WHB (810 AM, "Sports Radio 810 WHB") is a commercial sports radio station in Kansas City, Missouri, and is known as the first full-time Top 40 station in the country. While its five directional towers are located along Interstate 435 in the Northland, its studios are located in the suburb of Overland Park, Kansas, also the headquarters of its owner, Union Broadcasting.
Early broadcasting years (1922-1954)
Established by Sam Adair and John T. Schilling, WHB debuted on April 10, 1922 at the frequency 833 kHz, and remains Kansas City's second oldest radio station. WHB formally gained its license on May 10. Originally owned by Sweeney Automobile School, Cook Paint and Varnish Company purchased the station in 1930. The station jumped between 730 kHz and 850 kHz (860 khz in 1938) before 1946, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authorized the station to broadcast at its desired position at 710 kHz.
The station published a quarterly magazine called Swing, keeping readers up to date with the Kansas City music scene, which had waned in the wake of the Pendergast Machine's downfall and World War II.
Todd Storz and "SEVENTY-ONEderful" (1954-1985)
Omaha entrepreneur Todd Storz and his Mid-Continent Broadcasting Company purchased WHB from Cook on June 10, 1954. Upon the sale, WHB-TV was absorbed by KMBC-TV, which Cook purchased the month before.
Building on his successful attempts at increasing listenership at KOWH in Omaha (now KCRO) and WTIX-AM in New Orleans, Storz discontinued WHB's network affiliation programming and introduced a Top 40 format. WHB became the first station in the country to have a 24-hour daily Top 40 format, and it became an instant hit in Kansas City, becoming the most popular station by the end of the year. With 10,000 watts in the daytime, WHB became one of the most powerful Top-40 stations in the country, attracting programming directors and station owners from across the country to observe Storz's operations. One observer was Gordon McLendon, who went back to Dallas and introduced his version of Top-40 radio at KLIF. Another person, Rick Sklar, also heard WHB and adapted elements of its format to build Top-40 formats in New York City, most notably Musicradio 77 WABC, which became the most listened to radio station in North America during the 1970s. There is another New York connection. Ruth Meyer worked at WHB in the late 1950s, and went on to become the program director of WMCA, leading the station to the position of #1 pop music station in New York between 1963 and 1966.
Storz cultivated listenership numbers by one of his treasure hunts. One day in 1955, WHB broadcast clues telling listeners where they might find a prize worth $1000. After leading listeners throughout the metropolitan area, the final clue resulted in traffic tie-ups outside Loose Park as listeners tried to be the first to find the station's logo painted on the back of a turtle. Although listenership soared to as much as 50 percent, Kansas City, MO police chief Bernard Brannon suggested in the June 4, 1956 issue of Time Magazine that Storz's treasure hunts should be banned. Storz continued to operate daily, weekly, and monthly cash promotions to maintain listenership.
WHB also pioneered the talk radio format with their late-night program "NiteBeat". Using a multi-line system invented by WHB engineer Dale Moody, deejays and hosts could field calls from across the Midwest as guests from all walks of life visited the studio. WHB also kept their listeners informed with "News at 55" and a world time check at the top of every hour, which the station claimed to be accurate "to 1/20000 of a second." In the 1950s Moody also fashioned a unique programming idea for WHB during the overnight hours, “Silent Sam, the All-night Deejay Man”, actually jukebox movements programmed to play records one-after-another with a jingle and a pre-recorded public-service announcement broadcast every 15-minutes. As such, he is considered a pioneer in automation as applied to radio broadcasting.
"Yours truly, WHB"
WHB used the melodic and catchy PAMS jingles to keep listeners tuned to the station, as well as limiting the number of commercials per hour and a tight playlist limited to songs on the Top 40. Those jingles called WHB the "World's Happiest Broadcasters."
WHB's popularity increased as songs on the Top 40 began to include rock and roll hits by Elvis Presley, Bobby Darin, and The Beatles. Months after the Beatles landed in the United States, Todd Storz died of a stroke at age 39. Despite Storz's death, WHB remained on top, as prolific deejays including Gene Woody, Johnny Dolan and Phil Jay commanded the WHB Air Force. As late as 1981, WHB's ratings remained in the double digits.
Decline of AM
WHB, however, could not fend off the increasing competition from FM radio. Starting in 1973 with KBEQ-FM, WHB's listenership declined as more Kansas Citians listened to their favorite hits with less interference and in stereo. While KBEQ and KUDL transitioned from their AM to FM frequencies, WHB never acquired an FM frequency, nor did any of their sister stations. Ironically, the previous owners of WHB and KXOK (St. Louis) were listed in 1950 as holding FM licenses: WHB-FM at 102.1 MHz and KXOK-FM at 94.7 MHz. By the mid-seventies, these frequencies would become homes to KYYS (Kansas City) and KSHE (St. Louis), each filling the air with 100,000 watts of album-based progressive rock music.
Storz Broadcasting, then led by Todd's father Robert, sold WHB to Shamrock Broadcasting, a group led by Roy Disney, in 1985. WHB discontinued Top-40 in favor of an oldies format, capitalizing on the playlists they maintained in the past. In 1989, KCMO-FM became Oldies 95 and quickly won over former WHB listeners. Once commanding 50 percent of Kansas City's 1.1 million radio listeners, WHB only attained a 1.2 rating in Winter 1990.
Shamrock leased WHB in 1993 to Apollo Communications, who upon buying the station on September 24, sold the station to KANZA Communications, Mike Carter, President of Carrollton, Missouri. Dan Diamond, Carters' lifelong friend of the family, aired a Saturday morning request show and Wayne Combs headed up the News Department at WHB too. Kanza simulcasted their farm format already playing on KMZU FM in Carrollton and KTRX FM Tarkio, Missouri. A frequency swap with talk radio station KCMO-AM on October 3, 1998 gave WHB a larger daytime coverage area. Due to the way the frequency swap was structured, the FCC considers KCMO to have changed its call letters to WHB and vice versa. However, the station could not remain at 50,000 watts overnight, as KGO in San Francisco and WGY in Schenectady, New York had clear channel dominance.
Union Broadcasting, led by banker Jerry Green, former Royals players Jeff Montgomery and Brian McRae, broadcasters Kevin Kietzman and Duke Frye, and Chad Boeger, owner of the sports station KCTE-AM in Independence, Missouri, purchased WHB from Kanza for an unprecedented US$8 million. Because KCTE could only broadcast in the daytime, Union transferred the sports radio format, including news from ESPN Radio and games from the Westwood One radio network, to WHB in October 1999. In response, Entercom moved WDAF to FM in 2002 to make way for a rival sports station, KCSP. Jason Whitlock, Bill Maas, and Tim Grunhard, who were a part of the first years of WHB programming, were hired by KCSP. Soren Petro joined WHB after KMBZ ended sports talk and moved it to KCSP. He started in January 2004.
WHB picked up broadcasting rights to Kansas City Royals baseball games in 2003, allowing its Arbitron ratings share to peak in the spring at 4.0. In 2007, WHB withdrew its bid to renew their rights and Entercom began broadcasting games on KCSP in 2008. Even when the Royals were not playing or Kansas State, WHB still maintains a sizably smaller audience than KCSP, yet consider FM rock stations KQRC-FM, KYYS (now KZPT (FM)), KMXV, and KCFX their primary rivals for listeners in the 18-49 male market. "Between the Lines," hosted by Kevin Kietzman (former WDAF-TV sportscaster), from 2-6 PM, with 6 o'clock being a bonus hour, ranks among the top-rated shows in the city. However, Petro ("The Program") consistently obtains high ratings in a less favorable time slot, now from 10 AM to 2 PM. A mid-morning show, Crunch Time (9-11 AM), was originally hosted by Maas, Grunhard and Frank Boal until the first two broadcasters defected, leaving Boal to carry on with a series of rotating co-hosts, including Dave Stewart (also of Metro Sports and formerly of KMBC), George Brett, Kevin Harlan (CBS Sports), Lynn Dickey, and Joe Randa. Stewart took over the reins as primary host upon Boal's retirement in 2008, but the show was cancelled a few months later. Boal and Harlan continue to make regular weekly appearances on the remaining three scheduled shows. The morning drive show, "The Border Patrol," originally began with co-hosts Steven St. John and "Bulldog" Bob Fescoe. The premise emphasizes the border rivalry between the universities of Missouri and Kansas (St. John is a stalwart Missouri fan, while Fescoe is a KU alum). Fescoe left WHB in 2007 for St. Louis sports stations KFNS-AM, and was replaced by Nate Bukaty (also a KU alum). Fescoe returned to the Kansas City market on rival KCSP in January 2009 to battle the Border Patrol with his own show, "Fescoe in the Morning." WHB is now one of the nation's largest all-sports radio stations, with their signal reaching into Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Kansas, except after 8:00 PM when the station must reduce power.
WHB and Union's programming options have broadened, airing Kansas City Brigade arena football games in 2006 and 2007. On January 4, 2007, sister station KCXM became a full simulcast of ESPN Radio, allowing WHB to focus more on local sports talk. Days later, the family of Jerry Green, the majority shareholder in Union Broadcasting, filed suit against Boeger and Union Broadcasting, for the switch to sports talk on KCXM. Green, whose health had been declining, eventually sold his interest in Union Broadcasting and died on August 15, 2007, at the age of 77.
On December 1, 2007, WHB assumed the full ESPN Radio lineup when KCXM was sold to Educational Media Foundation, which operates the K-LOVE brand of contemporary Christian radio stations and changed KCXM to that format as KLRX. Due to the change of ownership on FM and the signal restrictions on AM, Union chose not to renew the Royals radio contract. The new flagship station is KCSP, which held the rights for some years in the 1990s as WDAF.
For the 2011-2012 season, WHB will broadcast twelve games for the Missouri Mavericks of the Central Hockey League. In April 2012, WHB announced that it had become the official radio partner for Major League Soccer's Sporting Kansas City.
During the 2014 and 2015 MLB postseason, WHB and KCSP aired simultaneous broadcasts of Royals games. WHB aired the ESPN Radio feed, while KCSP aired the Royals Radio Network feed. During the World Series, only KCSP and SiriusXM were allowed to feature local broadcasters; all other Royals Radio Network affiliates had to take the ESPN Radio feed, per MLB rules.