KMBZ, formerly KMBC, traces its ancestry to amateur station 9AXJ, started by Arthur B. Church in 1921. This is the basis for KMBZ's claim to be Kansas City's oldest surviving radio station, based on 9AXJ's broadcast on April 5, 1921.
The amateur station became broadcast station WPE on April 5, 1922. FCC records show the station as owned by the Reorganized Church of Latter-Day Saints on that date. Another source said it was purchased by the church in 1923 and moved to church headquarters at Independence, Mo. in 1924.
Thomas Hamilton White's list of three-letter station calls, compiled from government records of the time, shows WPE as deleted on June 18, 1923, succeeded by a new license with the call letters KFIX, located in Independence, issued July 3, 1923. This is the best source I've found for providing a date on the first of many changes to the station associated with Arthur Church (who stayed on as station director after the RLDS church purchased it). Even with the intervening deletion, KFIX is generally accepted as the successor to WPE. The station's call letters were later changed to KLDS.
On April 4, 1926, the Journal-Post announced plans for station KMJP, to broadcast from a studio in the Hotel Bellerive on Armour Boulevard, and connected by telephone lines to the KLDS transmitter in Independence. The station was to begin broadcasting "about May 1."
In came the State of Missouri and its station, WOS, with which KLDS had been sharing time at 440.9 meters (680 KHz). In May 1926, WOS announced that it would no longer honor the agreement. The RLDS church went to court to obtain a temporary injunction. A hearing was held June 25, 1926, and reported in a Journal article the next day.
The state claimed there was no written agreement to divide time, and even if such an agreement could be implied, the state officials involved went beyond their authority in agreeing to the arrangement.
However, under cross-examination, former state marketing commissioner Arthur T. Nelson, "admitted that he had told officials of KLDS that they could use the air on nights WOS did not radiocast and he had advised them to take these hours before some commercial station did so."
According to the Journal, KLDS director A. B. Church testified that "KLDS, believing the agreement with WOS was permanent, had in the last eighteen months spent between $40,000 and $50,000 for improvements, including a change in the present wave length.
"He also told of a contract KLDS has with the Journal-Post, under which the Journal-Post station, KMJP, is to use twelve hours radiocasting time a week now assigned to KLDS," wrote the newspaper. Church also testified that WOS was only using the frequency for one-third its authorized time when it began sharing the channel with KLDS.
On July 19, 1926, federal judge Albert L. Reeves issued a permanent injunction against WOS, allowing KLDS and WOS to continue sharing time. The case was of national interest, coming as it did in the midst of the breakdown in radio regulation occurring in mid-1927. The Commerce Department, which was the agency responsible for regulating radio stations, stated its belief that the KLDS case would not affect radio regulation in general, because it amounted to a contract dispute that was unrelated to the department's authority to regulate radio.
WOS appealed the ruling on July 28, but a hearing could not be scheduled until June 1927. By that time, developments in radio regulation rendered the KLDS-WOS dispute moot.
The dispute may have killed off KMJP. The only other documented mention of KMJP was in the Radio Service Bulletin of July 1926 (courtesy Jeff Miller). If KMJP ever did exist, it was on the air only a short time. The Journal-Post finally launched its own radio programs the following year, never mentioning the plans for KMJP.
In 1927, the station was moved several times, first being moved from 680 to 1260 on June 1, then 1110 on August 19, back to 1260 on November 17, then finally settling on 1110 on December 5.
Also in 1927, the station moved toward commercial broadcasting once again. On November 17, the call letters were changed to KMBC-KLDS, and on December 5, the license was assigned jointly to the Midland Broadcasting Company and the RLDS church.
An article in the Kansas City Post radio section on February 4, 1928 featured the move of KMBC studios to Kansas City, as well as information on the transition of the station from the RLDS church to Midland.
Headquarters and studios for KMBC, the radio station through which Journal-Post, Columbia chain and Sears, Roebuck programs are handled here, will be opened February 16 in the Aladdin hotel, Twelfth and Wyandotte streets.
According to an announcement today by A. B. Church, managing director of KMBC, the Midland Broadcast Central has leased space on the sixteenth floor of the Aladdin, to be divided into nine rooms, including studios, offices, artists' parlor and public lobby.
The KMBC offices and remote control station are already in operation at the new location.
Special broadcasting lines have been constructed by the Southwestern Bell Telephone company between the Aladdin and the 1,500 watt plant at Independence. In the future, practically all broadcasting from the station will be done by remote control. The KLDS studio in Independence, operated by the Reorganized Latter Day Saints, will be used for KLDS programs and services about ten hours a week. Elaborate KLDS studios are planned to be located in the new $1,000,000 auditorium which is being constructed in Independence.
The Independence station was taken over by the Midland Broadcasting company, July 1, 1927, and converted into a public service broadcasting station. The new owners obtained call letters KMBC, the department of commerce permitting the former owners to retain the KLDS call letters for their church broadcasting.
However, the July 1927 date is not attested in any contemporaneous newspaper articles. The Midland Broadcast Company was first mentioned in a Kansas City Post article on September 18, 1927 that reported on KLDS' application for the 890 KHz frequency then in use by WDAF and WHB [However, the FCC history cards do not show any application for 890]. The article noted that "the Independence station plans to use the air every night under its arrangement whereby the Midland Broadcasting company, an organization of members of the church, will use the plant to put advertising matter on the ether."
Station KMBC first appeared in the Kansas City Journal-Post's weekly radio listings on September 25, 1927, using the KLDS frequency for one hour per day. In the Journal-Post listings on October 30, 1927, all the non-religious programs that had been on KLDS were shown under the KMBC listing for the first time. However, there was no formal announcement in the newspaper about the apparent move of KLDS programs to KMBC.
A few weeks after KMBC came into existence in 1927, the Journal-Post began three 10-minute daily newscasts on November 1. The newscasts were scheduled at 12 noon, 4 pm, and 7 pm. At 7:10 pm, there was a 20-minute feature, except on Sundays:
- Monday--Farmer feature.
- Tuesday--Walt Filkin, the Journal-Post poet.
- Wednesday--The Journal-Post Movie Man.
- Thursday--Editorial feature.
- Friday--The Editor's forum.
- Saturday--Sports review.
The newspaper shifted its broadcasting activities to WHB several years later.
Once placed on a commercial basis, KMBC moved quickly to acquire a network affiliation, first announced in the Post radio section on January 28, 1928.
Station KMBC, Independence, owned and operated by the Midland Broadcast Central, will make its debut Wednesday night [February 1, 1928] as a chain station broadcasting radio programs offered by the Columbia Broadcasting system.
Heretofore, these programs have been brought West only as far as St. Louis and Council Bluffs, Ia. They have been handled in St. Louis by KMOX and in Council Bluffs by KOIL, neither station coming into Kansas City with any degree of regularity.Station Uses 1,500 Watts.
Negotations for Columbia program service here have been under way several months. Station KMBC was selected because of its excellent transmission and reaching out powers on 270.1 meters. The station is the most powerful in the Kansas City area, using 1,500 watts.
Addition of Columbia programs to the local field brings the total number of chain stations in the district to three. WREN, Lawrence [Kansas], and WDAF, Kansas City already are sharing the programs of the National Broadcasting company.
The Kolster and Columbia hour programs at 8 and 9 o'clock, respectively, Wednesday night, and the True Stories hour and Cap'n' Kid periods Friday night will form the offerings for the coming week.Full Schedule in Week.
Beginning with Sunday afternoon of the next week, KMBC will offer four hours of chain programs Sundays and regular evening schedules. One of the leading features of the entire service is a popular band, known as the Captivators, which will be heard Monday nights at 9 o'clock.
A. B. Church, director of KMBC, announced today installation of motor-generator equipment which will enable the station to step up its power to a higher peak as soon as permission is granted by the radio commission. It is believed the station will seek a power increase to at least 5,000 watts, and, perhaps, to 7,500 watts.
When KMBC became a CBS affiliate, it began to develop as a significant Midwestern producer of radio programs as well. Among famous alumni of the station are John Cameron Swayze, Merle Harmon, and Walter Cronkite.
On November 11, 1928 KMBC-KLDS was moved to 950 kHz, sharing time with WHB. On February 23, 1929, the FRC consented to assign the license solely to Midland, and the KLDS calls were dropped. However, radio program listings in both the Star and the Journal-Post showed listings for KLDS only until KMBC's move to 950 KHz. During much of 1928 KLDS programs were mixed in with KMBC's listings, denoted as "KLDS."
The next legal challenge KMBC faced concerned its application to move its transmitter from Independence, Missouri, where it had been since its days as KLDS, to a site in the northeastern corner of Johnson County, Kansas. Stations WLBF in Kansas City, WIBW in Topeka, WREN in Lawrence, and KFH and KFDI in Wichita all protested the application.
However, on May 12, 1932, a Federal Radio Commission hearing examiner recommended approval of the move. The FRC granted a construction permit to KMBC on September 15, 1932 (though briefly suspending approval on September 27 after a further protest by WIBW. A hearing on that protest was held the following year on March 7). KMBC moved to the Kansas site in the fall of 1933, and officially inaugurated programming from there on November 25.
In July, 1936, Arthur Church and his wife, Cicely, obtained majority control of Midland Broadcasting Company, the licensee of KMBC.
High winds have toppled KMBC towers twice at the Kansas site. At 5:40 pm on June 6, 1938, a 55 mile-per-hour gust of wind took down the single 256-foot tower that was then at 50th Street and Belinder Road.
The next time, on August 25, 1941, it was a 73-mile-per-hour wind that caused both towers in KMBC's directional array to crumple to the ground. The taller 544-foot tower, erected the year before, crashed into a nearby house with three people inside. No one was injured.
In 1954, KMBC-AM and TV were sold by Arthur Church to Cook Paint and Varnish Co. The sale ended a time-sharing arrangement between KMBC-TV and WHB-TV on channel 9. The two TV stations, first broadcasting August 2, 1953, alternated 90-minute blocks of programming from different studios, using the same transmitter, in an arrangement described by Television Digest as a "shotgun wedding" encouraged by CBS. Both stations were counted as a single CBS affiliate.
The sale by Church was announced April 20, 1954, and approved by the Federal Communications Commission on June 9. WHB general manager John T. Schilling, who was involved in the construction of that station in 1922, moved over to KMBC as vice president and general manager. Church received a 10-year compensation package to not compete; however, in part because of ill health, the sale marked Church's retirement from the radio business. KMBC-TV and WHB-TV merged June 14, with KMBC-TV as the surviving station.
KMBC network affiliation changed to ABC September 28, 1955 (TV) and December 1, 1955 (radio) when Meredith obtained CBS affiliations for its stations in Omaha (WOW) and Kansas City (KCMO) as compensation for losing CBS affiliation in Phoenix (KPHO) to a Gene Autry station.
KMBC-AM/TV were sold to Metromedia Broadcasting Co. (John W. Kluge, et al.) August 29, 1961. Metromedia separated KMBC(AM) and KMBR(FM) from KMBC-TV by the sale of the radio stations to Bonneville Broadcasting (Utah Latter-Day Saints--Mormons), May 12, 1967. Bonneville chose the similar-sounding call letters KMBZ. Under FCC rules at the time, broadcast stations could only share the same "base" call letters if they were commonly owned; thus, either the radio station or the TV station would have to change call letters because of the ownership split.
On January 6, 1997, Bonneville announced plans to trade KMBZ and its other Kansas City stations, along with its Seattle stations, to Entercom (Entertainment Communications) of Philadelphia in exchange for KLDE(FM) Houston and $5 million cash. Entercom assumed control of the Kansas City Bonneville stations on March 1, 1997.
With Kansas City's postwar growth spurt toward its southwestern suburbs, the KMBZ site became placed in almost in the exact center of metropolitan area, in the city of Westwood. The area around the site developed into a residential neighborhood, with an elementary school across the street. Relations between the station and its neighbors became tenuous by 1994, when the city required the station to obtain a special-use permit for the towers every 3-5 years, with residents of the neighborhood generally opposing the permit every time. Entercom moved its studios and offices to the intersection of Shawnee Mission Parkway and Metcalf in 2004. Entercom applied to re-locate the KMBZ transmitter to the towers of KCCV in Kansas City's Eastwood Park and increase daytime power to 9 kW. After reviewing concerns regarding two Mexican Stations, the FCC approved the Construction Permit on January 14, 2015.