History of KKSW

105.9 MHz, Lawrence, Kansas

On August 20, 1963, Commercial FM Radio came to Lawrence as KLWN-FM first signed on. The station was built in order to have a full-time signal to broadcast sports and other information, including things like school closings, as the AM station was limited to daytime hours. Because sunrise is at 7:45 AM during the winter, school closings could not be disseminated to the public in a timely fashion via the AM station. Hank Booth, longtime General Manager, had commented that the FM was originally run by a tape, and that no one listened until it was time for KU or Lawrence High Football.

The station started with technical facilities of 17 kW on 105.9 MHz. From 1963 to 1974, both stations shared the same studio. KLWN-FM essentially simulcasted the AM during daylight hours until 1972. In 1972, the staff began a separate rock programming in the overnight hours, first after the AM sign-off, then it was pre-taped and replayed the next day at 3 PM, later noon. On April 1, 1974, an addition to the station allowed the AM to move into a new studio (complete with an interview room) and the FM to have the old one. On July 31, 1979, KLWN-FM received the new calls of KLZR and was authorized to increase power to 100 kW. The new 550-foot tower was completed and the new transmitter was put in use in December.

Sports Programming

[ad]
An Ad from the December 18, 1964 Lawrence High Budget advertising KLWN-FM's coverage of LHS Basketball.

KLWN-FM and KLZR carried football from its inception until the end of the 1995 season. KLWN-FM also carried the LHS and KU basketball games (As the ad indicates). The FM station also joined on the KU sports network. When the KU sports network was superseded by the Jayhawk Network, KLZR, became, and remains (with one glaring exception) the co-flagship station (along with KLWN).

Tbe 1980s

In 1985, KLZR started minimizing it's studios and plugged into the Satellite Music Network's CHR format, using the slogan "Rock 'N Hits," and later "The Heat." The move was, at least initially, unpopular with KU Students, though it held on for most of the 80s.

In 1988, KLZR got somewhat of a power boost as the transmitter was move to a new site near Lecompton, about halfway between Lawrence and Topeka, complete with a new 700-foot stick. Part of the reason for this transmitter move was to allow 106.5 (then KXXR, now WDAF-FM) in Kansas City to be able to move in and get a better signal in KC. KXXR donated their old tower to the Booths in exchange for moving to the Lecompton site.

On September 6, 1989, KLZR got a surprise when they received a letter from the FCC approving a call sign change to KOLL. Because no one actually requested a call sign change, they got help from Senator Bob Dole to identify and correct the problem. It turns out a Station in the Little Rock area with the calls KZLR requested them (the station was specifically in Maumelle, AR).

The Modern Rock Era

By the beginning of 1993, the CHR format was in decline, and the Satellite provider flipped KLZR to Hot AC instead. Hank Booth did not want to go in that direction, so on a Sunday in February, they did a format switch stunt. After a KU away basketball game, he went into an Hot AC song, did a scratch-stop, went on the air and said, "Stop, I can't take this anymore," played "The End of the World as we Know It," and began a modern-rock format "105.9, the Lazer." The Modern Rock format was successful for a while, with a loyal listenership.

New Studios, New Owner, New Format

With the old KLWN and KLZR towers gone from the original site, the Booths looked for a new home for its studios. Aldi foods bought the entire property and prepared to create a store on the property. Meanwhile, the station leased the property back from them until they could pack their bags. The quickly found the old Woodward property in northwest Lawrence at 3125 West 6th Street. It took several months to get the building remodeled for a radio station. Finally, at 1:05 on January 11, 1998, the stations cut the switch at 31st and Iowa and began operations on West 6th. The old studios would be leveled a week later.

The trend in radio has been toward corporate ownership of stations in several different markets. In Mid-1998, Hank rolled with the trend in a way only Hank could. He wanted to make sure, first and foremost, that the stations would remain in Lawrence. He found a family, the Zimmer Radio Group out of Cape Gireadeau, MO, that would do its best to maintain such a commitment. The title was officially transferred to Zimmer on September 1, 1998.

With the Zimmers in control, most of the changes at the station were in the sales department, as the Zimmers advertising approach was to offer strategies instead of spots. One of the bigger, and most controversial, changes was to dump the Modern Rock format for Contemporary Hit Programming. For as many loyal listeners to the Modern Rock format, there were as many people that appreciated what the station was doing, but could not stand the actual music. A survey conducted in 1998 found that a more mainstream format would appeal to more listeners, and CHR was making a comeback, so the station started to move back to CHR in January of 1999. Most people didn't catch on until Chad Elliot, a specialist in CHR programming, was named the new program director in July. The full switch to CHR was finalized on September 13, 1999. The "flip," drew a larger protest than before. Part of the reason was that Elliot out and out denied any format change, despite coming to Lawrence to finalize the switchover, not to mention the recent change in ownership. During September 1999, petitions, online an on paper, were filled demanding the format we switched back. In addition, during the last week of September, the window of the KLZR studio was broken twice. By October of 2003, many R&B and hip-hop songs were stricken from the playlist, and KLZR turned back towards a "Hot Adult Contemporary" format.

The Viking Era/Great Plains Media

Rumors persisted for several years that the Zimmers were looking at selling their properties, including the Lawrence stations, to a "bigger fish." These rumors turned out to be partially true. The Zimmers spun off their properties in Southeast Missouri and Illinois to Mississippi River Radio, a newly formed group consisting of people from the region. The Zimmers subsequently concentrated on the remaining markets, with one brother controlling each market. The Eldest of the Zimmer brothers, Jerry, took control of the Lawrence Stations. Jerry Zimmer adopted the name Viking Communications for the operations under his control. He also worked quickly in acquiring KKYD. Eventually, the name of the company would be known as "Great Plains Media".

2012 re-imaging

Late in 2011, Jay Wachs, was brought in the new General Manager. One of his first decisions was to re-image the 105.9 frequency. As part of the re-imaging, on January 20, they performed a stunt where a fan of pop singer Lady Gaga "invaded" the station and forced them to play Lady Gaga music. At 3:00 pm, the station debuted their new "105.9 Kiss FM" image, then proceeded to play 105 hours of music without commercial interruption.

As part of the stunt, the station did not cover the University of Kansas men's basketball game against Texas on January 21st - leaving the Lawrence-Topeka-Kansas City market without coverage of the game on the FM dial. [WIBW and KCSP are the Jayhawk network affiliates in Topeka and Kansas City, respectively, on the AM dial]

The re-imaging itself did not generate controversy, but the non-coverage of the Texas game did. On January 27, the new GM issued an appology , which included an offer to make good on the missed commercials. 105.9 has broadcast subsequent men's basketball games.

The last step in the re-imaging was to change the call letters. After over 32 years (save one day in 1989), the KLZR calls were retired and the station assigned the calls KKSW on February 7.

Related Links