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False Start in Development of St. Louis FM

FM radio in St. Louis got off to a false start, just as it did in much of the country. When World War II ended, the federal government opened up the FM spectrum and many AM station owners applied for frequencies to simulcast their AM programming.

In St. Louis during the 1940s, KWK-FM, KFUO-FM, KXLW-FM, WIL-FM, KSLH-FM, KSD-FM, KXOK-FM and WEW-FM all went on the air. WTMV-FM was also broadcasting in the market from East St. Louis. It was a time for experimenting. Two of the stations - KFUO-FM and KSLH-FM - were non-commercial. The others ran into problems as the decade wound down.

WEW-FM pulled its plug as 1950 arrived, with a spokesman saying the new medium had not been accepted by the public. KSD-FM ceased operation in November of 1949 because of what was called a “business decision.” WIL-FM shut down the same month for what owner Lester Benson called “obvious reasons.” KWK-FM owner Robert T. Convey said, “Public acceptance of the medium has not been widespread” when he shut down in April of 1950. In short, there wasn’t any money in FM broadcasting in the 1940s and early 1950s.

Initially it appeared KXOK-FM could survive because of the streetcars. In St. Louis, the radio station owned by the St. Louis Star-Times was heard by people who rode on the streetcar lines as part of an experiment that was being carried out around the country. But even the so-called “transit radio” concept wasn’t enough to save the radio station, and it ceased operations in 1953.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that FM radio in St. Louis began its rise to market dominance, and the road was a slow one, even for the more successful stations.

(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 7/98)