KXOK's first transmitter
KXOK’s first transmitter

Baby boomers have fond memories of a rock “n” roll station that grabbed the market in the 1960s and dominated listenership among teens and young adults. But KXOK had a long and admirable history even before it hit the top spot with good old rock ‘n’ roll. It also faced a long history of challenges.

On Sept. 22, 1936, the Star-Times Publishing Company was granted a construction permit for a 1,000 watt radio station at 1250 kHz. The station’s transmitter was across the Mississippi River in Venice, Illinois. A couple weeks later, on Oct. 10, the station was given the call letters KXOK. But a challenge to these actions by the owners of WIL kept KXOK off the air.

Aside from fears of competition in the marketplace, there were a couple of other motivating factors behind WIL’s action. The publisher of the St. Louis Star-Times was Elzey Roberts, and there is evidence that he may have been involved in the ownership of WIL as late as 1928. But in the 1930s, Roberts was one of many newspaper executives who were quite vocal in their opposition to news broadcasts on radio. Many of these executives had embraced the development of radio in its early days 10 years earlier, but as the stations realized they could read news and disseminate the information quickly, scooping the papers, they began scheduling regular news broadcasts.

Also, WIL’s owners, Missouri Broadcasting, wanted to move their station to the 1250 dial spot so they could increase WIL’s power. In the end, Roberts won the battle and KXOK’s license was issued in November 1938. The fourth floor of the Star-Times Building in downtown St. Louis was transformed into radio studios. A thesis by Charles Suits at the University of Missouri-Columbia notes the station actually went on the air at 6:00 a.m. on Sept. 20, 1938, and the first show was a broadcast from the studios of KFRU radio in Columbia, MO.

That station had been purchased by Roberts in 1936, and in 1939, the station’s owners applied for permission to swap frequencies, which would put KXOK at 630 kHz. But once again there was a challenge from a St. Louis radio station - KSD, which was owned by Star-Times rival the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. KSD had been forced to share its frequency with KFUO and was looking for a way to end that arrangement. A three-way frequency swap was granted to the Star-Times which allowed KXOK to land at 630, KFRU moved to 1370 and an Indiana station which had also been at 630 was changed to 1250.

In 1951, Roberts sold his newspaper in St. Louis to the Post, and KXOK was eventually sold to brothers Todd and Robert Storz in 1960. Their new ideas, from programming rock hits and using strong personalities as disc jockeys, quickly propelled the station to the top in popularity in the market.

(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 2/98)