History of KSD

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch launched KSD in 1922, the first St. Louis station to obtain a broadcast license from the Department of Commerce, though WIL claims earlier operation as an amateur station.

First as KSD, and now as KTRS, the station has been on 550 kHz since 1923, which probably gives it the longest record of occupancy on any one frequency of any United States radio station. With its 5000-watt signal and low frequency, KTRS actually has better daytime and nighttime coverage than 50,000-watt clear-channel station KMOX in much of Missouri.

Despite that great coverage, the Post-Dispatch let KSD slip in the 1970s and, on March 19, 1984, it even lost its historic call letters under Gannett ownership. After a short-lived all-news format, on which Gannett pulled the plug just as KSD was beginning to build an audience, KSD went to country and adopted the call letters KUSA. The call letters were restored by EZ Communications when it bought KSD-AM/FM in 1993. The call letters were switched back to KSD on October 4, 1993.

Unfortunately, the station lost the call letters again when it was sold to the Dorsey Media Group of St. Louis. EZ’s successor, American Radio Systems, retained the KSD call letters for use on KSD(FM), which is now owned by Clear Channel Communications.

The rest of this history will refer to KTRS as KSD, in tribute to KSD’s longevity at 550 kHz.

Despite its ragged years in the last decades of the 20th century, KSD was once a major force in the St. Louis market. A University of Missouri thesis on the history of KSD written by Clark Secrest (who later became the TV-radio critic of the Denver Post) in 1961 outlined these highlights of KSD’s history:

  • The station was licensed as KSD on March 8, 1922, and had its first broadcast under those call letters the following day. The station had broadcast on a different basis as “the Post-Dispatch wireless station.” (KSD was owned by the newspaper until 1977.
  • The station’s inaugural broadcast was March 11, 1922. The Post-Dispatch that day described the 7:45 pm program:

The program will consist of musical numbers by St. Louis talent, late news reports, elocution, and brief addresses. Notable among features will be a message from Secretary of Commerce Hoover to radio stations in the Middle West, and an address by Miss Jeanette Rankin of Montana, first woman member of Congress. (In a footnote, Secrest wrote, “this would indicate an early chain or network-type broadcast. No details of the origin of this address by Secretary Hoover are to be found; however, radio historians credit the first bona fide network experiment to a later date.)

Conflicting information: The shows the date of KSD’s licensing by the Department of Commerce as March 14, 1922. Likewise, Frank Absher reports that a manuscript by a son of longtime KSD newscaster Frank Eschen gives March 14, 1922 as KSD’s first broadcast date.

Absher has also uncovered a Post-Dispatch article dated February 14, 1922, which reported a test broadcast planned for that evening with the headline Post-Dispatch New Wireless Station Gets Test Tonight:

The Post-Dispatch, which was the first newspaper in the territory to make use of wireless in the collection of news, has installed in its building a radio transmission and receiving apparatus… The radio set now installed in the Post-Dispatch building will be supplanted, as soon as it can be manufactured, by a much more powerful apparatus – one with a transmitting range, under ideal conditions, of a thousand miles in any direction from St. Louis…” The entire first act of the musical play now appearing at the American Theater, “Two Little Girls in Blue,” will be sent broadcast by wireless – overture, songs, dialogue, everything presented on the stage during the first act will go out instantaneously through the Post-Dispatch radio apparatus. Wave length, 360 meters… Prof. Walter I. Upson, head of the department of electrical engineering at Washington University, will begin the delivery of a 10-minute talk on radio possibilities of the near future.

According to Absher, “This appears to be the first KSD broadcast”.

For yet another date, Frank Eschen’s son Tom reports that KSD’s first “official” broadcast occurred June 26, 1922, with entertainment from the Statler Hotel Orchestra, conducted by Seth Asbergh.

  • KSD began using its present 550 kHz frequency in January 1923, according to articles in the Post; however, its official assignment to that frequency did not actually occur until May 15, 1923. At that time, KSD was the only U.S. station on 550. At the time, the station broadcast with a 500-watt Western Electric transmitter it had installed on June 26, 1922, replacing a DeForest transmitter.
  • KSD installed a new Western Electric 1,000-watt transmitter February 7, 1931. Nighttime power remained at 500 watts. The transmitter cost $25,210.

Conflicting information: The FCC History Card shows that KSD obtained permission to install the transmitter on December 16, 1930, and was granted permission to use the transmitter at 500 watts fulltime on March 13, 1931. The record does not show KSD applying for permission to operate during the daytime with 1,000 watts until April 12, 1934 (granted June 15, 1934). What is mystifying is why KSD would want to run a 1,000-watt transmitter at half-power for more than three years!

  • KSD was one of the first four regional-channel stations to receive authorization to broadcast at 5,000 watts in the daytime. The station was authorized by the FCC to broadcast at that power with 1,000 watts at night in October 1934. However, KSD did not get its new 5,000-watt RCA transmitter installed until December 16, 1935.
  • The 5,000-watt transmitter was located on the roof of the Post-Dispatch building. A reflector tower was built atop the nearby Loudermann Building at 11th & Locust (the Post building is on Tucker Blvd., formerly 12th St.) to absorb KSD’s signal to the northeast, protecting WKRC in Cincinatti. The parasite tower was used only at night. The station operated with 1,000 watts nighttime with the DA. The parasite tower blew down in 1939 but was replaced.
  • The Pulitzer Publishing Company, owner of the Post and of KSD, intervened in the application of the Star-Times Publishing Company to move KXOK from 1250 kHz to 630 kHz, thereby forcing KFRU in Columbia to move from 630 kHz to 1370 kHz. The Star-Times replied that Pulitzer had itself at one time applied for the 630 kHz frequency. The FCC approved the Star-Times application May 8, 1940. (The switch actually occurred October 19, 1940).
  • The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod station KFUO shared 550 kHz with KSD over a 12-year period. KFUO officially went on the air December 14, 1924, broadcasting at 550 on Sunday and Thursday evenings. KFUO was moved to 1280 kHz and ordered to share time with KFVE on October 9, 1927. It was moved back to 550 kHz on November 20, 1927 by the FRC. KFVE continued to share 1280 kHz with KFQA and WMAY. During the early 1930s, KSD tried to get another frequency for KFUO; when those efforts failed, KSD appealed to the FCC in 1936. Even back then legal action was slow, and so the FCC did not decide the issue until March, 1938, denying KSD full use of the frequency and denying KFUO more hours on 550 kHz. The D.C. Court of Appeals upheld the FCC decision in 1939. Finally, in 1940, KFUO applied for 830 kHz, and the FCC approved this application May 8 without a hearing. KFUO moved to 830 on July 1, 1940.
  • KSD obtained its present-day facilities November 22, 1948, with 5,000 watts, DA-N from a site two miles north of East St. Louis, Illinois. The old transmitter on the Post-Dispatch building was retained and still was kept as a backup in 1961. The first KSD-TV tower could be employed as a radiator for the backup site.
  • KSD utilized a “short-wave” station, W9XPD, beginning October 29, 1935, simulcasting with KSD. Secrest wrote, “The purpose of W9XPD was to enable KSD listeners to hear its program during the hours when KSD was off the air allowing KFUO to utilize the 550-kilocycle frequency, which the two stations were still sharing.” W9XPD broadcast at 31.6 MHz with 100 watts until KSD received fulltime authorization for 550 kHz on July 1, 1940. KSD also used a shortwave transmitter, W0XHJ, for remote broadcasts, but station chief engineer C. R. Yarger told Secrest that it was “rather inefficient.”

In 1938, KSD also operated an experimental facsmile station, W9XZY, for transmitting a special edition of the Post-Dispatch on a daily basis.

Another associated “first” was KSD-TV (now KSDK), which came on the air in February 1947 as the first postwar television station in Missouri.

Still another first on KSD was the appearance of the city’s first woman announcer, V.A.L. Jones, known as Miss Jones, according to the Eschen manuscript.

During World War II, KSD tried for a power increase to 50 kilowatts daytime and 25 kilowatts at night. The increase would have required a move to 940 kHz. The Federal Communications Commission set a hearing on the application March 11, 1942. It was not granted, perhaps because of equipment shortages caused by World War II. The FCC had previously denied a power increase and frequency change to KWK on March 3, 1942 because of wartime equipment shortages.

The Post-Dispatch owned KSD radio until 1978, when it sold the station to Combined Communications of Phoenix, which was acquired by Gannett shortly thereafter. Combined also bought KCFM(FM) (now KSD(FM)) that year to form a new AM/FM combination in St. Louis.

While Gannett sold KUSA and KSD-FM to EZ Communications in 1993, it returned to ownership of a former Post-Dispatch broadcasting station two years later when it acquired KSDK as part of the acquisition of Channel 5’s owner, Multimedia.

In September and October of 1996, rumors persisted in the St. Louis broadcast industry that the owner of WIBV, Dorsey Media Group, would acquire KSD from its new owner, American Radio Systems of Boston, which was merging with EZ Communications. The sale was announced in mid-November, and Dorsey Media Group assumed control of KSD on Monday January 27, 1997. At that time, KSD’s calls may have been changed to KTRS, standing for “Talk Radio St. Louis”.

However, FCC records indicate the call letters were not officially changed to KTRS until March 10. This is the relevant excerpt from the Commission’s biweekly public notice on call-sign changes, issued March 21:

  New or Modified Call Signs
  Call Sign Srv Assigned To                                   Former Call
  03/10/1997 [...]
  KTRS       AM  EZ ST. LOUIS, INC.; ST. LOUIS, MO                    KSD

Evidently the delay came from the need to get the Casper, Wyoming FM station to change its calls to KTRS-FM. The FM station changed call letters from KSD-FM to KSD a week later.