KFBK Celebrates 100th Anniversary
by Alex Cosper (10/22/22)

Sacramento news/talk station KFBK (1530 AM and 93.1 FM) celebrated its 100th anniversary as a commercial radio station on Friday, October 21, 2022. Some of the alumni attendees included syndicated host Tom Sullivan, Dave Williams, who did mornings throughout the eighties and nineties, Kitty O'Neal, Laura Ingle, Matias Bombal, Paul Robins, Lori Sacco, Monica Lowe, Steve Garland, Joyce Krieg, Tony Cox, Jennifer Steele and Kat Maudru. In 2022 KFBK remains the top station in town, according to Nielsen ratings.

KFBK's Current On-Air Schedule:

4:00AM - 5:OOAM - This Morning with Gordon Deal (syndicated)
5:00AM - 9:00AM - KFBK Morning News with Sam Shane and Cristina Mendonsa
9:00AM - 12NOON - The Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show (syndicated conservative talk show)
12NOON - 3:00PM - The Tom Sullivan Show (syndicated)
3:00PM - 4:00PM - John McGinness
4:00PM - 7:00PM - The Afternoon News with Kitty O'Neal
7:00PM - 10:00PM - The Pat Walsh Show (syndicated)
10:00PM - 4:00AM - Coast To Coast AM with George Noory (syndicated)

KFBK was first granted a radio license by the U.S. Commerce Department in August 16, 1922, exactly around the time many other major cities got their first radio stations. Its first owner was the Kimball-Upson Company, which had a relationship with both newspapers The Sacramento Bee and The Sacramento Union. Kimball-Upson was an electronics store on K Street that sold radio sets.

The store included private listening rooms on the second floor to hear its shows, since many people still didn't have their own radio sets yet. The store positioned itself as a center for radio experts who advised customers on quality radio parts to buy. Early billing of KFBK's broadcasts on posters stated the station was jointly operated by Kimball-Upson and The Sacramento Union. The station's first shows featured live music concerts.

The first station in Sacramento to sign on the air was KVQ on September 17, 1922, before KFBK signed on the air November 1, 1922. At the time the federal government considered KFBK and KVQ to be separate stations, even though they shared the same frequency. Seven stations shared the frequency, then at 833 kHz, the only dial position available in the market at that time. The different radio operators entered time-sharing agreements with each other. This arrangement was made in radio markets across America that started with just one frequency.

In a way the first radio stations were more like different radio programs on the same platform until shows evolved into 24-hour stations on their own frequencies. KFKB had the 6:00-6:30 pm time slot daily except Sundays. In May 1923 the U.S. Commerce Department allocated more frequencies to Sacramento, as KFBK took the 1060 AM frequency. Five years later KFBK moved to 1310 AM. Throughout the twenties radio stations typically didn't run commercials, as their purpose was seen as a promotional tool for businesses such as newspapers and different types of retail stores.

After The Sacramento Union ended its relationship with KFBK in 1925, The Sacramento Bee entered broadcasting again to take advantage of the opportunity. The newspaper's owner, James McClatchy Company, made a deal with Kimball-Upson to take a half ownership stake in the station's equipment and good will. The publisher agreed to pay for the station's operating expenses and maintenance in return for gaining control of all on-air sales. This arrangement was announced on the air September 5, 1925. Then in 1929 ownership of the station officially changed hands from Kimball-Upson to McClatchy.

Stations became even more structured for consistent operations with FDR's New Deal in 1933, which led to the formation of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the following year. Another big change for KFBK was it increased its power from 100 watts to 5,000 watts in 1936, as the frequency moved from 1310 to 1490 AM. The following year the station was allowed to increase power to 10,000 watts. In March 1941 the FCC reorganized radio dials across America as KFBK moved again, this time landing at 1530 AM. Yet another major change occurred on October 2, 1948 when it boosted power to 50,000 watts.

With the power boost and the new dial position on a "clear channel" frequency, KFBK could actually be heard across much of the United States. The closest station sharing its frequency was WCKY in Cincinnati. According to a 1959 Pulse Survey, KFBK was Sacramento's top station 94 percent of the time from 6am to midnight.

Early FM stations began to surface in the 1940s and 1950s, but it wasn't until the 1960s that Sacramento had several FM stations. AM was the dominant band from the 1920s through the end of the 1970s. In the late fifties, the station began a long relationship with the San Francisco Giants, airing baseball games. Beginning January 4, 1960, KFBK became a affiliate of CBS Radio Network, which included reports from legendary news journalist Edward R. Murrow.

Starting in the early 1980s, many music stations migrated to FM, leaving AM for news/talk, sports, other talk formats and not many music formats other than oldies and country. KFBK was the main news/talk station in Sacramento from the mid-eighties on. For many years KCRA TV's sister radio station, KCRA-AM (1230 AM), was a major player in the market for radio news mixed with middle-of-the-road (MOR) music. The call letters changed to KGNR for awhile and it continued the news/talk format minus music until the mid-eighties, when the format shifted to oldies.

One of the triggers that led to KFBK's long-term market dominance was when the station's program director Dave Williams hired Rush Limbaugh to replace Morton Downey, Jr., who was fired in 1984 prior to becoming a syndicated controversial TV host later in the decade. Limbaugh himself had just been fired from KMBZ AM in Kansas City. His radio career started at age 16 at KGMO in Cape Girardeau, about 120 miles southeast of St. Louis. The station was co-owned by his father Rush. Limbaugh came from a prominent political family in Missouri.

Within a year of taking the job at KFBK, Rush Limbaugh had the top radio talk show in Sacramento. Then in 1988 he moved on to a nationally-syndicated deal with ABC Radio, starting a trend of AM radio being populated with politically-conservative hosts. Limbaugh died in 2021 after developing advanced lung cancer. In 2022 KFBK airs "The Best of Rush Limbaugh" Saturday nights from 7 to 10 pm.

Tom Sullivan hosted a show for many years locally at KFBK before also becoming a nationally-syndicated talk radio host. After working in Seattle as a highway patrolman and accountant, he joined KFBK and KCRA TV as a financial editor from 1980 through 2007. He then left Sacramento to host a nationally-syndicated show on the Fox Business Network. The show currently airs on KFBK from 9am-12 noon.

Kitty O'Neal joined the station in 1985, breaking gender barriers as one of the first, if not the first female afternoon radio host in Sacramento. She had already made a name for herself playing in a local cover band. At KFBK she started as Rush Limbaugh's show producer. Since becoming the afternoon host she's met presidents, governors, film stars and other celebrities. She celebrated her 25th anniversary with the station in 2010 by giving to her favorite charities.

Another long-term personality on the station was Amy Lewis, who was a morning co-host until August 2018 when she replaced by the team of two local TV anchors. Cristina Mendonsa was a long-time TV anchor for KXTV Channel 10 and Sam Shane, who had served as anchor for KOVR TV Channel 13.

McClatchy Broadcasting owned the station from 1929 through 1978, when it was forced to sell KFBK to Westinghouse due to tighter media ownership rules. From 1964 through 1978 McClatchy also owned KOVR TV Channel 13, leading into a period in which a newspaper could only own so many TV or radio stations based on FCC restrictions. Under Westinghouse ownership, KFBK's national network news affiliation switched from ABC to CBS. Ownership restrictions eventually loosened up with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, allowing owners to hold multiple media properties in a market. In May 1997 ownership changed hands again, this time to Chancellor Media. In the next few years during the radio consolidation period, KFBK and sister station KGBY (Y92) was owned by AMFM then Clear Channel.

Today KFBK is owned by iHeartMedia, formerly known as Clear Channel. One of iHeartMedia's significant changes to its cluster of stations was on December 1, 2011 when adult contemporary station KGBY became a simulcast of KFBK at 93.1 FM. Clear Channel changed its name to iHeartMedia following bankruptcy and reorganization in 2014.

The history of KFBK parallels the broader history of the U.S. radio in many respects. You can review KFBK's history from any decade since the roaring twenties and get a sense of national radio history. During its first one hundred years, the station has earned many national radio awards for its news coverage. It remains a memorable and popular radio station in Sacramento. There's a good argument that it has reached a larger audience in the region than any other station in the city's history. For a deeper look at national radio history, read "A Century of Radio"

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