DesMoinesBroadcasting.com

A History of KRNT and KSO
George F. Davison, Jr.
©2002

 

A good argument can be made that neither of the stations which emerged as KRNT and KSO started in Des Moines. Each station is clearly identified with Des Moines. Each has made its mark in Des Moines broadcasting. The histories of KRNT and KSO are intertwined, and even WHO has a role to play in the stations' histories.

KSO begins in 1925 in Clarinda, Iowa:

KSO was authorized to operate from Clarinda, Iowa, on October 7, 1925 (Broadcast Profile, prepared for KRNT). The owner of the station was the A.A. Berry Seed Company. KSO was assigned the frequency of 241.8 meters (1240 kc) with a power of 500 watts. Studios were established in the seed loft of the Berry Seed Company building at Eighth and Willow in Clarinda. Towers for the transmitting antenna were attached to the north and south ends of the building. A used 500 watt Western Electric Transmitter was acquired from WHO, Des Moines. (See, WHO History. By this time WHO was operating at 5,000 watts on a frequency of 570 kc.). The first KSO broadcast was on November 2, 1925. The station used the slogan, "Keep Serving Others". (Broadcast Profile).

In 1927 KSO was moved to 1320 kc. Then, in the great revision of frequency assignments which occurred on November 11, 1928, KSO moved to 1380 with 1,000 watts power, but it had share the frequency with WKBH, LaCrosse, Wisconsin (pages 194 and 197, First Report of Federal Radio Commission). On January 18, 1929, KSO was ordered to reduce power to 500 watts; then, the share time order ended on February 28, 1931. (Mishkind database)

Iowa Broadcasting Co. entered into KSO's history in 1931 when it purchased the station from the Barry Seed Co. Iowa Broadcasting had been formed by Gardner and Mike Cowles, the newspaper publishing brothers who owned the Des Moines Register and Tribune, Minneapolis Star, and Look magazine. The sale from Barry Seed Co. to Iowa Broadcasting occurred on June 26, 1931. (Mishkind database).

For about a year KSO remained in Clarinda under Iowa Broadcasting ownership. One June 4, 1932, authority was received to suspend operations until October 1, 1932. (Mishkind database). The FRC granted permission in September 1932 for Iowa Broadcasting to move KSO to Des Moines. (Broadcast Profile) KSO returned to the air with studios and transmitter at the Register and Tribune building at 715 Locust Street in downtown Des Moines on November 5.1932, but with a reduced power. KSO was now authorized to use 100 watts. It became the NBC Blue network affiliate for Des Moines. (Broadcast Profile)

Over the next several years, there were a number of changes in KSO's facilities:

KSO Ad - probably from 1935 when power was raised

Major changes on March 17, 1935: KSO gained a sister station in Des Moines, KRNT, on March 17, 1935. To accommodate the new station, KSO moved to 1430 kc, a frequency previously used by KWCR, Cedar Rapids. KWCR was also owned by Iowa Broadcasting. It was moved to Des Moines. Iowa Broadcasting also made improvements to the studios and transmitter of WMT, building a new transmitting plant near Cedar Rapids and upgrading studios in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids. (March 17, 1935, Des Moines Sunday Register)

Picture taken in Register and Tribune Building studios
Note "on the air" lights for both stations
(date and persons in picture unknown)

Effects of March 17, 1935:


KRNT/KSO site in 1936
Saylorville area near North Field
During Flooding, engineers got to the site via rowboat
You can see four towers.


Old 1936 KRNT/KSO transmitter building (today) near North Field Airport
The building has been converted into a private residence
"If buildings could talk, what a story it could tell"

Iowa Broadcasting continued to make improvements to both stations. On February 9, 1937, KSO was authorized to operate with 2,500 watts during the day and 1,000 watts at night. Another power increase was obtained effective December 20, 1938. This time, KSO was permitted to operate with 5,000 watts during the day and 1,000 watts at night. Night operations required a directional antenna. (Mishkind database)

KRNT seems to have been the more favored station regarding power increases. On April 9, 1937, KRNT was permitted to operate with 5,000 watts day and 1,000 watts at night, using a directional antenna. (Mishkind database)

In connection with the general realignment of stations on March 29, 1941, KRNT moved to its present frequency: 1350 kc. KSO moved to 1460 kc. (Mishkind database)

Both stations obtained permission to operate at 5,000 watts at night using a directional antenna system. Both KRNT and KSO were authorized 5,000 watts on February 26, 1942. (Mishkind database) A new joint transmitting and tower facility was constructed at South East 22nd and Park on the southeast side of Des Moines, near the Des Moines River. Four towers were built. Three of the towers were used in the KRNT directional pattern. Two were used for the KSO pattern. The KRNT transmitter site today.

KRNT/KSO Facility at SE 22nd and Park in 1942 and an aerial picture of the site under construction
(note 4th tower at right - used for KSO directional pattern)
The Building looks much the same to this day.
Visit the site.

 

KRNT continued as the Columbia station for the Des Moines area while KSO was the Blue network affiliate. Studios remained in the Register and Tribune building.

1944 - The Divorce of KSO and KRNT:

KSO was sold by Murphy's estate on June 26, 1958, to Joe Floyd, M.L. Bentson, Edmond Rubin and Anton Moe. They held the license to KSO until February 25, 1964, when the station was sold to Des Moines Broadcasting Co.

During this time, the KSO studios were on Ingersoll Avenue, one of the city's main streets just west of downtown. There was a "fishbowl" where the public could watch the disc jockey. KSO was programming top 40 in direct competition with KIOA. The two stations engaged in fierce battles, including raiding talent from each other.

On October 18, 1966, KSO was acquired by Des Moines outdoor advertising executive Tom Stoner. KSO's licensee was Stoner Broadcasting System. For the next twenty-three years, KSO's ownership was stable, and the station finally found its niche in the Des Moines market playing country music. Stoner invested in stereo AM equipment for Great Country KSO, one of the few AM stations in Iowa to do so.

Then, entered the era of large group ownership and renewed market duopolies. AM stations, such as KSO, were viewed as a liability. They were no longer an asset.

On September 11, 1989, the KSO call letters were retired. Until sometime in 1994, the 1460 frequency was identified as KGGO, and the old KSO simulcast its FM sister (KGGO-FM).

In 1994, the owners of 1460 and KGGO-FM acquired another FM frequency (97.3, KDMI which at the time was broadcasting religious programming). The new FM became KHKI, The Hawk. 1460 acquired the KDMI call letters and broadcast religious programs and programs in Spanish. Stereo broadcasts were ended.

In late 2000, control of 1460 passed to Clear Channel Communications. In early 2001, the call letters were changed to KXNO, and 1460 became an all sports station, featuring the Fox Sports Network.

KRNT remains a member of the Cowles family:

Following the sale of KSO to Murphy in 1944, the licensee of KRNT was changed. Effective October 23, 1944, the owner of KRNT was Cowles Broadcasting Company. Cowles would continue to be the owner of KRNT until the station was sold in 1974 to Stauffer Communications, Inc.

KRNT dropped its affiliation with Columbia in December 1944 and became the Des Moines area affiliate for the Blue Network (now ABC).

In 1946 KRNT purchased Shrine Auditorium (built in 1927 by the Za-Ga-Zig Shrine Temple of Des Moines) for $150, 000.00. The Auditorium was located between 9th and 10th Streets on Pleasant Street, next door to the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company building. Shrine Auditorium's name was changed to KRNT Theater. This presented a bit of a problem for WHO. The Barn Dance Frolic originated from the auditorium. On WHO during the Barn Dance Frolic, KRNT Theater was referred to as Radio Theater.

New studios for KRNT were built next to the Auditorium, and in the late 1940s KRNT moved from the Register and Tribune building. The facility was known as the KRNT Center. It included facilities for television, and it was interconnected with KRNT Theater.

KRNT returned to the CBS Radio Network on June 15, 1951. It continues to be a CBS affiliate.

During the 1950s and 1960s, KRNT was the Des Moines station. While many in Des Moines viewed WHO as the station that rural Iowa listened to and KIOA and KSO were battling for teenagers, KRNT was the station which catered to the residents of Des Moines. Air personalities included veteran newsmen Russ Van Dyke and Paul Rhodes (who also were featured on KRNT-TV, Channel 8 newscasts); Bill Riley; Walt Reno; Al Coupe (former University of Iowa football star turned sports broadcaster); and morning man Don Bell.

By the early 1970s, however, Cowles wanted to focus on its television operations. There were signs that ownership of broadcasting outlets and newspapers in the same market might be prohibited. Cowles offered KRNT for sale. One deal with a Texas advertising agency fell through. On July 29, 1974, KRNT was purchased by Stauffer Communications, Inc. of Topeka, Kansas, for $1,150,000.00.

Stauffer began operating KRNT during Labor Day weekend 1974 from studios in a small trailer in the parking lot of the Central Life Assurance building at 611 Fifth Avenue in Des Moines. Studios on the first floor of the Central Life building were completed in early 1975, and KRNT celebrated a 50th Anniversary (based upon the KSO start date), along with a grand opening of the new studios in 1975. Pictures from that era.

KRNT continued under Stauffer operation until August 1988, when the station, along with its sister FM, KRNQ, was acquired by Saga Communications, Inc.

KRNT'S Cedar Rapids Connection:

KWCR, the Cedar Rapids station, which Iowa Broadcasting moved to Des Moines in 1935 and whose 1430 kc frequency was assumed by KSO traces its beginnings to July 29, 1922. The station's first call sign was WKAA, and the owner was Harry F. Parr. Parr owned the Lincoln Hotel and Cedar Rapids Republican newspaper. He was also an amateur radio operator. After a few months, Parr transferred ownership of the station to the newspaper.

WKAA was assigned to 833 kc (as were most stations at that time). It stayed on 833 kc until September 1923 when it moved to 1120 and shared time with another Cedar Rapids station, WJAM. In 1924 WKAA moved to 1080 with 50 watts. The call was changed to KWCR on November 26, 1925, along with a power increase to 500 watts and a change in frequency to 1013 kc.

During 1927, KWCR and WJAM share time on various frequencies, including 780, 850 and 1250. In the great reorganization by the Federal Radio Commission on November 11, 1928, KWCR is moved to 1310 and shares the frequency with KFJY, Fort Dodge, and KFGQ, Boone.

Cedar Rapids Broadcasting Co. (associated with the Cowles interests and Iowa Broadcasting Company) purchased KWCR on October 9, 1931.

Between October 9, 1931, and March 17, 1935, the history of KWCR is muddled and murky. What makes it that way are some records which make it appear that the station was moved to Clarinda, but contemporary reports from the Des Moines Register seem to contradict that. More research is underway in an attempt to clarify how KWCR was moved from Cedar Rapids to Des Moines and the 1430 frequency assigned to KSO.

 

Studio picture from the Library of American Broadcasting. Visit their excellent site for more history.
1936 picture of KRNT/KSO North Field site from Bob Cannon (his father helped build it).
Current picture of North Field transmitter building picture from Polk County Assessor.
1940's picture of SE Park transmitter building and aerial picture Courtesy of Saga Communications, current owner of KRNT.
Old KSO ad courtesy of Steve Brown Iowa Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame.

 

KRNT main page
DesMoinesBroadcasting.com home page