still an AM station, but delivering talk instead of music. That was CBS Radio's KMOX (1120), which remained number one throughout the nineties.
The top music station in the late eighties was rocker KSHE (94.7), owned by Emmis. Like KSHE, top 40 giant WKBQ (106.5) stood uncontested, owned by MacDonald. It remained the lone contemporary hits station through the first half of the next decade. Keymarket cornered the urban contemporary market with KMJK (107.7). Three country stations competed, with Heritage Media's WIL (92.3) way out in front of Gannett's KUSA (550) and Gateway Radio's WKKX (104.1). Channel One's beautiful/easy listening station KEZK (102.5) dominated all other background music stations. Gannett's KSD (93.7) was the market's lone classic rocker versus two oldies stations: CBS' KLOU (103.3) and Unity's KATZ (1600).
The market stayed fairly consistent through the early nineties with a few changes. KPNT (105.7), owned by River Cities, emerged as "The Point" as an alternative station, created competition for KSHE, which remained a solid top three station through the fall of 1994, although WIL advanced to take the market's crown for music stations. Adult contemporary stations KEZK (102.5) and KYKY (98.1/EZ Communications) moved into the top five after KEZK was sold to Compass, who dropped the beautiful music format.
By the mid-nineties is was becoming clear that KPNT had benefited from the rise of alternative radio, as the station was fueling and riding a national trend, so KSHE flipped to classic rock. After KPNT was acquired by Sinclair Communications, the station moved even with KSHE at number five in the spring 1996 Arbitron. Sinclair also owned adult alternative station WVRV (101.1), known as "The River." Eventually KPNT went to Emmis and WVRV went to Bonneville.
The Telecom Act of 1996 softened FCC rules on ownership limits, allowing big companies to move in and take more stations. CBS Radio suddenly became a huge player in the market, owning number one KMOX, KEZK, KYKY, KLOU and KSD. Sinclair also expanded as its roster became WIL, KPNT, classic hit station KIHT (96.3), WVRV and nostalgic WRTH (1430). Jacor also was in contention with their block of stations KMJM (which moved from 107.7 to 104.9 in October 1997), gospel KMJM-AM (1600), urban adult contemporary KATZ and top 40 KSLZ (107.7).
St. Louis lost lone top 40 winner WKBQ in 1996 after the ratings showed that urban and alternative music were more favored by the market. First Emmis flipped the station to adult contemporary as WALC and then sold to Zimmer, who flipped it to country station WKKX to compete with WIL after the two other country rivals dropped out of the race. WKKX shot up to the top five as WIL stayed strong behind KMOX. With the market wide open for top 40, KSLZ moved into the format in October 1997. Over the next several years it remained the lone top 40, advancing from bottom of the ratings to top ten.
At the beginning of the new millennium two big radio companies emerged following a series of mergeers. Chancellor became AMFM then merged into Clear Channel and CBS Radio merged into Infinity Broadcasting. KMOX has remained the market's number one station in the 2000s, continuing to deliver news/talk under the ownership of Infinity, who also owns adult contemporary leader KEZK, which has become the market's top music station. Infinity owns another AC station, KYKY. Meanwhile, Clear Channel owns KATZ AM and FM, KSLZ, KLOU, KSD and KMJM, which is now urban adult contemporary. Other big radio groups in St. Louis include Emmis, Bonneville and Radio One.
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