World Radio Day (2/13): Making (radio) waves in Crawford County at KKOW

Originally posted February 12, 2017 to celebrate World Radio Day on February 13

Today a local favorite among country listeners, the Pittsburg-based KKOW radio boasts an interesting beginning, a storied history of on-air personalities, and a bright future within a familiar community. To celebrate World Radio Day, let’s take a look at how KKOW grew to become an active member of the local community.

As radio began to expand across the nation in the 1920s and 30s, Crawford County initially relied on stations in Kansas City, Springfield, Missouri, and Tulsa, Oklahoma. In response, the Federal Communications Commission awarded Pittsburg a radio frequency in the late 1930s.

As with all new stations, interested parties competed to gain ownership over the license. The fight over the new Pittsburg station staged the Joplin (Missouri) Broadcasting Company against the Pittsburg Publishing Company, which published the predecessor of today’s Morning Sun.

Also fighting for the license was local businessman E.V. Baxter, owner of the Baxter Lumber Company and founder of the Pittsburg Broadcasting Company. Baxter and his son won the license, and began a 1,000 watt, daytime only station on the 790 AM frequency.

The original radio station was an NBC affiliate, and broadcasted under the callsign KOAM. In 1981, the station was sold to AMI, and changed its callsign to the now familiar KKOW. In its peak during the 1980s KKOW functioned as a Top 40 country station, similar to the classic and contemporary country mix the station currently plays.

From its beginning, the station was known for its on-air talent. Chief among the many personalities was Dan Willis. For 40 years starting in 1964, “Ol Dan” greeted Four-State listeners on KKOW’s morning show. Long-time radio host Dalton Windsor grew up listening to Dan, and felt his influence on the local community: “Before today’s Information age, radio was king. For many of us, Dan Willis held the scepter. Be it a school closing for bad weather or to see who’s birthday it was, Dan used radio to touch and influence a generation – including me!”

Dan’s work at the station included far more than the morning show. In addition, Dan was found at many live broadcasts across the area. Away from the studio, local listeners often showed up to meet the man behind the familiar voice: “His remote broadcasts are the things of legend with literally thousands of people showing up to see and talk to the man who embodied the Four-States,” KKOW posted through Facebook when Dan passed away from illness in 2005.

The radio station has continued to thrive in the Pittsburg area, making ties with many community organizations. KKOW’s 860 AM station is the flagship station for the PSU gorillas, broadcasting Gorilla basketball and football games. The station also holds radio auctions, drawings for tickets to local concerts, and promotes other community events on-air and through their Facebook page.