WHB was started in 1922 by Sweeney Automotive School, across from Union Station. It was licensed on May 10. It may have originally used WOQ's transmitter. The twin towers of WHB on Pershing Road became a well-known Kansas City landmark, along with Sweeney's gaudy "LEARN A TRADE" sign atop his building.
(That building is better known to modern-day Kansas Citians as the Pershing Building. Portfolio Kitchen and Home currently occupies the first floor.)
A key figure in the founding and operation of WHB was John T. Schilling. The Library of American Broadcasting cites Schilling as one of the two founders of the station. As for the Sweeney school, the library says that "Schilling, along with Sam Adair, founded WHB radio with financing from the Sweeney Automotive School." The library says the station began broadcasting on April 14, 1922.
With Sweeney facing foreclosure proceedings from his other activities, including a pioneering aviation school, the station was sold April 4, 1930 (approved by the Federal Radio Commission on April 12) to the WHB Broadcasting Association, an arm of the Cook Paint & Varnish Company. The Star reported that "the radio towers on the Sweeney building on the union station plaza, long a familiar sight, will be removed and installed on top of the Cook plant in North Kansas City. The present equipment of WHB will not be used in the new broadcasting station."
Cook had been involved in program production. The Star noted that the "Cook Painter Boys represent one of the oldest and most popular units on WDAF."
With that experience, Cook developed an extensive schedule of local programming on WHB. In 1935, Variety awarded WHB a "special citation" for "showmanship" among all "part-time" stations in the United States. An undated Kansas City Journal-Post described WHB's standing in the market:
WHB has a mortgage on daytime listeners but goes silent after darkness sets in. WHB pays all talent, has wide variety of tie-ups and remotes. Dr. Pratt, formerly of Chicago radio, and Jess Kirkpatrick, of Earl Burnett orchestra, are getting personality buildups. Station has two hours of uninterrupted dance music at unusual time of day. Don Davis, advertising agency alumnus, and John T. Schilling, a pioneer in radio engineering, run WHB.
At about this time, WHB began to look for ways of getting nighttime authorization, a battle that took nearly 12 years.
One of WHB's first applications was for fulltime authority on 1120 kHz. On June 1, 1936, FCC examiner Melvin H. Dalberg recommended WHB for the channel, over the opposition of local stations KMBC, WDAF, W9XBY, and WLBF, as well as Baton Rouge, Louisiana station WJBO (then on 1120).
Broadcasting reported in its June 15, 1936 issue that, "for the first time within the recollection of practioners [sic] before the FCC, an examiner of that agency has taken cognizance of the 'network commitments' of affiliated stations in clearance of time, using that as the primary basis for a favorable recommendation for allocation of full time to an 'independent' station which might better serve local needs".
The record in this case clearly shows that the other broadcasting stations now serving Kansas City, which are of the highest excellence in their respective spheres, cannot satisfactorily render a local service at nighttime by reason of their network commitments.
Because of these commitments and the use of their time at night in this connection, it is not believed that the other stations now operating in the Kanss City area would be adversely affected from an economic standpoint by the granting of this application inasmuch as it is obvious that a large percentage of evening broadcasts on the two regional stations now operating at night consists of network programming.
Broadcasting added, "WHB for several years has sought full-time operation, but has been blocked by quota and other technical barriers". Despite Dahlberg's favorable report, the FCC denied WHB the 1120 kHz allocation in November, 1936. It remained a daytimer on 860 (later 880) until after World War II.
The station was independent until it affiliated with Mutual in 1936. Also during the 1930s, WHB developed ties with the Kansas City Journal-Post, whose radio editor, John Cameron Swayze, read "bulletins" three times daily over WHB. The newspaper had produced news and feature programs on KMBC since 1927 before moving over to WHB.
Just before World War II, WHB resumed its quest for full-time operation, with an application for 710 KHz. It became quite a tangle as Broadcasting reported on June 10, 1946:
WHB and WTCN [Minneapolis] applications, thrice heard from 1941-1944 with WGN Chicago, KIRO Seattle, KMPC Los Angeles and applicant for new Dallas station participating as intervenors, involved intricate engineering problems, later were involved with applications of KCMO Kansas City, KOAM Pittsburg, Kans., and KGNC Amarillo for facilities changes.
WTCN, then at 1280 kHz fulltime, had also applied for 710 kHz, as had KGNC. KIRO and KMPC were already on 710 kHz. KCMO wanted to move to 810 KHz and KOAM wanted to move to 860 KHz from 810 KHz to allow KCMO to move to 810.
Finally, on August 2, 1946, the FCC granted WHB 5 kilowatts fulltime at 710, directional day and night, later increased to 10 kilowatts daytime.
On May 30, 1948, WHB moved to its 710 KHz position on the dial with a fulltime schedule. The Star explained,
WHB now will be on the air eighteen hours a day, from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m., except Sunday, when the first program is at 6:40 a.m.
The extension of the broadcasting schedule to the after-dark hours will bring to listeners many Mutual features not previously heard here on a regular basis.
For a brief period, competitor KITE (later KXKX) had carried some nighttime Mutual programs until it left the air in 1942.
Even bigger changes were in store for WHB six years later. In conjunction with Cook's purchase of KMBC-AM and TV, WHB was sold to Midcontinent Broadcasting (the Robert and Todd Storz chain) June 14, 1954. The sale also ended a time-sharing arrangement between WHB-TV and KMBC-TV for the use of channel 9.
Station founder John Schilling went with Cook over to KMBC, where he retired on his 65th birthday in 1961, according to the Library of American Broadcasting.
The Storz chain discontinued WHB's Mutual affiliation October 17, 1954, and installed the Top-40 format it pioneered in Omaha. The station quickly dominated the Kansas City radio market. Storz later repeated the Kansas City success story with its purchase of KXOK in St. Louis.
WHB dominated Kansas City radio listening for years until KBEQ(FM) launched a high-energy Top-40 format in 1972. Storz had failed to obtain FM stations in any of the markets in which it operated, and began disposing of its AM stations in the 1980s. WHB was one of the last Storz stations to be sold, to Shamrock Broadcasting (Roy Disney interests) April 12, 1985.
An oldies format and AM stereo failed to stem WHB's decline. Shamrock decided to get out of the Kansas City market, putting both WHB and KUDL(FM) up for sale. WHB was sold to Kanza, Inc., based in Carrollton, Mo., August 26, 1993.
On July 10, 1997, Kanza owner Mike Carter agreed to swap frequencies with KCMO (then owned by Entercom) thereby giving KCMO the 710 kHz frequency, which has better nighttime coverage of suburban areas in Johnson County, Kansas compared to the facilities at 810. The swap was approved by the FCC on September 4, 1997. The stations traded frequencies at midnight, October 8, 1997.
Carter and the owner of KCTE(AM), Union Broadcasting Co., reached an agreement on September 2, 1999 for Union Broadcasting to buy the station, pending FCC approval. Union Broadcasting assumed control of the station on October 1, 1999.