by Alex Cosper
see also American Radio History
The earliest commercial radio stations in the Dallas-Forth Worth area sprung up in the early twenties. Over the next few decades the radio industry flourished through national networks and the sound of big bands. By the forties the AM dial included WBAP, WDAO, WFAA, WPA and WRR. In the fifties, television and the rise of rock and roll forced radio to evolve from block programming to serving specific audiences.
Dallas was the place where much of the concept of top 40 radio was crafted following the success of a Todd Storz station in Omaha, Nebraska. It was Storz who introduced the idea of playing the most popular songs over and over again to radio. According to Steve Eberhart's website www.HistoryofKLIF.com, a Storz associate named Bill Stewart brought ideas to the station and did a show on KLIF. The station successfully brought rock and roll music to Dallas in the mid-fifties.
Gordon McLendon and his father actually put KLIF (1190 AM) on the air in 1947. On day one the station aired a live sportscast of a football game between the Chicago Cardinals and the Detroit Lions. The format was a mix of typical radio programming of the day, which included soap operas, sitcoms, drama, news and sports. The station name came from serving the town of Oak Cliff. Originally it was "KLIF the Parrot" featuring an actual parrot trained to say the call letters. An early KLIF employee while in high school was Wes Wise, who went on to become mayor of Dallas in the seventies.
McLendon began shifting the format from block programming to top 40 gradually from 1952 to 1954. KLIF jocks of the fifties included Kenny Sargent, Bruce Hayes, Gene Edwards and Don Keyes. The air personalities still had control of music selection then as long as it came from the Program Director's playlist based on local sales and the national charts. By June 1954, KLIF was number one in Dallas. It became the usual market leader from the fifties through the seventies. McLendon went on to own and program other stations around the country. His formula for success involved putting programming as a priority ahead of administration, sales and engineering.
KLIF faced competition beginning in 1958 when Balaban Broadcasting purchased KGKO (1480 AM) from Lakewood Broadcasters for a little less than half a million dollars. Before becoming head of Paramount Pictures, Barney Balaban changed the call letters to KBOX, named after his company's President John Box. Box took the station top 40, which by that point leaned toward teen music, characterized by the emerging sound of rock and roll and the growing popularity of rhythm and blues. Early KBOX jocks included Big Dan Ingram, Jerry Clemmons, Pat Hughes, Johnny Borders, Roger Barkley and Chuck Benson.
KBOX, calling itself "The Dallas Tiger," rose from bottom of the market to solid challenger for top station KLIF. By 1960 it had become a tighter race, although KLIF still led the market. KLIF assumed a wider lead after it began hiring KBOX air talent including Chuck Dunaway and Ken Dowe. McLendon eventually named Dowe his National Program Director. Although KBOX began to slide in the ratings in the early sixties, the station rebounded in 1965 as "Jolly Green Giant" Frank Jolle took over the night show, up against Jimmy Rabbitt at KLIF. Jolle's show rose to the top at night after Jimmy Rabbitt moved to afternoons. Jolle was also the Music Director of KBOX under the programming of Bill Ward. Jolle later resurfaced on KVIL. Ward went on to become President of Metromedia's radio division and then President of the Gene Autry-owned radio chain, Golden West Broadcasters.
The first news reports that President Kennedy had been shot on November 22, 1963, came from KBOX reporter Ron Jenkins. KBOX was the only station in town broadcasting live coverage of the motorcade, with Jenkins on the scene. Jenkins later gave witness testimony to the Warren Commission.
After John Box left the company, Balaban sold KBOX to Group One Broadcasting in 1967. The new management flipped the format to country in early 1967, keeping the KBOX call letters. The thinking was that the only other country station in Dallas at the time was KPCN, which only operated during daytime hours. In its first Arbitron ratings book as a country station, KBOX advanced to top three and remained near the top for the next six years, although the peak of its ratings success was in the Fall of 1967.
Another country station came on the scene in May 1970, which was WBAP (820 AM). The station previously had a programming agreement with WFAA doing news. But WBAP now was completely country and had a much stronger signal, 50,000 watts, than the 5000 watt KBOX, which began to fade from the competition in 1973, when Arbitron began combining Dallas and Fort Worth as one market. Since the KBOX signal only covered Dallas and not Fort Worth, WBAP became the country leader in the Dallas-Fort Worth market. Yet another rival arrived when Susquehanna flipped KPLX to country in 1980. Two years later KBOX AM, completely beaten by competitors, took on sister 100.3 FM call letters KMEZ and also inherited the FM's "beautiful music" format.
FM replaced AM as the desired band for music by the early eighties. Following the migration of music stations to FM, KLIF inevitably became a talk station. The leading stations in the market by the end of the eighties were adult contemporary combo KVIL (1150 AM and 103.7 FM), country station KPLX (99.5 FM), competing country station KSCS (96.3 FM) and urban contemporary leader KKDA (104.5 FM). Other stations that appeared regularly high in the ratings included top 40 rivals KEGL (97.1 FM) and KHYI (94.9 FM), news leader KRLD (1080 AM) and rock station KTXQ (102.1 FM). KEGL "The Eagle," remained rock until 2004 and then flipped to adult contemporary under Clear Channel.
One of the first successful alternative stations in the country (besides KROQ in Los Angeles and 91X in San Diego) was KDGE, known as The Edge. The station had been top 40 until a general national decline of the format in 1989, when it took a chance at flipping to alternative. An early programmer of The Edge was Joel Folger, who went on to become a national radio consultant for alternative stations.
Throughout the nineties and early 2000s KHKS (106.1 FM, "Kiss") was the market leader, playing the latest hits, under the programming of Mr. Ed Lambert. The station was number one (12+) for years when it was owned by Chancellor, who also owned KDGE ("The Edge"). Urban station KKDA, owned by Service Broadcasting, rose to number one in the market in the mid-to-late nineties.
With the Telecom Act of 1996 came immediate changes in the radio ownership arena. Companies began a merger frenzy and stations changed hands frequently. Chancellor became AMFM, the biggest radio chain at the end of the nineties. In 2000, AMFM was absorbed by Clear Channel in a merger that created the world's biggest radio empire.
In the mid-2000s, Dallas is now the fifth biggest radio market in the country. Top stations of the mid-2000s include Univision's Regional Mexican stations KESS-FM and KLNO, Service's urban mainstay KKDA, Susquehanna's KPLX, which remains the country format leader in the market and Clear Channel's KHKS (Kiss, contemporary hits). Clear Channel owns KHKS, KDGE, KZPS, KDMX and KEGL while Infinity owns KLUV (oldies), KJKK (adult hits), KOAI (Smooth Jazz), KLLI (talk) and KVIL (adult contemporary). On the AM dial WBAP-AM, owned by ABC, is the leader with news/talk.
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