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Kansas City Radio History
by Alex Cosper

see also American Radio History

Kansas City's earliest radio stations in the early twenties included the Kansas City Star's WDAF, Sweeny School's WHB, Western Radio's WOQ and Central Radio's WPE. By 1942 after many changes, the AM dial emerged as follows: WDAF (610), WHB (880), KMBC (980), WOQ (1300), KCKN (1340), KCMO (1480) and KITE (1590).

Between the 1940s and the 1980s AM remained king of the airwaves across the nation, with FM dominating the ratings starting in the early eighties. But the Kansas City radio story was different. A few more than average AM stations stayed strong in the ratings even into the early nineties. But by the middle of the decade news/talk KMBZ (980) was the AM leader with only challenger KCMO (810) contending for high ratings, compared to FM stations. In the 2000s KMBZ rose to top three while WHB rebounded as a high-rated AM, delivering sports.

Country station WDAF (610), owned by Great American, was number one by a wide margin over number two in the late eighties. Other Arbitron ratings winners of the period included country competitor KFKF (1340 AM and 94.1 FM), owned by Sconnix, Noble Broadcasting's contemporary hits leader KBEQ (1030 AM and 104.3 FM), Olympia's premiere "rock 40" station KXXR (106.5), Bonneville's adult contemporary KMBZ (980), its sister beautiful music station KMBR (99.7), Gannett's news/talk KCMO (810) and its sister contemporary hits station KCPW (94.9). Great American's rocker KYYS (102.1) was a top three station as late as the Spring of 1988 before descending toward the middle of the pack.

In the 90s ownership of WDAF changed to Jacor but the results were the same: still number one in the market. Rival KFKF at times traded the market crown with WDAF and was picked up by American Radio Systems, who kept the ratings high, making Kansas City a rare radio market in which two of the top three stations were country. KPRS (103.3), which was a top ten station in the eighties, grew stronger as an independent urban station in the nineties.

Meanwhile, the top 40 format went through a series of mutations as the once-powerful format became overshadowed by rock stations, with KYYS and KQRC being the rock mainstays in the early nineties. In the late eighties there were three top 40 stations in the market: KBEQ, KXXR and KCPW. By the mid-nineties there was only KMXV (93.3), with KBEQ flipping to country and KXXR changing ownership to American Radio Systems and becoming smooth jazz KCIY. By the late nineties, KMXV made hit radio popular again under CBS Radio.

Heritage Media's KCFX (101.1) emerged as the market's rock leader, playing classic rock, while Journal Broadcasting's KQRC (98.9) did well playing more current rock. In addition, KYYS continued to rock after an ownership change to Jacor, although it had enjoyed stronger ratings in the early nineties. There have been a series of alternative stations in the market such as Syndicated's KISF (107.3), which became KCCX in 1997. Entercom's KRBZ took over the alternative niche in the 2000s as KZPL moved to adult alternative.

Following the Telecom Act of 1996 large companies were able to buy out smaller companies, and they were allowed to own up to seven stations in a market instead of the previous limit of two AMs and two FMs. CBS Radio and Entercom suddenly became the two big players in the market, although KPRS rose to number one as an independent station owned by Carter Broadcasting. CBS claimed KFKF, KMXV, KBEQ, adult contemporary KUDL (98.1) and the more current ac KOZN (102.1), which dropped rock and the KYYS calls in September 1997.

The familiar KYYS calls resurfaced in January 1998 after Entercom flipped adult contemporary KLTH (99.7) to rock the previous October. Later the station shifted to classic rock. Other Entercom stations were WDAF, KMBZ, oldies KCMO (94.9). Sinclair's four stations were KCFX, KQRC, KCIY and classical KXTR (96.5).

In the mid-2000s KPRS has remained the solid number one station in the market, still owned by Carter. KMBZ has been a resilient talk station while WDAF has also remained near the top of the ratings as a country station. Entercom continues to own the most stations in the market and the once CBS Radio properties now belong to its descendant Infinity Broadcasting. Other players have entered the market including Susquehanna (KCMO-AM & FM, KCJK, KCFX), Cumulus (KMJK, KCHZ) and Union Broadcasting (WHB, KZPL). Urban, rock and country remain the market's top music formats.

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