St. Louis Radio History
by Alex Cosper
also American Radio
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).
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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