WIBW actually began July 24, 1925 as a portable station licensed to C. L. Carrell of Chicago, who owned several such stations. The new Federal Radio Commission in 1927 and 1928 announced a crackdown on portable stations, but allowed some to move to under-served areas. WIBW was one such station.
In September of 1928, Carrell applied to 'anchor' WIBW, by then at 1470 kHz, at the 901 National Reserve Life Insurance building at 10th Street and Kansas Avenue in Topeka. A month later, the application was amended to increase power from 100 to 500 watts. The FRC approved the application and issued a construction permit, but power was only increased to 250 watts. An article in the Kansas City Post on January 14, 1928 indicated that WIBW converted to stationary operation that day. The license to cover the increase in power became effective on February 1. In March, they applied to move to 640 kHz; however, before it could be heard, the FRC announced a general reallocation assigning WIBW to 1300 kHz, where it would be sharing time with KFH in Wichita. The request to move to 640 was withdrawn, and a new application was made to move the transmitter from 10th and Kansas to a location along 6th Street, and to increase power to 1000 watts, effective upon the 1300 allocation becoming effective. The FRC approved both requests: the transmitter was moved in August, and the reallocation to 1300 occurred on November 11.
In December of 1928, Carroll sold WIBW to the Topeka Broadcasting Assocation, which was controlled by Capper Publishing Co., the owners of the Topeka Daily Capital. The FCC approved the sale on January 31, 1929. At the same time, it authorized an increase in daytime power to 2500 W.
Capper quickly attempted to break away from sharing time with KFH. First, they applied for 680 kHz with 5000 W full power, which was denied on November 19, 1929. By then, WIBW entered into a time-sharing arrangement with KSAC at Kansas State University in Manhattan, which became effective on November 30, 1929, moving WIBW to 580 kHz with 1000 W day/500 W night power. The FCC granted an increase in power back to 2500 W daytime/1000 W night in September, 1934, then approved a follow-up increase in daytime power to 5000 W in January, 1935. In 1938, WIBW applied to move its transmitter to a new site northwest of Downtown Topeka, The license to cover was approved on April 18, 1939.
WIBW applied for an increase in nighttime power to 5 kW in December of 1939. This was the station's third attempt in doing so – the previous two attempts were withdrawn. However, this application included a nighttime directional patter that had not been previously part of their application. This application was approved in July of 1940, and the license to cover was made effective on March 29, 1941.
In 1945, there was talk of opening up 540kHz to US applicants. WIBW applied to move to 540, and increasing power to 500 kW, employing a directional antenna, at a new sign near Wamego. The FCC quickly dismissed the application as premature.
Aruthur Capper passed away in December of 1951, and control of Capper Publications was transferred to his estate. Capper Publications and its subsidiaries, including the Topeka Broadcasting Association, was bought in January 1957 (FCC approved December 19, 1956) by Stauffer Publishing Co., owners of the Topeka State Journal. Soon after the Stauffer purchase, WIBW moved into new studios near the Menninger campus near 6th and Wanamaker.
On May 3, 1974, the Coordinating Committee of the Black Community filed petitions to deny renewal of the licenses for all of the commercial radio and television stations in Topeka, including WIBW, KEWI, KTOP, and WREN, on charges of discrimination in hiring and the lack of programming for the Black Community. The FCC dismissed all of the petitions and granted all renewals for the stations on June 19, citing the lack of specific evidence. CCBC would petition for reconsideration on July 22, 1974. The petition for reconsideration was denied on March 4, 1975.
At the same time the CCBC petition was making its way through the FCC, the commission reviewed the issue of cross-ownership between radio stations and newspapers. The FCC adopted rules would prohibit future radio/newspaper cross-ownership; however, existing cross-ownership situations would be grandfathered so long as there was more than one radio station in the market. As there were 4 AM stations, 3 FM stations, and 2 commercial TV outlets in Topeka at the time, Stauffer qualified for its radio/newspaper cross-ownership to be grandfathered.
The Department of Justice, however, was of the position that all existing radio/newspaper cross-ownerships needed to be divested. In addition to challenging the FCC's grandfathering plan, they petitioned to deny the license renewal for WIBW on the grounds that Stauffer had a near-monopoly in the market on account of the dominance of WIBW and WIBW-TV. The Department of Justice petition did not get considered until May of 1976, when the FCC rejected the DoJ petition. The DoJ appealed both the FCC grandfather policy and the WIBW case to the Court of Appeals for the DC circuit. The Court of Appeals came down with a ruling in favor of the DoJ regarding the grandfather policy in late 1976, but that ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1977. I have not yet found any information on the WIBW case was resolved; however, Stauffer retained the stations and the cross-ownership was grandfathered.
The Stauffer family announced the sale of all of its media properties to Morris Communications on July 27, 1994. An application to transfer control of Stauffer by Morris was filed September 15, 1994 and approved May 8, 1995.
While Stauffer's continued ownership of the WIBW stations and the newspaper (The Capital and Journal were merged to form the Topeka Capital-Journal in 1981) remained grandfathered from the FCC's cross-ownership regulations, Morris would not receive the same luxury. Morris sold all of Stauffer's television stations to Benedek Broadcasting, announced November 29, 1995 and completed June 6, 1996. Initially, the radio stations were placed in a trust, but Morris did obtain a waiver from the FCC, initially for a term of one year, while it sought a buyer.
Evidently the waiver was extended indefinitely, as indicated by the FCC approving an assignment of the license to Morris Communications on December 22, 1997. Morris also began purchasing other radio stations late in 1997.
Until 2002, WIBW(AM) still shared time with KKSU (formerly KSAC), as it had since 1929. KKSU broadcast on the frequency 12:30 pm-5:30 pm weekdays, using a separate transmitter site instead of WIBW's site. On August 29, 2002, WIBW announced an agreement to buy out KKSU's broadcasting time for $1.5 million. The agreement also resolved a dispute over the rights to broadcast kansas state University football games. KKSU had its final broadcast November 27, 2002.
In 2015, Morris sold it's radio properties to Alpha Media, separating WIBW from the Capital-Journal