KXOK was a relative latecomer to the ranks of pioneer stations, but it had an impact, first on the Columbia area when it swapped frequencies with KFRU, and later, when it was one of Todd Storz’ “Top 40” stations along with Kansas City’s WHB.
St. Louis Star-Times publisher Elzey Roberts had ties with radio station WIL in 1925, but quickly disposed of that interest, according to a 1970 master’s thesis at the University of Missouri (Columbia) School of Journalism, A History of the St. Louis Star-Times, by Charles R. Suits.
There is other evidence to suggest that Roberts was at least partially involved with WIL through 1927: a Kansas City Journal-Post listing of new radio station allocations on May 24, 1927 (which took effect June 15, 1927), noted that WIL, owned by “St. L. Star & Benson Co.”, was to operate at 1160 kHz with 250 watts.
Aside from those intrigiuing clues, there hasn’t been much indication that Roberts was interested in radio. Roberts was known in the early and mid-1930s as an implacable foe of news broadcasts on radio stations. Newspaper publishers, fearing competition, pressured broadcasters to limit their news broadcasts voluntarily.
However, Roberts had a change of heart (again?) by 1936, buying KFRU in Columbia, and applying for a permit to build a St. Louis station.
The company owning WIL, the Missouri Broadcasting Company, applied for the same slot on the dial that Roberts applied for: 1250 kHz. WIL wanted to boost its power to have a regional- coverage signal.
The newspaper’s application was granted, but WIL appealed. Six months later, the Supreme Court upheld the award of 1250 kHz to the Star-Times.
The newspaper built a 1,000-watt transmitter at Venice, Illinois, near East St. Louis. The fourth floor of the newspaper’s downtown building was remodeled to serve as KXOK’s studios and control room.
Charles Suits’ thesis says, “KXOK went on the air at 6:00 a.m., September 20, 1938. The first program that was broadcast was produced at KFRU, the associate station in Columbia.”
As noted in the history of KFRU, KXOK had eyes on KFRU’s regional-coverage signal at 630 kHz. In 1939, KXOK applied for that change, also enabling WGBF at Evansville, Indiana to move to 1250 kHz, and ending a nighttime time-sharing arrangement with KFRU. The application briefly was entangled in a competing application for 630 kHz filed by a Star-Times rival, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which said it wanted to move KSD to 630 to make it possible to end a time-sharing arrangement with KFUO.
The Star-Times applications were granted, and on October 18, 1940, KFRU moved to 1370 (now 1400) kHz, WGBF moved from 630 to 1250 (now 1280) kHz, and KXOK began operations on 630 kHz. Close ties remained between KFRU and KXOK until KFRU was sold to former KXOK news director Mahlon Aldridge and Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Jack Waters in 1945.
While Elzey Roberts sold the Star-Times to the Post-Dispatch in 1951, he held on to KXOK until selling to Midwestern chain owners Robert and Todd Storz in 1960. KXOK changed to a Top 40 format and quickly became one of the top-rated stations in St. Louis.
However, in 1972, elevator-music KRCH(FM) became Top-40 KSLQ(FM) and, along with progressive rockers KADI(FM) and KSHE(FM), chewed big holes into KXOK’s audience share. The station moved to oldies, then to news and talk, then to a soul-oldies format. By 1988, it was owned by Legend Broadcasting of Pittsburgh. Legend sold KXOK to the aggressively conservative gospel chain Crawford in 1994 and moved the “Soul 63” format to 97.1 MHz (now KXOK-FM). Crawford took the station off the air for several months; when it returned, it was as gospel-oriented talk KJSL.