In 1955, downtown St. Louis was teeming with activity, and the Arcade Building was filled with business tenants, including a new one that began operating on January 3 of that year. St. Louis Broadcasting signed on with KATZ on that date, and its studios and offices were on the southwest corner of the second floor. At least one first-hand account notes that the frequency, 1600 kHz, was obtained after it was relinquished by the St. Louis Police Department.
Station manager William Garrett moved to St. Louis from Cape Girardeau, where he had worked in the radio business for the previous 11 years. He reported to Bernice Schwartz, the owner of St. Louis Broadcasting Co. She lived in Chicago.
There was little fanfare in the mainstream press when KATZ went on the air. Daily newspapers printed versions of the official press release: “Aimed at Negro listeners, KATZ will employ Negroes as announcers and as entertainers.” Sales manager Robert Hetherington, who came over from WIL , was quoted as saying the station would specialize in “spirituals, rhythm and the blues.”
By all accounts, Mrs. Schwartz’s operation was a minor success. She sold KATZ two years later for $110,000. The buyer was a national chain, Rollins Broadcasting, based in Wilmington, Delaware. Wayne Rollins’ company specialized in broadcast properties aimed at the Black community. It was at this time that the KATZ Educational Assistance Fund was established. Made up of educators and social workers from the Black community, the fund raised money and allocated grants to grade and high school students. Subsequent owner Laclede Radio, Inc., continued the effort.
That ownership transfer came in 1960. Just three years after it had bought KATZ, Rollins sold the station for $600,000. During its short ownership, Rollins had increased the station’s power from 1,000 watts to 5,000 watts.
Laclede held the station until 1986, and the years were rocky. The Arcade Building fell into severe disrepair, forcing the owners to relocate to the Missouri State Bank Building. Lawsuits were traded with other Black-formatted stations in St. Louis over charges of misleading listeners. The local Black Nationalist Movement set up pickets charging all the stations with “directly exploiting black people.” The group demanded three hours of airtime a week devoted to black nationalism programs free from white censorship.
In 1986, Inter Urban Broadcasting of St. Louis purchased KATZ and its sister FM station, finally bringing them under the ownership umbrella of a local minority-owned company. The stations were purchased by San Diego-based Noble Broadcasting in 1992 and then by Jacor Communications, Inc. in October of 1998. Clear Channel Communications bought out Jacor in 1999.
(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 05/99)