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St. Louis' Jinxed Frequency

If anyone ever compiled a list of troubled radio frequencies, 1380 kHz in St. Louis would probably be in the nation’s top 10.
The first broadcast license for what was to become 1380 was issued April 3, 1925, for the call letters KFVE. Lester Arthur “Eddie” Benson, who was also responsible for building the transmitters at KSD and WIL, built this station’s original experimental transmitter. Benson and his brother C.A. Benson operated KFVE for two years before selling the station to Thomas Patrick Convey, who had been the general manager of KMOX. He changed the call letters to KWK and moved the studios from University City to the Chase Hotel.
There were technical problems for all stations in radio’s early days. They were forced to share frequencies, which meant fights among KFVE, KFQA and WMAY over who would be on the air on their shared frequency at what time. The Federal Radio Commission then assigned KWK to 1350 kHz in 1928, which meant it would share the frequency with WIL. WIL was soon moved to 1200 kHz, but WIL’s owners sued the commission seeking a reversal. The legal action dragged out six years before the radio commission ruled in favor of KWK.
An article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in November 1928, reported that the frequency change resulted in poorer reception of all stations moved down the dial.
Owner Convey didn’t live to savor the victory. He died in 1934, a week after his appendix burst, and his son Robert took over operations of KWK. In 1941 there was another national frequency switch and KWK ended up at 1380. Management wanted a different frequency (680) and more power, but their request died when a freeze was placed on all such actions during World War II.
The station saw a couple of subsequent quiet decades, with an ownership change in 1958. The new owner, Andrew Spheeris’ Milwaukee Broadcasting Company, paid Robert Convey more than $1 million, with Convey maintaining a 26% ownership share. It was under Spheeris’ ownership that KWK lost its license in 1966. The problems began in 1960 when some of the station’s listeners complained to the Federal Communications Commission that KWK had conducted bogus treasure hunt promotions.
KWK’s general manager, William L. Jones, Jr., was spotlighted in the ensuing hearings. An employee testified that Jones ordered him to hide the contest prizes only a few hours before the prizes were found by listeners. He also said Jones told him to lie in the hearings. Jones testified that he had talked with Spheeris about problems if the prize were found early in the contest and “I know we decided to hide it later in the hunt.”
The hearing examiner decided not to revoke KWK’s license, but that decision was overruled by the full F.C.C. KWK appealed, but the Supreme Court upheld the commission and the station’s frequency was awarded on an interim basis to Radio 1380, Inc. The license was issued to Vic-Way Broadcasting in 1969 and the station went dark early in 1973. Efforts to get the station back on the air ended when the owner was placed in receivership.
It took a broadcasting conglomerate the size of Doubleday Broadcasting to get KWK back on the air several years later. In November 1978, KWK was reborn, but many AM stations in the market were having problems with survival by then. It was assumed Doubleday would go after an FM frequency to help support their AM at the right-hand side of the dial. That happened when the company acquired WGNU-FM. In the next 25 years the ownership of KWK went to Robinson Broadcasting, Chase Broadcasting, Zimco, Inc., Emmis Broadcasting and the Northside Seventh Day Adventist Church. Call letters evolved from KWK-AM to KGLD, KASP, WKBQ-AM, KRAM, WKBQ-AM (again), WKKX-AM, KKWK, KZJZ and KSLG.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 9/1998)