The predecessor of KCMO was a relative latecomer to the ranks of pioneer stations, KWKC.
KWKC first appeared in a U.S. Department of Commerce list of radio stations operating on June 30, 1925, operating with 100 watts at 1270 kHz. A history of KCMO that was transcribed and made available to me in 1995 stated that the station began operating in May 1925, with its license being granted on May 14. (Because that history is no longer available from the station's subsequent owner, nor was it copyrighted, I have scanned it and made it available on a separate page.) The FCC history cards show the first licenced date as May 27
The station was located in midtown Kansas City in the Werby Building at 39th and Main. The building was demolished in the 1970s. The Werby Building location is now the site of a bank.
A massive reallocation of all U.S. radio stations shifted KWKC to 1370 kHz on November 11, 1928, sharing time with KGBX in St. Joseph. In early 1929, according to the KCMO history, the station's studios were moved to the Schuyler Hotel downtown. The transmitter remained at the Werby Building. A second studio was set up at a Midtown location, the LaSalle Hotel at Linwood and Harrison streets.
In 1929, KGBX applied to move from 1370 kHz to 1310 kHz. The FRC on January 2, 1930 granted KGBX a permit to operate fulltime at 1310 kHz, but "experimentally [i.e., provisionally] when WOQ is operating". KGBX subsequently moved from St. Joseph to Springfield, Missouri (thereby giving the Ozarks city its first radio station since the 1920s), on November 3, 1932.
Despite no longer sharing the frequency with KGBX, by June 1932, according to the KCMO history, KWKC was operating on a reduced schedule, daily from 12 noon to 12 midnight, possibly an early indicator of financial troubles.
In his paper African-Americans in Local Broadcasting: Kansas City, 1922-1982, William James Ryan describes KWKC as "underfinanced". Ryan goes on to tell this story:
KWKC became the brunt of jokes as it struggled through the Depression. When nationally famous band leader Ben Bernie came to town he appeared at the Main Street Theatre with artists sent by local radio stations. Bernie quipped: "WHB, KMBC, and WDAF each sent me some radio talent. Even KWKC sent a phonograph record." (Ryan 4)
On January 22, 1936, according to the KCMO history, "it was announced that KWKC was to be sold at auction for back taxes".
The FCC history cards show that on January 18, KWKC owner Wilson Duncan had applied to assign his license to Tom Cleveland. The commission granted a Special Temporary Authorization for Cleveland to operate KWKC on January 30. However, at some point, Cleveland had pulled out of the sale and Duncan had passed away. On February 19th, Cleveland had been replaced on the assignment of license application by Springfield, Mo. businessman Lester Cox and the president of the Crown Drug Co., Tom Evans. Two days later, a new Special Temporary Authorization to operate KWKC was granted to Charlotte Duncan, Cox, and Evans.
For a brief time after that, it appeared that the sale hit some snags. On May 5, 1936, the Commission designated for hearing KWKC's application for sale, license renewal, and change in transmitter site. When it released information on the KWKC proceeding, it also also used the KCMO call letters for the first time:
KWKC (KCMO), Kansas City, redesignated for hearing applic. assign license to Lester E. Cox and Thomas L. Evans and applic. new equip., move trans. and studio, change hours to unltd. (Broadcasting, May 15, 1936)
(KWKC had still been operating on specified hours.)
By May 14, the FCC had reconsidered and granted the application to change ownership, referring to the station by its new call letters, KCMO. It appears, however, that the KCMO call letters were in use before that. Radio program listings in both the Kansas City Star and the Journal-Post showed KWKC at 1370 kHz up until May 1. Starting May 2, listings for KWKC were replaced by listings for KCMO at 1370 kHz. The 1995 KCMO history said the KCMO call letters were first used on May 14, 1936, a day after the station had moved to new studios in the Commerce Trust Building. The history also says that the FCC approved the new call letters on April 14, 1936. The FCC's history cards show three dates: April 1, May 9, and May 19th. It appears that the assignment of the KCMO call letters was deferred until after the sale of the station had been resolved.
The Special Temporary Authorization also allowed KCMO to advertise jointly with Cox and Evans' other stations, WTMV in East St. Louis, Illinois, and KGBX. (One such advertisement appeared in the April 1, 1936 issue of Broadcasting) In addition, the former KGBX transmitter was reused at KCMO.
Later that year, according to the KCMO history, Walter Cronkite was named as the news and sports director. According to news articles written at the time of Cronkite's death in 2009, he had met his future wife while in Kansas City.
The FCC subsequently approved the station's application for unlimited time. Cox and Evans steadily upgraded the station's facilities. A big step was a move to 1450 kHz and 1,000 watts from KCMO's low-power 1370 kHz channel in 1939. The exact date of this move is unclear, though it appears to have occurred in May 1939, based on contemporary newspaper listings and an FCC license issued on May 22 to cover the frequency change.
The Kansas City Journal-Post showed KCMO at 1450 kHz in its radio program listings for the first time on May 9, 1939. The Star didn't show KCMO at 1450 until May 11; however, in its May 10 issue, just under listings showing KCMO at 1370, there was a display ad for a new program on "K.C.M.O. 1450 ilocycles", "starting tonight 6:45 p.m." My inclination is to accept the Journal-Post date of May 9 for the frequency change.
The 1995 KCMO history stated that the new transmitter location was used beginning in July 1939, with the power increase and frequency change occurring in September 1939. This conflicts with the newspaper listings, and it doesn't seem likely that a station would advertise its programs on the wrong frequency. Thus, I'm still inclined to go with the May 9 date.
The increased power also appeared to make it possible for KCMO to get a network affiliation. Shortly after the move to 1450, KCMO acquired NBC Blue Network affiliation.
In November of 1941, KCMO filed its first application tom move to 810 kHz with a 50,000 watt daytime signal and 10,000 watt nighttime signal, contingent on moving KOAM, Pittsburg (which was also co-owned by Cox) from 810 to 860. Presumably due to the US entry into World War II, the application was withdrawn in July of 1942 and resubmitted in October 1944. The application was approved in January of 1946. The move was completed in September of 1947.
Evans and Cox started KCMO-FM in 1949 and KCMO-TV in 1953. KCMO-TV began testing September 8 and started regular programming September 27 as an ABC affiliate. KCMO-AM/FM/TV were sold to Meredith Engineering Co. on November 11, 1953. The TV station became a CBS affiliate September 28, 1955; the radio stations switched on December 1 of that year. Meredith obtained CBS affiliations for its KCMO-AM/TV, as well as WOW-AM/TV in Omaha, as compensation for losing CBS affiliation in Phoenix (KPHO) to Gene Autry's KOOL-TV.
The station built a 1200-foot self-supporting tower on Union Hill in midtown Kansas City in 1955. This was the world's tallest self-supporting structure until the CN Tower was built in Toronto in the late 1960s.
KCMO radio was separated from KCMO-TV by the sale of the radio stations to Fairbanks Communications, Inc. June 21, 1983. Fairbanks retained the KCMO calls, while the TV station became KCTV. It was subsequently sold to Summit Communications in June of 1985, to Pacific and Southern Co. (Gannett) July 29, 1986, and finally to Bonneville Broadcasting, October 27, 1993. The Bonneville sale placed KCMO and KCMO-FM in common ownership with KMBZ(AM) and KLTH(FM).
On January 6, 1997, Bonneville announced plans to trade its Kansas City and Seattle stations to Entercom (Entertainment Communications) of Philadelphia in exchange for KLDE(FM) Houston and $5 million cash. Entercom took control of the Kansas City stations March 1, 1997.
On January 5, 1998, Entercom took control of WDAF(AM) and KUDL(FM), giving Entercom control of three out of the four AM stations in Kansas City with the best coverage. In 1999, Entercom acquired the radio properties of Sinclair Media, including KXTR(FM), KQRC(FM), KCFX(FM), and KCIY(FM) in the Kansas City market, placing Entercom over the FCC limits on multiple-station ownership in Kansas City. Entercom announced that it would sell KCMO-AM/FM and KCFX to Susquehanna Radio Corp. of York, Pennsylvania on May 12, 2000. Entercom had attempted to retain the rights to broadcast Kansas City Chiefs football games, but Department of Justice concerns over Entercom's competitive dominance of the Kansas City market nixed that idea. Susquehenna's stations were subsequently purchased by Cumulus Media in 2006, with Cumulus assuming control May 5, 2006.