Just as with KSD, KWK’s recent years have been marked by turmoil. In fact, it was off the air from 1973 until 1978.
According to a Broadcasting profile of St. Louis radio in its March 14, 1949 issue, KWK began as KFVE, operated by WIL owner Lester A. (Eddie) Benson and his brother C.A. Benson. (The first listing of KFVE in the Department of Commerce Radio Service Bulletin was in April, 1925.) The Bensons sold KFVE, then based in suburban University City, to radio promoter Thomas Patrick Convey in 1927. Convey had been the manager of KMOX.
Convey moved the station to the Chase Hotel in the Central West End of St. Louis city (later the home of KPLR-TV), and changed the call letters to KWK. KWK also shared time with KFQA and WMAY. WMAY later went off the air while KFQA later shared time with KMOX.
There is some conflicting information regarding KWK’s early studio location. A manuscript by Tom Eschen reported that KWK was located in the Egyptian Building in University City in 1930. Eschen further reported that KWK gathered 98,000 signatures on a petition to increase its power from 1,000 to 5,000 watts, and noted that KWK bought its transmitter location in Kirkwood from KMOX.
In the November 11, 1928 reallocation of almost every United States radio station, KWK moved from 1280 to 1350 kHz. The New York Times listing of the new 1928 dial positions showed KWK sharing time with WIL, while another listing showed WIL at 1420 kHz.
Convey’s promotional talent was shown when he started up a telephone time service, the “KWK Time Teller”, on June 10, 1930. As Convey wrote the next year in Broadcasting:
On June 9 the announcement was broadcast that the time could no longer be obtained by calling the regular KWK switchboard, but would be given at any hour of the day or night by the ‘Time Teller’ at Delmar 4040. On June 10, the service was demanded by no less than 44,284 persons! The limited initial facilities were simply buried under the hundreds of calls that came in every hour….
The station’s operators preceded the time with a brief announcement: “Grimm and Gorley will send a dozen gladioli to your home for 25 cents– the correct time is 7:42”.
Convey also moved the station’s transmitter to Kirkwood, in St. Louis County, and built his home at the site. It was there on May 11, 1934 that his appendix burst. After a week in a hospital, Convey died. An obituary in Broadcasting noted:
Mr. Convey was widely known in the St. Louis area through his play-by-play broadcasting of baseball games. He was born on an Illinois farm and had been a railway clerk, manufacturer’s representative selling household articles and women’s dresses, and a fashion show director before settling in St. Louis in 1925. He was last on the air about three weeks ago when he announced a midnight musical show.
Convey’s son Robert took over the station, affiliating it with the Mutual network as well as the NBC Blue network.
In 1941, KWK submitted an application for 50,000 watts (25,000 at night) on 680 kHz. The application would have required KFEQ in St. Joseph to change frequency. However, KFEQ, a daytimer, already was working on a new antenna system that would allow it to broadcast fulltime with 5,000 watts. Pearl Harbor, World War II, and equipment shortages also intervened, and the FCC dismissed the application on March 3, 1942
The 1950s were relatively uneventful for KWK, except for its purchase by Andrew Spheeris in 1958. However, 1960 brought trouble for KWK. Broadcasting magazine in its November 7, 1960 issue announced:
FCC invites KWK into its woodshed
REVOCATION HEARING TO STUDY COMPLAINTS ABOUT STATION CONTESTS
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had gotten complaints from KWK listeners about two “treasure hunt” contests promoted by the station. According to the Broadcasting article:
Prizes in these contests, said the FCC, were not hidden until late in the contest period and “consequently it was impossible for any person to find the prize during a substantial portion of each period.”
There were other accusations of fraud, including a charge that the station kept its special contest phone line busy on other station business about “half the time on regular station business,” so contest winners wouldn’t be able to call in within the allotted time to claim their prizes. KWK’s president, Andrew Spheeris, denied the charges.
Three weeks later, KWK asked for an expedited hearing, saying, “this unprecedented proceeding has subjected Station KWK and its owners, employees and sponsors to the most adverse publicity ever inflicted upon a broadcast station.” (Broadcasting,Nov. 28, 1960)
By that time, the FCC staff had asked that the hearings be delayed from December to January. The hearings finally started in September of 1961.
KWK general manager William L. Jones Jr. became the focus of controversy. Spheeris and associates said Jones had planned the contests without their knowledge.
In addition, KWK sales manager Don Hamel had said Jones ordered him to hide the prizes only hours before they were found, in one case during the last day of a contest, and accused Jones of ordering him (Hamel) to lie about it to Spheeris and FCC inspectors.
On the other hand, Jones said Hamel “volunteered” to hide the first prize, but he didn’t remember when that happened. Moreover:
Mr. Jones testified he talked with Mr. Spheeris about holding a treasure hunt. He said he knew “we discussed the problems of early discovery” and said “I know we decided to hide it later in the hunt.”(Broadcasting, Sept. 25, 1961)
Jones told KWK attorneys that the first treasure hunt contract with sponsor 3-V Cola was for four weeks with no guarantee about when the prize would be found. But he could not remember any specific statements Spheeris might have made about hiding the prize late.
Jones testified that when he learned an FCC investigator was coming to the station, he and Hamel “agreed to keep our stories the same,” by saying the prizes were indeed buried the first day of the contest.
During 1961, Jones said he talked to Spheeris numerous times about his worries concerning the contest. At one point, a secret meeting was set up in Milwaukee, where Spheeris, et al. also owned WEMP, but nothing ever came of it.
Spheeris testified that he learned of the late prize burial in March 1961 from Hamel and ordered an investigation. The FCC counsel introduced a subsequent letter that contained these written notations by WEMP’s corporate secretary, “AMS [Spheeris] fed to gills with WLJ [Jones]. Thinks we should fire if FCC lawyers get together on Monday and decided he’s fly in the ointment. Inferred has lied re time of capsule.” (ibid.)
After a hearing examiner initially decided not to revoke KWK’s license, the commission voted for a recovcation in May 1963. The commission had established, in a case where the license of Los Angeles-area station KRLA had been revoked, that an absentee owner is to be held responsible for misconduct of a station manager.
Hearing Examiner Forrest McClenning had “found that the contests had been fraudulent, but that the KWK owners were not aware that they were so. Mr. McClenning decided that the fault lay with KWK’s former vice present and general manager, William Jones Jr. (Mr. Jones died in May 1962)….” (Broadcasting, June 3, 1963)
After the decision, the FCC received more than 60 letters asking the commission to reconsider. According to a Broadcasting report, “many of the letters suggested that it should be the former general manager who is punished and not the licensee.” The Missouri House of Representatives also passed a resolution asking the FCC to reconsider, noting KWK had broadcast “frequent editorials since August 1961.” (June 10, 1963)
By that time, the ownership of KWK and WEMP had passed into other hands, but they still had to deal with the revocation issue. KWK appealed the action to the District Court of Appeals in Washington, saying the station had not been given adequate warning before revocation procedures had begun.
The court upheld the FCC, the FCC refused to reconsider, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case. On April 5, the FCC invited applicants to apply for the frequency. Sixteen applicants responded. (Broadcasting, June 7, 1965)
One of them was WBEL, South Beloit, Ill., which asked the FCC to restrict KWK’s nighttime coverage to eliminate severe interference from KWK (at 1380 kHz) on WBEL’s 1390 kHz frequency. Between appeals of the license revocation, the number of applicants for 1380 license, and WBEL’s concerns, the former owners of KWK were allowed to continue broadcasting until the end of February, 1966. Meanwhile, a consortium of the applicants received authority to operate on 1380 pending review of their applications. Don Hamel would remain as general manager; however, the new consortium was not able to come to an agreement on purchasing the physical plant from the former license. The consortium was able to get studios and a transmitter running by the time the outgoing licensee signed off KWK for the final time on February 27, 1966. The consortium began broadcasting the next day. A full-page ad in the following week’s Broadcasting proclaimed: “KWK is here to stay.”
Eventually, two of the applicants, Victory and Archway, became the leading candidates for the permanent license. The two organizations agreed to merge, forming Vic-Way Broadcasting, and the remaining applicants agreed to withdraw their applications. Vic-Way would receive a Construction Permit for the permanent facility in 1969, and would complete the permanent facility by 1972.
What misconduct by former owners failed to do, Mother Nature was able to accomplish. In the spring of 1973, much of KWK’s transmitting equipment was destroyed by flooding. By September 21, according to Broadcasting, KWK had gone off the air, and by October, the license had been placed into receivership.
In 1974, Doubleday Broadcasting applied to purchase KWK from receivership. However, there were two additional applicants for the frequency: Norman Broadcasting had applied to move WGNU(AM), Granite City, to 1380 in December of 1973, and a new organization, Bronco Broadcasting, also filed an application for 1380. The Bronco application was rejected as late-filed, and had designated the WGNU application for hearing. In an effort to reduce interference to WBEL, Doubleday also applied to reduce nightime power to 1000 watts, and broadcast at night from a new site near East Carondolet, Illinois, while retaining its daytime transmitter on Choteau Island, near the Chain of Rocks bridge. After a four-year journey through the FCC, Doubleday was able to put KWK back on the air in November 1978.
Doubleday clearly saw that an FM partner was required for success in the market. Top-40 giant KXOK(AM) was clearly crumbling by that time, with FM progressive rocker KSHE(FM) and Top-40 upstart KSLQ(FM) growing steadily at KXOK’s expense. Doubleday bought the WGNU-FM (ironiclly, the FM partner of the station that wanted to take over the KWK allocation) in March 1979. Doubleday wanted to call the station KWK-FM, but made do with the “Stereo WK” slogan and calls WWWK(FM) until it won a court case fighting the FCC’s denial of the KWK-FM call letters in 1981. (Broadcasting, Aug. 6, 1979; Sept. 10, 1979; Broadcasting Yearbooks for 1982 and 1983; also see the KWK tribute site).
The KWK calls were lost when KWK-FM became WKBQ(FM) on February 29, 1988. Since June 1, 1984, KWK(AM) had the calls KGLD, KASP, WKBQ, KRAM, and now WKBQ again. The WKBQ-FM calls are no longer on the original 106.5 frequency, having been swapped with Zimmer Broadcasting’s WKKX(FM) at 104.1 when Zimmer formed a duopoly with KASP, WKBQ, and WKKX on New Year’s Day 1994. The station subsequently simulcasted WKBQ-FM after a brief attempt with a talk format, using the call letters KRAM. WKBQ became KRAM on February 22, 1995 and switched back to WKBQ March 21, 1996. According to a list of stations with both K and W calls compiled by Thomas Hamilton White, this is the only station that has gone from a three-letter K call to a four-letter W call to another K call and then back to a W call and finally back again to a K call:
K => W => K => W => K
KFVE / KWK / KGLD / KASP / WKBQ / KRAM / WKBQ / KKWK / KZJZ / KSLG / KXFN-1380 Saint Louis, MO
After announcing plans to buy the Zimmer St. Louis stations, Emmis Broadcasting, owner of KSHE(FM), assumed control of the Zimmer stations in a leasing agreement and quickly switched WKBQ from simulcasting WKBQ-FM’s CHR format to WKKX(FM)’s country format. The change, on January 24, 1997, occurred simultaneously with a format change on WKBQ-FM to “modern adult contemporary”. However, the AM calls remained WKBQ(AM). Evidently Emmis was “redshirting” the calls on the AM station, which announces the calls only once per hour during its legal identification.
In November 1997, Emmis announced it was donating WKBQ to the New Horizon Seventh-Day Christian Church of St. Louis. The application for FCC approval of the transfer was filed December 5. In January 1998, the prospective owner announced plans to apply for the call letters KKWK, after some discussion about seeking an FCC waiver to recover the KWK calls. The FCC approved the transfer on January 9, 1998.
According to an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the station was to begin its new format and call letters at 5 am February 16, 1998. The station was leased to former KATZ and WGNU talk show hosts Mark Kasen and Richard “Onion” Horton.
The format actually started a few days later. However, Kasen and Horton’s no-holds-barred talk programming proved distasteful to the church. By July, newspaper reports had appeared on the station’s “controversial image”. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported:
KKWK, one of the area’s smaller stations, has become notorious for animosity among its own-air personalities. It also is known for the foul language that creeps onto the air because it does not have a seven-second delay that most radio stations use to screen obscenities. (July 5, 1998)
Church pastor B.T. Rice became more involved in the station’s operations, eventually dismissing Kasen and Horton. On July 12, 1998 the church pulled the plug on its talk programming, substituting a classic jazz format instead.
The KWK calls, even in modified form, exited St. Louis once again on September 1, 1998 when the station became KZJZ. It was purchased by Simmons Media in 2004. It became KXFN in 2012. The KKWK calls are now assigned to a station in Cameron, Mo.