WHO Radio's story begins with controversial information. According to a 1951 memo in our files, WHO went on the air with its first broadcast on April 10, 1924, yet Federal Radio Commission (then FRC, now FCC) documents indicate WHO wasn't even licensed until April 15 of that year, five days later. What is not under dispute is that WHO was originally owned by the Bankers Life company.

Spring/April 1924 WHO licensed and signs on

A memo from June 14, 1951 states that the first broadcast was on April 10, 1924 (see also "WHO History," July 3, 1948); this is contradicted by Barry Mishkind Database which states that the First Broadcast License was effective on April 10, 1924 (the FCC's records indicate that the license took effect on April 15, 1924) with the first broadcast on April 26, 1924.

"WHO History" (July 3, 1948) says April 10, 1924 was the day of first broadcast, while an undated "Brief History of Radio Station WHO", which appears to have been prepared sometime after 1937 and in support of an application for superpower, states that WHO was established on April 10, 1924.

Daily schedule was from 7:30 PM until 9:00 PM ("WHO History", July 3, 1948)

Later, three short periods of 5 minutes each were added: approximately 9:45 AM; Noon; and 3:00 PM – market and weather reports were made at those times ("WHO History", July 3, 1948)

Originally licensed for 500 watts at 570 kHz (Mishkind database, various other documents)

Station is owned by Bankers Life (today known as Principal Financial). It was a pet project of Bankers Life President George Kuhns. Kuhns is authorized to spend up to $57,000.00 to get the station on the air; he sees it as an advertising tool (Bankers life book).

Article by Mishkind published October 3, 1996, in Radio World states the station identified itself this way: "This is WHO – Who? – Banker’s Life, Des Moines, Iowa." This is similar to statements contained in a June 14, 1951 WHO memo, as well as a book published by Bankers Life (p. 60, Bankers Life book). The WHO moniker is used in Bankers Life advertising during the 1920s while WHO is in its control (Bankers Life book).

June 14, 1951, WHO Memo: "...[T]he song 'Who' from the musical 'Sunny' was used for many years as the station theme song."

Call letters WHO are chosen because listeners would ask, "Who is it?". (June 14, 1951 WHO Memo.) Others claim that WHO stands for "With Hands Only", in a reference to Palmer's involvement with chiropractic medicine. The 1920s are a time when people are interested in listening to signals from far way, called "DXing".

Studios and transmitter are on the 11th floor of the Liberty Building. At the time Bankers Life occupies the top five floors of the Liberty Building (page 60, Bankers Life book). The 11th floor is the top floor of the Liberty Building (p. 60, Bankers Life book); the studios and transmitter were located there.

Two towers on top of the Liberty Building support a wire antenna (p. 60, Bankers Life book).

1925 The Mishkind datebase lists a power increase in early 1925 to 1,000 watts. Later in 1925, power increase to 5,000 watts using a Western Electric transmitter and equipment (according to various sources, especially Mishkind Database and internal memos).
1927 June 1, 1927: Mishkind Database states WHO moves to 560 kHz – check FRC documents at the FCC web site
1927 September 4, 1927, WHO affiliates with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) radio network. WHO is an affiliate of the Red Network, which was the prime NBC radio network. WHO broadcast day is now 6:00 AM until Midnight (WHO History, July 3, 1948)
1928 Federal Radio Commission orders WHO and WOC to share 1,000 kHz; Mishkind Database says November 11, 1928 is the date WHO and WOC are moved to 1000 kHz Both WHO and WOC protest; protests are rejected by the FCC (see p. 73, Bankers Life book)

Order effective November 11, 1928 – some data indicates that both stations engaged in an effort to get the Order rescinded – need to check Pike & Fischer to see what happened – would there be anything in the FCC station files in Washington?

1,000 kHz is designated as a clear channel

Each station is authorized to use 5,000 watts; the stations must share time; they alternate portions of the broadcast day; Paul A. Loyet in a memo dated March 28, 1962, notes that Iowa was entitled to one clear channel under the regulations (Davis Amendment to the Federal Radio Act) in effect at that time. WHO and WOC were ordered to share the clear channel (there was an abundance of stations in the middle west, especially in Chicago.

One example, the big 89 WLS had to share time with another station -- both were 50kw and both were clears. The arrangement ended in the early 1960s when ABC bought both stations. Another example: WFAA, Dallas, and WBAP, Fort Worth, shared time on two frequencies: 570 and 820. During the day and night, they would switch back and forth.

This arrangement lasted until sometime in the 1960s. I recall listening to the switch from WBAP to WFAA while Dxing at night. At the time, I was going to school in Mexico, Missouri. This was in the mid-1960s. --George Davison
1930 B.J. Palmer and associates form Central Broadcasting Company. Central Broadcasting acquires WHO from Bankers Life. Date of Transfer: February 14, 1930 (Loyet memo, March 28, 1962 says date is February 15, 1930/need to check FCC record).

Palmer/Central Broadcasting pays $162,000.00 for WHO

During the share time arrangement WHO supposedly lost around $600,000.00 while WOC lost about $440,000.00 during the share time operations (Loyet History of WHO-WOC, March 28, 1962)

In a March 28, 1962 memo to D.D. Palmer (son of B.J. Palmer), Paul A. Loyet (who was chief engineer and eventually WHO station manager) wrote that Central Broadcasting Company was created to purchase WHO and to merge its operations with WOC. This is because of the share time arrangement

Becoming the Voice of the Middle West: the early Palmer years
1930 Paul A. Loyet begins engineering work to implement asynchronous operation of WOC and WHO.  Each station would be on the air, telephone lines were used to assure that each was "on frequency".  Loyet experimented with improved crystals, better thermostats to control the temperature on the crystals, and more stable oscillator equipment.

Monitoring equipment was located halfway between Davenport and Des Moines.

October 7, 1930, application to Federal Radio Commission for 50kw (FRC Docket Number 882)(Loyet history, March 28, 1962).  There is a significant problem with the synchronous operation of WHO and WOC on 1000 kHz; an area of 3,000 square miles about midway between Des Moines and Davenport has not service from either station; previously, each station had been received well in the area (Loyet history, March 28, 1962)

Synchronized operation continued until the 50kw transmitter went into operation in April 1933 (Loyet history, March 28, 1962)
1931 Iowa Barn Dance Frolic originates in Davenport as a half hour show (July 3, 1948, Brief History of WHO)

November 17, 1931, original construction permit for 50kw is issued; no specific location for the transmitter (Loyet memo, March 28, 1962).
1932 February 10, 1932, CP (construction permit) for 50kw at Mitchellville is issued/renewal (Loyet memo, March 28, 1962).

April (?) 1932, studios move to the second floor at 914 Walnut Street in the Stoner Building.  (Did the transmitter stay at the Liberty Building?)

Iowa Barn Dance Frolic moves to Des Moines and the President Theater. Show expanded to three hours (July 3, 1948, Brief History of WHO).
1933 April 22, 1933, 50kw transmitter on the air at 7:00 PM – identifies alternatively at WOC-WHO and WHO-WOC (Loyet memo, March 28, 1962; Davenport newspaper articles; Loyet article in RCA Broadcast News). Old WHO and WOC transmitter locations are shut down.

What happened to the 5k?

WHO transmitter and the 5k WOC transmitter?) Synchronized operation ends with advent of the 50kw transmitter at Mitchellville (Loyet history, March 28, 1962).

Antenna is wire slung between two 300 foot towers, which are 750 feet apart, known as a Marconi Wire.  The antenna is fed by an open feed line (Loyet article in RCA Broadcast News)(per Raleigh Rubenking, one antenna base is where the present main radiator is located; the other antenna base is on the south side of the property and visible).

May 15, 1933, WOC studios in Davenport are closed and all studio operations are moved to Des Moines – Ronald Reagan is among the Davenport employees who make the move to Des Moines (articles from Davenport newspaper).

November 11, 1933, station is no longer identified as WOC/WHO – the 1000 kHz frequency is identified only as WHO (does this relate to the effort to purchase KICK and move it from Carter Lake, Iowa, to Davenport?)
1934 November 11, 1934 WOC returns to the air in Davenport – license of KICK, last located in Carter Lake, IA was acquired and transferred to Davenport – KICK/WOC is on 1380 (Mishkind data base and Davenport newspaper reports; Loyet memo dated March 28, 1962).

November 23, 1934, a 532 foot Blaw-Knox Diamond vertical radiator goes into operation (does the Marconi wire antenna stay in place as back up?)(Loyet memo dated March 28, 1962)(undated Brief History of WHO gives the date for the Blaw-Knox tower as November 25, 1934). The Blaw Knox is located on the site of the present 200 foot auxiliary tower (per Raleigh Rubenking); The Blaw Knox is 532 feet tall (WHO September 1952 brochure; Loyet memo dated March 28, 1962).
1935 April 23, 1935, new ground system installed at the transmitter site (1938 Brief History of Radio Station WHO) 1935: WHO Radio News Bureau is established. H.R. Gross is the first news director (1987 History of WHO Broadcasting Company)(anecdotal information from Jack Shelley).

Iowa Bran Dance Frolic moves to Shrine Auditorium in Des Moines. It had been at the President Theater since 1932, but facilities were too small (July 3, 1948, History of WHO).

December 11, 1935: Application for operation at 500 kw (Mishkind data base and Loyet notes); application is dismissed May 16, 1938.

An undated Brief History of WHO Radio (apparently submitted in 1938 to the FCC in support of a superpower application) states:

An increase of 450,000 watts experimental power will extend the WHO daytime signal of 0.5 millivolts about 41 mile beyond its present boundaries. This will enable the station to deliver a signal of 0.5 millivolt to all parts of Iowa including a 2 millivolt signal to the five larger cities of Davenport, Dubuque, Clinton, Council Bluffs and Sioux City.

This will give the broadcasting industry an opportunity to experiment with 500,000 watts of power in an area that is primarily agricultural in character and also one of the most prosperous sections of the country as compared with present experiments with WLW in a territory that is primarily industrial in character and with a density of population of 163.1 in Ohio and 89.8 in Indiana. (Note: at the time – 1938 – Iowa had a population of 2,470,900; 142,559 lived in Des Moines [about 6% of the population]. Average population density in Iowa at the time was 44.5 or about 11 people per quarter section of land in the state. Des Moines’ population density was 297 per square mile.)
1936 Farm Service Department established with Herb Plambeck as Farm Director (WHO Broadcasting Company history, 1987)
1937 July 20, 1937 through August 1, 1940, experimental facsimile license in place; WHO was authorized to use facsimile to transmit pictures by radio (Loyet memo, March 28, 1962). While the experiment was successful from a technological standpoint, it failed to deliver economic success (various statements by engineers and other employees)
1941 March 29, 1941, frequency was moved to 1,040 kHz as part of a North American Radio Agreement. Most stations in the United States were required to change frequencies to comply with radio treaties negotiated with Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean nations
1941 December 7, 1941: The Official Broadcast Log

The control room log shows that at 1:30 PM there was a program called Sunday News Extra.

At 1:44 PM listeners were advised to stay tuned for a war bulletin about Oahu.

The Jerry and Zelda program began from the studio at 1:45 PM.

At 1:54 bulletins from United Press were read about the attacks upon Oahu.

At 2:00 PM NBC bulletins are put on the air. H.V. Kaltenborn in on the air from NBC at 2:15 PM.

The Iowa Roundtable begins at 2:30 PM. It is interrupted with war bulletins at 2:43 PM (announcer initials are LH – Len Howe?).

More NBC bulletins are broadcast at 2:56 PM.

The control room log then notes at 2:59 PM an announcement from WHO that "We will interrupt all programs for news."

At 3:05 PM there are reports from NBC; then at 3:19 PM Bob Burlingame gives a report based upon interviews with Iowa Senators and Representatives in Washington.

News reports continue until 4:00 PM.

News coverage continues through the night, interspersed with NBC regular programming NBC programs Sunday night, December 7, 1941:
6:00 PM Jack Benny
6:30 PM Fitch Band Wagon (Fitch was a Des Moines company)
7:00 PM Chase & Sanborn Program
7:30 PM One Man’s Family
8:00 PM Manhattan Merry-Go-Round
8:30 PM American Album of Music
9:00 PM The Hour of Charm
9:30 PM Sherlock Holmes

10:00 PM NBC News from Washington with Baukage, St. John, Vandercook News coverage continued, it appears overnight. At midnight the log reads, "Burlingame News summary cont. into tomorrows pgm. sheet." (WHO Control Room log for December 7, 1941) Herb Steinmetz and Tom Doonan are the relief control room engineers. They come on duty at 4:00 PM.

Undated anecdote: When I came to WHO in 1970, both Herb and Tom were still there. Herb was TV control room supervisor. Tom was very late in his career and close to retirement as I recall. I did not have much contact with him.)
1942 - 1945 The War Years – WHO employees are war correspondents in the European and Pacific Theaters (Herb Plambeck and Jack Shelley). Plambeck broadcasts on the end of the war in Europe. Shelley reports on the atomic bombs, including Tibbits interview, and the end of the war from the USS Missouri

Reports are received frequently from the Pacific regarding reception of WHO

At the transmitter site, the facilities are lighted, and engineers on duty carry weapons to prevent sabotage
1946 Post war growth: the middle Palmer years

WHO receives the Dupont Radio Award for the WHO Plowing Match and Soil Conservation Field Day
1947 F.L. Whan’s Iowa Radio Audience Survey shows:

1. WHO was named as the station “Listened to Most” in daytime by 47.7%; nighttime 56.9% of the 8,282 radio families responding;

2. WHO was named as the sation “Heard Regularly” in daytime by 78.9%; nighttime by 80.4%.
1948 February 1, 1948 WHO-FM signs on. Transmitter and tower are on top the Equitable Building. 3kw transmitter with 5kw ERP – WHO-FM assigned to 100.3 (frequency still in the WHO family; call letters are now KMXD) Original broadcast day for FM was from 3:00 PM until 9:00 PM daily
1948 April 1948 WHO-FM duplicates WHO from 9:00 AM until 11:30 PM
1949 April 26, 1949, construction permits issued by FCC for new 50kw Westinghouse AM transmitter and 50kw Westinghouse FM transmitter (why Westinghouse?)
1950 February 6, 1950 Westinghouse AM 50kw transmitter on the air (Westinghouse 50 HG-2, Serial number 3) Question: Does the RCA installed in 1933 stay in place as a backup?

May 25, 1950, operations of WHO-FM at the Equitable building are suspended

October 6, 1950, modified Franklin tower installed and placed in operation for AM; programming from the “new” tower begins on Monday morning, October 7, 1950, at 5:30 AM; the “new” tower is 780 feet; it is the tallest structure in Iowa at the time; the Franklin was designed “in-house” by the WHO engineering laboratory; the tower is designed to intensify the station’s ground signal and reduce the amount of nighttime fading A 1952 Brief History of WHO provides the following information about the modified Franklin Tower:

The new tower, designed in WHO laboratories over a period of five year’s planning and proving, dwarfs its 532 foot predecessor with its 780 foot reach into the sky. There are 137 ½ tons of steel in the structure, 8,800 pounds of steel in each of the 3 top guy wires which measure 1 5/8 inches across; and 3,160 pounds in each of the three lower guys measuring 1 1/8 inches across. These guys, pulling the tower snug against the earth on a 1-foot square insulator, give the new tower a “thrust weight” of 423,890 pounds.

The quarter-million-dollars was reportedly invested in the improvements to the transmitting facilities at Mitchellville.

  • When was the Blaw Knox taken down?
  • Is there confirmation that the Blaw Knox was originally used by the Channel 17 operation in the early 1950s and then went to the State for its police radio operation?
  • I have been told that Channel 17 operated from the building where the Blaw Knox was installed – Second Avenue north of Des Moines. --George Davison
  • When was the 200 foot auxiliary tower from WOC installed at the Blaw Knox site?
  • Raleigh Rubenking says the 200 foot auxiliary came from WOC after work was done on its tower site.
  • Why was the decision made to use an old WOC tower rather than keep the Blaw Knox in place? Are there engineering reasons, i.e., impact upon pattern -- even if not fed would the Blaw Knox reduce pattern to the west?
December 6, 1950, Westinghouse FM 50kw transmitter on the air; the FM antenna is a 12 bay; ERP is reported to be 400kw; WHO-FM is said to be one of the three most powerful FM stations in the nation at the time 1952: February 2, 1952, 24 hour operations begin as part of the national Conelrad program. WHO was a key Conelrad station.

  • The two Conelrad frequencies as I recall were 640 and 1240. How was the switch to be made when Conelrad was activated?
  • Why were 640 and 1240 chosen?
1954 Studios move to 1100 Walnut Street.

April 26, 1954, WHO-TV, Channel 13 signs on -- it is the first VHF licensed to Des Moines (WOI-TV was the first VHF in Central Iowa); Channel 17 by this time is off the air; it was not successful from a financial standpoint. Cowles application for Channel 8 is tied up at the FCC in connection with issues related to its operation of Look Magazine.
1961 May 1961 B.J. Palmer dies. David Palmer assumes control of Central Broadcasting Company.
1962 November 16, 1962 application for operation at 750kw; application denied December 5, 1962 (Mishkind database).
1972 2,000 foot tower constructed at Alleman, Iowa; TV and FM primary transmitters and radiators are put on the 2,000 foot tower (1987 WHO Broadcasting History).
1973 WHO-FM becomes KLYF, 100kw ERP with antenna on the 2,000 foot tower at Alleman (1987 History of WHO Broadcasting Company).
1981 April 10, 1981, groundbreaking ceremony held for new WHO building at 1801 Grand Avenue (1987 history of WHO Broadcasting Company)
1991 Control of WHO Broadcasting passes from the Estate of David D. Palmer to his three daughters
1997 WHO and KLYF are sold by the Palmer interests to Jacor Broadcasting (need help with dates)
1998 Jacor merges with Clear Channel – control of WHO passes to Clear Channel; sister stations with WHO since Clear Channel merger are KMXD (100.3/former WHO-FM; KLYF); KVJZ (106.3/former KLYF/KMXD/KJJY/KANY); KKDM (107.5); KXNO (1460/AM; former KSO; KGGO-AM; KDMI-AM).
2005 WHO and sister stations leave studios at 1801 Grand Avenue in Des Moines and take up residence at 2141 Grand. Internet streaming audio begins in December.