THE HISTORY KOMA
KOMA was born on Christmas Eve, 1922 in Oklahoma City. The southwestern giant was then only fifteen watts of power under the original call letters, KFJF. Dudley Shaw, an energetic business man and an excellent engineer, was KFJF’s creator. During this time, the principal function of KFJF was to rebroadcast the programming of larger eastern stations.
By late 1924, there were an estimated 200,000 radio sets in use in Oklahoma. During this period, KFJF increased it’s power to 125 watts – reaching as far away as New Jersey, and claimed to have over 100,000 listeners! This was also a time when listeners began to complain about radio stations interfering with each other. In the spring of 1925, Dudley Shaw decided to reduce KFJF’s interference problem by moving the transmitter from the Security Building in downtown Oklahoma City, to an outlying area of Oklahoma City. At the same time, the studios were moved to the fourth floor of the Kerr Building in downtown Oklahoma City.
KFJF was originating some of it’s own programming by this time and original ideas for better broadcasting were of paramount importance. While hundreds of KFJF listeners were visiting the new studios to “see” radio in action, Dudley Shaw was urging President Calvin Coolidge to federally regulate radio. Shaw, backed by other prominent broadcasters, helped motivate the government to form the Federal Radio Commission. The FRC was the forerunner of what we now know as the Federal Communications Commission, and began functioning on March 1, 1927.
As a result of commission action, KFJF retained it’s power as a full-time broadcast station with a frequency of 1480 kilocycles. In the summer of 1927, KFJF began moving it’s transmitter to a site twelve miles east of the Oklahoma City limits. At the same time, the FRC granted Dudley Shaw a permit to raise KFJF’s power to a “fantastic” 5,000 watts. The total cost of the new facility was $120,000 and was completed in August of 1928. Two 120 foot towers beamed KFJF’s signal a minimum of 900 miles at night.
Not all of the early innovation of KFJF was confined to the technical aspects of broadcasting. As early as 1924, KFJF was broadcasting “live” business and market reports from the First National Bank of Oklahoma City via telephone lines. And then there was music! The broadcast of phonograph records was tested by KFJF in 1925, and listeners were asked to write the station with their opinions. KFJF management was skeptical of this type of programming. Concerning phonograph records, Dudley Shaw said, “The firm has about decided to discontinue them, but is leaving the matter in the hands of it’s hearers”. The use of records was terminated (temporarily) by 1926.
On January 8,1929, KFJF began its long affiliation with the Columbia Broadcasting System. CBS then consisted of 45 radio stations. Radio was beginning to come of age. In 1932, Dudley Shaw retired and so did the call letters KFJF. During this same year, Neal Barret became General Manager of KFJF and changed the call letters to the now internationally known KOMA. The studios were also moved at this time, filling the twenty-fourth floor of the Oklahoma City Biltmore Hotel (an area they would occupy of over thirty years). KOMA then took on its familiar frequency when the Federal Communications Commission moved all AM radio stations 40 kilocycles up the dial. KOMA-1480 became KOMA-1520, and was operating at 50,000 watts. It was at this time that Hearst Radio, Inc. bought KOMA and operated the station until the FCC authorized its sale to an Oklahoman, J.T. Griffin in 1939.
KOMA was relying on CBS for most of its programming during the 1930’s and 40’s, with the exception of local news. The network provided over 90% of KOMA’s programming. This did not, however, halt the innovation of KOMA. KOMA was the most advanced news station in Oklahoma, devising the first (and for some time, the only) direct teletype wire service with the United Press. This provided instant coverage of local and state news. In addition, the finest National and International news came to KOMA listeners from CBS through World War II, and into the 1950’s.
In 1945 KOMA began complete sports coverage of Oklahoma A & M college (later to be Oklahoma State University), and the “Big Red” of the University of Oklahoma. The sports department was organized by one man. He came to KOMA from a Cheyenne, Wyoming daily newspaper. Through his broadcasts on KOMA, he became “probably the best play-by-play announcer ever in radio or television”. You may know his name – Curt Gowdy. Then in 1952, J.T. Griffin applied for an FCC permit to construct a television station to operate Channel 9, allocated to Oklahoma City (the station is now KWTV-9, a CBS affiliate). The TV station went on the air, and was operated in conjunction with KOMA Radio from 1953 to 1956, when KOMA was sold to a group of eastern businessmen.
During the 1950’s, television was forcing radio into a period of change. The old radio shows were quickly fading into the past. Something called “Top 40” with “Rock ‘N Roll” music was the latest trend in radio. Changing with the times was KOMA. On May 1,1958, KOMA ended its long affiliation with CBS. The station affiliated for a brief period with NBC, but station management decided KOMA would be more effective as an independent. KOMA began the first mobile news coverage by a radio station in Oklahoma City in 1958, and also became a true “Rock” radio station during this time when it was purchased by the Storz Broadcasting Company. It is interesting to note some important points about Storz Broadcasting, the “top 40” concept of radio, and the format system employed by most successful radio stations was developed by Todd Storz and Gordon McClendon who owned stations all over America including KLIF in Dallas and KILT in Houston.. Todd Storz became the President of Storz Broadcasting Company until his death in 1964. His innovative spirit and feeling for the public was carried on by corporation president, Robert B. Storz. The Storz chain of stations consisted of KOMA, Oklahoma City, WHB, Kansas City, WTIX, New Orleans, WDGY, Minneapolis, KXOK, St. Louis, and WQAM, Miami. All of these radio facilities served their communities with the finest in contemporary broadcasting.
In 1961, the KOMA studios and transmitter were permanently combined at one site on the south side of Oklahoma City. KOMA then became a pioneer totally automated station for a period of three years. In 1964, it was determined that KOMA could better serve the public by returning to “live” programming. Automation proved to be too sterile and impersonal, so “personality” was returned to KOMA.
Throughout the 60’s and 70’s, KOMA was the favorite of teens all across the western US. With the big 50,000-watt signal and the relatively few rock-n-roll radio stations across the plains, KOMA was the main station for the hits. KOMA (along with handful of other legendary stations including 890 WLS, Chicago; 1090 KAAY, Little Rock; 1060 WNOE, New Orleans; 770 WABC, New York; 800 CKLW, Windsor/Detroit; and 1100 WKYC, Cleveland) could be heard on car radios, in homes, and everywhere a kid could tune in. Often teens in New Mexico, Arizona, Wyoming, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, and other western states would eagerly await sunset when the mighty 1520 would come booming through with the newest hits of the day. They would sit in their cars on hilltops, turn it up at parties, or fall asleep with the radio next to their beds as they listened to Chuck Berry, the Supremes, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the Beatles. Soldiers in Viet Nam even reported tuning in KOMA to give them a little feeling of being back home.
Led through the 60’s by Program Directors Dean Johnson, Dale Wehba, and Perry Murphy, some of the best-remembered DJ’s spun the hits each day and night. Charlie Tuna, Dale Wehba, Don McGregor, Paul Miller, John David, Chuck Dann, J. Michael Wilson, Johnny Dark, Buddy Scott, John Ravencroft, and many others were among those who played the hits from the studios in Moore, Oklahoma. And everyone remembers “Yours Truly KOMA” and the “kissing tone.” This was definitely an era where radio was fun. It was more than just the music. It was a magical blend of personality, jingles, contests, and fun mixed with the greatest music that defined the era and continues to live today.
These were considered by many to be the best years of radio. And for baby boomers across the western US, KOMA was king.
On September 12,1980 at 8pm, General Manager Woody Woodard introduced a recorded montage of the top hit records of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, a signal that a new era was about to begin. At approximately five minutes past 3pm, Gregg Lindahl played John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”, and “KOMA Country” was born. The reaction was incredible, a rock ‘n roll legend shook the radio industry in Oklahoma City and another chapter in the long proud history of KOMA had begun.
On July 1,1984, Price Communications, Inc. purchased KOMA from the Storz Family. Based in New York, they kept the Country Format until September of 1985 when it was determined that FM competition for the country audience was too much to overcome. General Manager Jack Sabella changed the format to Beautiful Music with the slogan “Forty Years of Favorites”.
Diamond Broadcasting, Inc. out of Chicago, purchased KOMA AM along with KRXO FM on September 1,1988 and under the direction of Program Director Kent Jones, KOMA returned to the “Glory Days” of the 1960’s with the Oldies Format on September 22,1988. In September 1991, KOMA along with KRXO, became the flagship stations for the University of Oklahoma Football Broadcasts and KOMA added Oklahoma State University in 1994 to the sports line-up.
Innovation has always been a part of KOMA, and KOMA entered into Oklahoma City’s first LMA (Local Marketing Agreement) with Wilks Schwartz Broadcasting, owners of KKNG FM on June 22,1992 and began simulcasting KOMA on KOMA FM, 92.5. The LMA was done prior to the change in FCC regulations which allowed a broadcaster the option of owning more than one AM or one FM station in a market. The big signal of AM 1520, along with the superior fidelity of a Class C FM, provided a position of strength that has made KOMA a consistent leader of Oldies stations in the nation. A few years later, Diamond purchased the FM station from Wilks Schwartz.
In May of 1998, it was announced that KOMA AM/FM was to be purchased by Renda Broadcasting Corporation. based in Pittsburgh, PA, Renda’s radio properties expanded to 17 stations including four in Oklahoma City. New state-of-the-art digital studios were constructed in the building which houses new sister station KMGL at 400 E. Britton Rd in Oklahoma City. At 3pm on November 9th, 1998, KOMA AM/FM began broadcasting from the new location. The building on SW 4th St. in Moore, OK became vacant after 37 years of broadcasting from that location. KOMA-AM’s three towers and transmitter remain active there.
As the Internet grew and people began to use it for information, commerce, and entertainment, the demand for KOMA to be available on the Internet also grew. In October, 1999, KOMA added another dimension to its broadcast by streaming audio over the net so oldies fans around the world could listen live on their computers. No longer was it necessary for distant listeners to wait until sunset to tune in. Now, KOMA-FM was available 24 hours a day all over the world. Even DX listeners in other countries who often write with reports of scratchy moments of reception of KOMA-AM in Sweden, Australia, Finland, and many others could instantly confirm their reception during simulcast periods by visiting www.komaradio.com on their computers.
As audio streaming and file swapping became more popular on the Internet throughout 2000, the recording industry and actors union became increasingly concerned about the free distribution of their works online. Thus, in late 2000, the RIAA imposed royalty fees on radio stations and other Internet broadcasters retroactive to October, 1998. In early 2001, AFTRA followed suit. This caused thousands of stations, including KOMA, to discontinue their online broadcasts until regulations and fee structures could be defined. But the strong signals of KOMA AM and FM continued unabated over the airwaves.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01, and in light of the impending war with Iraq, the need for credible radio news in Oklahoma City was evident. Just after Christmas, 2002, plans were formulated to discontinue the simulcast of KOMA-AM and FM and switch KOMA-AM to a News-Talk format. A planned debut date of February 3rd, 2003 was suddenly advanced when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on re-entry. Thus, the morning of February 1st, 2003, “News-Talk 1520 KOMA” was unveiled providing 24-hour news coverage with Oklahoma City’s largest radio news team. Meanwhile, the Oldies format continued on “92.5 KOMA-FM” enhanced by the availability of live news updates and bulletins.
In April, 2004, KOMA-FM hosted the first “KOMA Fan Jam.” Many former KOMA DJ’s returned for the event and the weekend programming was full of memorable recordings of KOMA’s broadcasts from the 60’s, serving as a tribute to the KOMA staff and listeners who made the AM station such a legend. The Fan Jam event drew a capacity crowd of over 1000 KOMA fans to the Westin Hotel in Downtown OKC who got a chance to meet their favorite 60’s DJs and dance to the oldies performed by Squatty and the Bot-tys.
With News-Talk gaining strength on KOMA-AM, the need was clear to fully distinguish the station from its Oldies format sister, KOMA-FM. On August 27, 2004, KOMA 1520 changed its call letters to KOKC In turn, “KOMA-FM” officially changed it’s call letters to simply “KOMA” on September 3, 2004, claiming the name that was always its heritage. Thus, after more than 12 years of airing on both AM and FM, the legendary call letters of “KOMA” and the programming history they represent officially completed the transition from AM to FM.
In late 2012 Tyler Media of Oklahoma City, founded by KOMA personality Ralph Tyler in 1965, purchased KOMA and the Renda group of stations in OKC. In 2014, KOMA began broadcasting in HD (while still broadcasting an analog signal on 92.5 FM) and added two other programs on the HD-2 and HD-3 channels.
On March 25, 2015, an F1 tornado skipped through Moore, Oklahoma, touching down randomly and often, destroying the legendary KOMA-AM towers that had stood since their construction in 1946 (KOMA began using these towers in 1947). Many other tornadoes had come close to the iconic three-tower array before, but this one was its undoing. The east and west towers collapsed to the ground while the center tower remained standing, but the top 1/3 was knocked over and left hanging from the top of the remaining 200 feet. Engineers quickly moved the signal (now KOKC) to another tower at 1560 AM for 2 days until the damaged tower was deemed usable at a reduced power of 10,000 watts until reconstruction could take place. KOMA FM 92.5 was not affected since its antenna is located in north Oklahoma City.
And the beat goes on…