KCMO’s Early History

This history was originally made available to Mark in 1995. Mark’s records do not indicate who gave him this material, but he indicated that it was a station employee. At the time, KCMO was at 810 KHz, owned by Bonneville. It is now at 710 KHz, owned by Cumulus Media.

The history ends abruptly just after World War II, suggesting that there might have been more material available.

Also note that some dates conflict with dates that Mark found in researching the history of KCMO.

The Radio Division, Bureau of Navigation, U.S. Department of Commerce granted the call letters KWKC and a new broadcast license to the Wilson Duncan Studios on May 14, 1925, permitting the operation of a new 100 watt broadcast station that was erected in the spring of 1925 atop the Werby Building at Kansas City, Missouri. KWKC, for “Keep Watching Kansas City,” began operating in May of 1925 on 1270 kilocycles. The Werby Building was located on the southeast corner of 39th and Main Streets, a two-story concrete-faced business structure located in a southside business district. A large office on the second floor was outfitted as a studio, while the station’s “transmitter and turntable” were located in another room “down the hall,” below its flattop antenna on the roof of the building. (The Werby Building, at 3915 Main Street, was demolished in the late seventies.)

On February 11, 1927, KWKC’s licensee name was changed to the Wilson Duncan Broadcasting Company (Wilson Duncan, President). In June of 1927, the station changed frequency to 1350 kilocycles. As a result of a nationwide frequency reallocation ordered by the newly-empowered Federal Radio Commission effective Saturday, November 11, 1928, KWKC was reassigned to operate on 1370 kilocycles. A popular program presented by the 100 watt station in the late twenties was “The KWKC Barndance.”

In early 1929, a new studio was installed in Kansas City’s Schuyler Hotel, an eight story brick structure at 1017 Locust. KWKC’s transmitter remained atop the Werby Building. An additional studio debuted May 23, 1929 in the LaSalle Hotel, Linwood and Harrison Streets. KWKC opened the new “Japanese Studios” there with a gala dedicatory program on that date. Main studios continued to be located in the Schuyler Hotel, with transmitter and masts at 3912-15 Main Street (east entrance to the Werby Building). By January 1931, additional remote control studios were located in the Valentine Hotel; the Kansas City Club; as well as existing quarters in the LaSalle Hotel; the Schuyler Hotel; and an auxiliary studio in the Werby Building, its original home.

KWKC was licensed in the early thirties for Specified Hour (S-H) operation on 1370 kilocycles by the FRC. By June 1932, the station was operating “half-time hours,” daily from 12 noon to 12 midnight. Commercial matter was broadcast under the title “Shopping Guide” by the independent station. By 1935, Station Director of KWKC was J. Jarvies, who left the station by the end of the year. Financial woes affected KWKC in 1935 and into 1936. On January 22, 1936, it was announced that KWKC was to be sold at auction for back taxes by Wilson Duncan. In early 1936, Mr. Duncan, President of the Wilson Duncan Broadcasting Company, died with the firm subsequently transferred to Charlotte Duncan, Adminstrix. The Federal Communications Commission granted its approval in February 1936 for the sale of KWKC for taxes to three Kansas City businessmen, Lester E. Cox, Thomas L. Evans, and C. C. Payne. Control was not transferred pending the issuance of a new license, which was delayed by the FCC. By April 14, 1936, the FCC authorized KWKC to change call letters to KCMO. Modern new $25,000 studios in the downtown Commerce Trust Building were occupied by KWKC on May 13, 1936, and a day later — May 14th — a new license was issued. The KCMO call letters were first heard on the air May 14th.

Note: Please see the KCMO history for a discussion of the call-letter change in 1936. One newspaper began using the KCMO designation as early as May 2.

On June 10, 1936, KCMO was acquired from the Wilson Duncan Broadcasting Company by Lester E. Cox, T. L. Evans, and C. C. Payne. Mr. Cox was also majority owner of KGBX at Springfield, Missouri. Later in 1936, a used 100 watt transmitter, used by KGBX since 1927, was installed atop the Commerce Trust Building, studio locale of KCMO, where a new Blaw-Knox 179-foot self-supported antenna tower was erected. Its Werby Building quarters were then abandoned. On June 20, 1936, the FCC relicensed KCMO from S-H status to unlimited time on 1370 kilocycles. Also in 1936, A. F. Schliecker was named Station Manager. News and Sports Director of the 100 watt station at this time (1936-37) was Walter Cronkite (later to anchor CBS-TV’s news programs). On December 15, 1936, KCMO was transferred from L. E. Cox; T. L. Evans; and C. C. Payne to the KCMO Broadcasting Company (same principals — Thomas L. Evans, President).

Larry Sherwood became KCMO General Manager in 1937 when Mr. Schliecker became the station’s Commercial Manager. By mid-1938, KCMO was in daily operation from 6:00 a.m. until 12 midnight as an independent, non-network-affiliated station. The FCC in late 1938 issued a construction permit for KCMO to change frequency from 1370 to 1450 kilocycles and to raise power from 100 to 1,000 watts, and to install a new multi-tower directional antenna system. In 1939, Jack Stewart was named General Manager. KCMO erected three 204-foot towers at a new transmitting location on Washington Park Boulevard and Hardesty Street, east of downtown Kansas City in July 1939, in preparation for the power increase. In September 1939, KCMO switched to 1450 kilocycles and increased power to 1,000 watts using a directional antenna system during nighttime broadcasting. Operation from its single tower atop the Commerce Trust Building was then discontinued.

Note: Please see my KCMO history for a discussion of the frequency change and when it happened. The change in frequency was advertised in Kansas City newspapers as early as May 10, 1939 and one newspaper listed KCMO on 1450 on May 9.

The FCC in late 1939 granted KCMO permission to increase the day power from 1,000 to 5,000 watts (nights to remain directionalized with 1,000 watts). In early 1940, daytime power was raised from the station’s Tenth and Hardesty Street site (near Washington Park Boulevard). A license covering this increase was issued by the FCC in February. KCMO changed frequency from 1450 to 1480 kilocycles pursuant to the NARBA Treaty frequency reallocations, which altered the dial position of 1,300 North American broadcast stations at 3:00 a.m., Saturday, March 29, 1941. KCMO’s studio building underwent a name change in the same year — to simply the Commerce Building.

On January 20, 1942, KCMO affiliated with the Blue Network Company. Kansas City listeners formerly received their Blue programming from WREN in Lawrence, Kansas. In late 1943, nighttime power of the station rose to 5,000 watts, matching its daylight power output. A license covering this power increase was issued by the FCC in early January of 1944. Nighttime hours continued to be directionalized. Elton Kaiser “Joe” Hortenblower (Note: This should be Hartenbower), of the Blue Network staff in Chicago, was named KCMO General Manager in October of 1944. Ownership of the KCMO Broadcasting Company at this time included Lester Cox (33.3 percent); Tom L. Evans (33.3 percent); and C. C. Payne (33.3 percent). Evans and Payne were also co-owners of the Crown Drug Company, a Kansas City drug store chain. On June 15, 1945, the Blue Network Company, with which KCMO was now affiliated, changed its name to the American Broadcasting Company radio network.

That is where the station’s own historical information (as it was provided to Mark) ends.

Return to the KCMO History page