The Kansas twin of the two Kansas Citys is represented in pioneer radio history by KCKN, whose historic call letters were restored through a series of events in 2000 that enabled new management of the station to recapture the calls. However, the station changed ownership in 2005, with the KCKN calls reverting to their previous home in Roswell, New Mexico. In the rest of this article, the station will be referred to by its historic call letters, KCKN.
KCKN’s precedessor, WLBF, originated in the midtown Kansas City, Missouri apartment of experimenter Everett L. Dillard. Dillard was later involved in a pioneering effort to establish high-fidelity AM radio. By 1942, he had become the founder of Kansas City’s first FM station.
In the Kansas City Journal-Post, Sunday, November 28, 1926, WLBF’s arrival was announced (with incorrect call letters) in an article titled, Newest Station Here Makes Bow — Low Power and Wave Length Used by Transmitter of E.L. Dillard.
Kansas City’s string of radio stations last week was boosted to a total of five, not including KLDS, Independence, which virtually is a local when WLDF [sic], a 211.1 meter [1420 KHz], 25-watter, owned and operated by Everett L. Dillard at his home, 300A East Thirty-third street, went on the air.
Mr. Dillard was granted a license two weeks ago by the department of commerce.
Three test programs were put on the air in the last week by WLDF [sic] and reception reports were received from several points in adjoining states, which were considered excellent by Mr. Dillard, who points to the low power of the transmitter–the lowest of any set in the Kansas City area.
A regular schedule of programs will be arranged in the next two weeks, Mr. Dillard said yesterday.
“Every program,” he explained, “will be broadcast by artists in person–our station will not be a ‘canned music’ station. . . . Later, we plan to boost our power.”
Mr. Dillard said launching of the new station was decided on because of his personal desire to own a broadcaster.
“Radio long has been a hobby with me,” he added. “I have operated as an amateur with the call letters, 9KBO, for more than six years and the opening of my new broadcaster means the fulfillment of a long cherished ambition.”
Just a couple of years later, Dillard decided to pack up and move across the state line to the “other” Kansas City, in Kansas. The daily newspaper there, the Kansan, announced the station’s arrival May 9, 1928:
K.C.K. TO BE ON AIR FIRST TIME MAY 16
May 16 the voice of Kansas City Kansas will go on the air for the first time thru radio station WLBF, which is moving here from Kansas City, Mo.
E.L. Dillard of the Dillard broadcasting station, said today that the station would be located on the eleventh floor of the Huron building. There will be two 70-foot towers, a studio and an operating room.
Arrangements for the station have been completed and the men are now remodeling the rooms in preparation for the first program.
The station will follow its present schedule for the time being with three regular programs a day. They are at 11:30 to 1 o’clock, the housewives’ hour; 5 to 6 o’clock and 8 to 10 o’clock. Possibly during the summer months, the program schedule will be altered.
The Dillard broadcasting station has been located at Thirty-second and Main streets, Kansas City, Mo. It applied for permission to be transferred to this city April 20 and received word of the approval of the federal radio commission May 4.
Ray T. Willette, manager of the Chamber of Commerce, who is in Washington, D.C., this week, is seeking to get an increase in power for the station. At present it has 50 kilowatts [sic].
This will be the first radio station to be located in Kansas City Kansas.
A profile of Everett L. Dillard in Broadcasting, January 13, 1947, wrote that Dillard started WLBF in 1928 and moved it to Kansas City, Kansas. The profile said Dillard sold the station in 1930.
While these apparently were factual statements, much was left out. It appeared that WLBF went bankrupt, judging by a brief item in the Kansas City Star on December 12, 1931:
Radio station WLBF in Kansas City, Kansas, was sold today to Alexander Maitland of the engineering firm of Fuller and Maitland. Maitland is an amateur operator at Quivira Lakes.
The sale was authorized by Judge Clyde C. Glandon of the Wynadotte County district court. The station has been in litigation since last April.
By March 1932, Maitland’s partner, Herbert Hollister, took full control of WLBF. Hollister had been involved in an early broadcasting enterprise partially owned by his brother, the Hollister-Miller Motor Company’s WAAZ in Emporia, Kansas. A Kansan article on November 13, 1935 reported Hollister’s recollections of that experience:
Hollister, in his own words, “did everything but sing” at station WAAZ. He even sold receiving sets so persons of the vicinity could hear what the station had to offer.
“I have sold a farmer a set, hooked it up, then called the station and ordered a program put on so the new radio owner could try out his purchase,” Hollister said.
Giving up his work at the station, Hollister for four or five years engaged in the building and loan business.
On November 13, 1935, the Kansan, owned by Capper Publications, purchased WLBF from Hollister. Even before the purchase was approved by federal regulators, the newspaper moved the studios into its building in downtown Kansas City, Kansas and installed a new vertical radiator on the roof.
The improvements continued. With the removal of WOQ from 1300 KHz on June 14, 1934, WLBF was able to move to 1310 KHz on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1936. The Kansan trumpeted the move, which included a new set of call letters, KCKN.
The New Dial Setting 1310 Kilocycles.
The improved broadcasting service of The Kansas City Kansan will begin at 6:55 o’clock tomorrow morning.
Tonight WLBF, at 1420 kilocycles, will sign off at 9 o’clock. Tomorrow The Kansan’s new station will be on the air, operating the same full time schedule of sixteen or more hours a day, with feature programs including hourly news broadcast from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The new call letters are KCKN; the new dial reading is 1310 kilocycles.
The change has been approved by the Federal Communications commission in Washington and is designed to give an improved and more efficient service to radio listeners. The new dial reading places the station out of reach of the slight interference formerly experienced. It gives The Kansan’s station a 60 kilocycle sweep on the dial between its broadcasting service and the nearest other broadcasting unit in this immediate area.
KCKN should be more effective for distance reception as the closest station operating on 1310 is nearly 300 miles away. On 1420 two services operated on the same reading within 200 miles of Kansas City Kansas.
The new call letters were adopted to give this city and The Kansan an individual and identifying signal. As an instrument of the community, KCKN is the broadcasting station devoted to Kansas City Kansas. Operated by The Kansan, it is dedicated to the best interests of the city. The new call letters are symbolic of Kansas City Kansas and The Kansan.
Necessary changes in the transmitter and the sensitive crystals contained therein will be made tonight.
So remember–turn to 1310 for KCKN tomorrow.
In later years, KCKN also maintained studios at the Waltower Building in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. In 1941, as part of the nationwide shift of radio frequencies under the North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement, KCKN moved from 1310 to 1340 kHz.
Also in 1941, during the same storm that knocked down both of KMBC‘s towers, KCKN’s 186-foot tower atop the Kansan building “was bent over on the roof of the building like a jackknife”, according to the next morning’s Kansas City Times on August 26, 1941.
Capper Publications, which also owned WIBW in Topeka, and newspapers throughout the state of Kansas, was owned by Senator Arthur Capper, who died in 1957. The Stauffer Newspaper chain, also based in Topeka, purchased the Capper properties.
A substantial set of recollections and historical photos about KCKN is available in a book by Joe Vaughan, K.C. Media: Crystal Sets to Satellite Service (self-published, ISBN 0-9636863-7-2, 1997). It’s unfortunate that certain inaccuracies contained in previous versions of this web page were repeated in the book (such as the omission of Allbritton’s ownership of the AM and FM stations from 1981 to 1983). Regardless, it’s an interesting book and well worth the trouble to find. The only substantial fault that I can find with it is that it omits most of WLBF’s history.
KCKN was sold to Cy Blumenthal (Continental Stations) February 8, 1957 as part of Capper’s sale of WIBW AM/TV to Stauffer Newspapers. The station announced “that the programming of KCKN will be ‘strictly country-western’ music. In addition, the station will operate twenty-four hours a day….” (Quoted in the Kansan, February 6, 1957) The later launch of KCKN-FM, now KFKF, created a direct link between Kansas City’s country-music pioneer and one of its most successful country-music stations nearly 40 years later.
KCKN-AM/FM were sold to Seattle, Portland & Spokane Radio, Inc. (later Kaye-Smith Group) July 1, 1965. They were subsequently purchased by Joseph L. Allbritton in 1981. Albritton changed the stations’ calls to KFKF-AM/FM. One source reports that, during a brief period in 1981, the AM station used the call letters KRKR until becoming KFKF(AM). Vaughan also reports other 1980s call letters for the station as KEKE and KCKM.
On June 21, 1983, Sconnix Group Broadcasting purchased KFKF-AM/FM. FCC records show that the call letters KCKM were used for the AM station beginning October 15, 1985, with a return to the KFKF call letters on May 12, 1987. By then, the KCKN call letters were in use by a station in Roswell, New Mexico.
Sconnix sold KFKF(AM) to KCBR Limited Partnership in 1989. KFKF(AM) changed calls to KNHN on January 19, 1990, according to FCC records.
In 1993, KNHN bought co-channel station KSEK in Pittsburg, Kansas, and began synchronous operation with KSEK (which later became KPHN) and a 200-watt fill-in station in Amoret, Mo., in an effect to reduce nighttime interference to KNHN’s signal in the Kansas City urban sprawl. Vaughan’s From Crystal Sets to Satellite Services includes a diagram that the station used to promote the triple-synchronous broadcast.
The arrangement ended with the sale of the Pittsburg station in August 1997. The Pittsburg station, by then called KNHN, resumed its former calls of KSEK. The Amoret repeater may still be in use. Federal Communications Commission online records in 2006 show that the station is licensed with experimental authority. However, without the Pittsburg station’s being synchronized with the Kansas City station and the Amoret booster, it doesn’t appear likely that the arrangement would be effective, and might even cause interference to KSEK.
On March 3, 1997, KNHN’s talk and news programming moved to 1190 kHz, the former home of KFEZ, which KCBR L.P. purchased in October 1996. KFEZ’s “Music of Your Life” programming and call letters moved to 1340 kHz. The call letters of the Pittsburg, Kansas repeater changed from KPHN to KNHN as a result of the swap.
In May 2000, KFEZ was leased to James Crystal Radio Group of West Palm Beach, Florida. The lease included an option to buy the station. It took effect May 15, 2000.
James Crystal Radio subsequently purchased KCKN(AM) in Roswell, New Mexico, in a transaction approved by the FCC on June 22, 2000. In an unusual move, James Crystal took advantage of the opportunity to restore the historic KCKN calls to the Kansas City station. The New Mexico KCKN changed its call letters, first to KXEM, and then to KINF in November 2000. Kansas City’s KFEZ was then able to change its call letters to KCKN on November 28, 2000.
James Crystal, however, never bought the station. Instead, a longtime local broadcaster, the Carter Broadcast Group, bought the station on May 19, 2001 for $1.5 million. Carter also owned KPRT(AM) and KPRS(FM).
Even so, the station maintained the KCKN calls until December 12, 2005, when a new owner, the Davidson Media Group, changed the calls to KDTD. KINF in Roswell, New Mexico changed its calls back to KCKN on January 12, 2006.
KCKN-FM (94.1) was on-air, May 28, 1963. Calls changed to KFKF by Albritton after its 1981 purchase. AM and FM stations were separated by the 1989 sale of the AM station to the KCBR partnership.
EZ Communications announced the purchase of KFKF(FM) for $28 million January 6, 1995, along with KBEQ-AM/FM for another $7.65 million. The KFKF purchase price was the highest price ever paid for a single radio station in the Kansas City market. EZ Communications completed the sale January 4, 1996, noting that KFKF was the radio station with the greatest revenue in Kansas City.
Since then, EZ merged with American Radio Systems, which in turn was acquired by CBS in 1998. CBS spun off its radio properties as Infinity Broadcasting later in 1998, then CBS re-acquired Infinity in 2005. In 2006, CBS Sold its Kansas City cluster to Wilks Broadcasting. In 2014, Wilks sold the Kansas City cluster to Steel City Media, KFKF(FM)’s current owner.
1 kW, Non-directional fulltime, studios and transmitter at I-635 & Minnesota Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas.
WLBF began with 25 watts at 1420 KHz in 1925. Subsequently, it increased its power to 100 watts. Moved to 1310 KHz with 100 watts Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1936. The station could not have moved to 1310 KHz until June 14, 1934 when WOQ at 1300 KHz surrendered its license by order of the Federal Radio Commission. KCKN moved to 1340 KHz under NARBA, March 29, 1941. Daytime power increased to 1000 watts November 21, 1962. KNHN changed call letters to KFEZ on March 3, 1997. KFEZ changed call letters to KCKN on November 28, 2000. KCKN changed call letters to KDTD on December 12, 2005.