History of WREN

WREN returned to the air in 1998 after going silent the previous year. WREN obtained a construction permit to move to Kansas City, Kansas. As this history indicates, it was a return trip home for WREN (now KYYS), which moved to Topeka after World War II from Lawrence.

The Radio Service Bulletin published by the U.S. Department of Commerce listed WREN’s starting date as June 15, 1926 from Florence, Kansas; however, this was clearly incorrect. Florence is located in Marion County between Emporia and Newton. The station was brought on the air by the Bowersock Mills & Power Company of Lawrence. The call letters were taken from the name of one of the Bowersock Mills brands, Jenny Wren Flour. According to an 1987 article in the Lawrence Journal-World, the station was “said to have been installed to advertise the product.” By 1927, the location of WREN was correctly shown in station lists as Lawrence, Kansas.

The stations first transmitter was purported to be in one of the mill’s store room, with the microphone perched atop a stack of flower sacks. In 1933, according to the Journal-World, WREN’s studios were moved to the old YMCA building at 8th and Vermont Streets in Downtown Lawrence. During the 1930s, WREN had its transmitter site near Tonganoxie and functioned as the NBC Blue Network affiliate for Kansas, as well as for Kansas City until KCMO became Kansas City’s Blue affiliate in 1942. The Kansas City Star had proposed a purchase in 1935 but was denied on grounds of monopoly by the FCC.

WREN was sold and moved to Topeka in 1947 (after FCC approval May 1, 1947), leaving Lawrence without a commercial radio station until KLWN signed on in 1951. Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican presidential candidate and former Kansas governor, bought WREN in October 1952.

On May 3, 1974, the Coordinating Committee of the Black Community filed petitions to deny renewal of the licenses for all of the commercial radio and television stations in Topeka, including WREN, KEWI, KTOP, and WIBW, on charges of discrimination in hiring and the lack of programming for the Black Community. The FCC dismissed all of the petitions and granted all renewals for the stations on June 19, citing the lack of specific evidence. CCBC would petition for reconsideration on July 22, 1974. The petition for reconsideration was denied on March 4, 1975.

Landon sold the station to a broadcasting group led by former son-in-law Phil Kassebaum. The Kassebaum group sold the station to N.E. (Pat) Paton and Ted Cramer on September 5, 1985.

By 1987, Paton and Cramer ran into financial trouble. The IRS filed a tax lien for over $28,000, and the Associated Press had sued for $50,000 that it was owed for news services. WREN signed off on September 2, 1987. Federal Communications Commission records gives the date as December 21, 1987; however, a article in the Lawrence Journal-World confirms the September date.

From 1927 until 1987, WREN shared time with KFKU, based out of the University of Kansas. A history of broadcasting at KU, published by the school of journalism and mass communications, written by professor emeritus Bruce Linton, says that the time-sharing agreement between WREN and KFKU “was not a happy arrangement” with KFKU only having one hour per day on 1250 kHz in the late 1940s. With the donation of FM equipment from a defunct FM station in Hutchinson, Kansas, the university was able to substantially increase its broadcasting activity by putting KANU(FM) on the air on September 15, 1952. The Linton history indirectly indicates that KFKU had separate programming from KANU until 1959, when KFKU began simulcasting KANU during its one hour a day on 1250 kHz.

Another, more recent history, written by KU history professor John McCool, says that WREN refused to give KFKU more time “since there was always a noticeable audience drop when KFKU came on.” McCool also says that KFKU’s time on 1250 kHz had been reduced to 30 minutes per day in its later years. As he so memorably states it:

WREN itself began to fall on hard times, attracting more creditors and IRS agents than actual listeners. When it finally went off the air in September 1987, the demise of KFKU seemed imminent as well. As to the idea of continuing KFKU by some other means, Dr. Max Utsler, the KU School of Journalism’s director of radio, television and film programs, told the Lawrence Journal-World that he “didn’t notice any groundswell of support from the members of my department and my bosses, and that speaks for myself as well.”

McCool also says that the general manager of KFKU and KANU at the time, Howard Hill, surrendered its license in 1987 after WREN went silent. That would appear to conflict with the information in FCC database indicating that the station had applied for a renewal, and that the renewal was designated for hearing in 1996.

WREN was reactivated in 1993 by Michael Glinter with a southern gospel format. WREN still nominally had a share-time arrangement with KFKU, however, the university was under the impression that it had turned in the license, FCC records not withstanding.

On December 1, 1995, the FCC announced an application by WREN to move to Kansas City, Missouri, with full-time operation at a transmitter site near the Worlds of Fun amusement park, with 15 kW daytime, 3.5 kW nights, DA-2. On December 16, 1996, the Commission dismissed petitions to deny the application, and granted WREN a construction permit for the move. In March 1997, WREN went silent, reportedly in preparation for the move. According to FCC records, WREN did not go silent until May 12, 1997. Under provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, WREN would have to return to the air by May 11, 1998; if it did not, its license would have been automatically cancelled. Under these same provisions, KFKU’s license was formally cancelled on Febuary 9, 1997.

Also in 1997, Glinter proposed a sale to Mortenson Broadcasting (which earlier that year had bought the Gladstone station he had put on the air, KGGN). The application was filed with the Federal Communications Commission on June 11, 1997 and approved July 22, 1997.

There was still more regarding WREN in 1997. The FCC reported a petition to deny a proposed move of WREN to its 1660 kHz expanded-band allocation. That petition, filed September 12, 1997 and released September 17, still listed Glinter as the owner of WREN. Subsequent FCC documents showed Mortenson as the station’s owner. The petition to deny was the first indication that WREN had even applied for its expanded-band slot. There were several petitions to deny filed against expanded-band allocations on that date, suggesting that WREN was not the sole target of the legal move. The petition was dismissed on May 27, 1998. At that time, WREN was granted a construction permit for 1660 kHz, but with a daytime power of 9,100 watts rather than 10,000 watts. and a nighttime power of 910 watts rather than 1,000 watts. Evidently this would compensate for WREN’s move from Topeka, the location at which the original calculations were made in determining WREN’s expanded-band eligibility.

In the meantime, on January 14, 1998, the FCC approved a change to the 1250 kHz construction permit, granting an increase in daytime power to 25 kW. I have not been able to determine the exact date for WREN’s return to the air in 1998. As already mentioned, WREN had to be back on the air by May 11, 1998. FCC records show the license to cover the 1250 construction permit was filed August 20, 1998 and approved December 28.

Morreston would sell WREN and its associated expanded-band construction permit to Entercom in late 1998, which the FCC approved in March of 1999. The station left the air again on or just before June 28, 1999 when Entercom made preparations to change the station’s format. WREN returned to the air July 20, 1999, relaying the One-On-One satellite sports-talk network. FCC records show that WREN’s call letters changed to KKGM on July 30, reflecting station’s  slogan “1250 the Game.”

In 2000, the station underwent yet another format and call-letter change. Entercom moved the format of longtime classical station KXTR(FM) to the 1250 kHz frequency. The FM station briefly held the call letters KXTR-FM after the KXTR calls were assigned to 1250 kHz on August 17, 2000.

Also in 2000, Entercom applied for a change in the expanded band construction permit, restoring the station to 10kW daytime, 1 kW night, and moving the transmitter to the KMBZ tower in Westwood. In 2001, after testing in March, the expanded-band facility at 1660 kHz began airing KXTR’s classical format on a full-time basis late in May. KXTR was simulcast on both 1250 and 1660 kHz until June 13, when, reports indicate, 1250 kHz was leased out to a local operator, which inaugurated a Spanish-language format. FCC records show that the KXTR call letters moved to 1660 kHz on June 6, with 1250 kHz taking the call letters KWSJ on June 6, 2001 and KKHK on May 22, 2002. In December of 2007, Entercom reformatted KYYS(FM) as “99.7 the Boulevard,” with new call letters KBLV. The KYYS calls were re-assigned to the 1250 frequency on January 18, 2008.

Even though WREN packed up and moved to Kansas City, and the call letters have since disappeared, there’s still a remnant of the station in Topeka. There was a giant concrete wren on the WREN building in Topeka (I saw it in 1987 or 1988 after WREN had gone off the air.) It’s now sitting in a pocket park near SW Topeka Boulevard and Huntoon. See World’s Largest Things for a photo and some descriptive history. That site says the wren was in a “mini-park” but I distinctly remember it as being on top of the WREN building. Alternatively, there could have been two wrens, one on the building, and one on the ground. If so, then the wren on the building may be lost to history after all.

Technical Facilities

1250 kHz

25 kW-D, 3.7 kW-N, DA-2 since May 1998. Studios presumably located at 1701 S 55th Street in Kansas City, Kansas.

1660 kHz

10 kW-D, 1kW-N, non-directional, sharing a tower with KCNW near I-635 and Metropolitan Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. Previously shared a tower with KMBZ at 50th & Belinder Road in Kansas City suburb of Westwood, Kansas. Studios located at 7000 Squibb Rd in Mission, Kansas.

Technical History

Original licensing date June 15, 1926 in “Florence”, Kansas (probably Lawrence). By May 24, 1927, was on 720 kHz. Move to 1180 kHz announced by FCC on that date, along with requirement to share time with KKSU. On October 16, 1928, moved to 1220 kHz, with increase of power from 0.5 kW to 1 kW. Transmitter moved to Tonganoxie, Kansas in 1932. License moved to Topeka, Kansas in 1947 (5 kW, DA-N, transmitter at Grantville, east of Topeka). See the rest of this article for recent history and move back to the Kansas City metropolitan area with WREN’s re-licensing to Kansas City.