From Air1 To Arias: Kansas City To Get Classical FM


For 13 years until May 31, 2019, a 7kw facility using a broadcast tower in the city of Independence, Mo., served as a home for programming supplied by Educational Media Foundation — the parent of Christian Contemporary Music behemoths KLOVE and Air1.

The latter network is what most recently aired on this station, but has since moved to an FM translator at 107.9 MHz with near city-grade coverage of the entire Kansas City metropolitan area.

It is now known that the station, presently silent under an STA, will soon be born again with the sounds of Brahms and Bach.

The Curators of the University of Missouri, the official licensee for a group of noncommercial stations featuring NPR programming, is agreeing to purchase KWJC-FM 91.9, licensed to Liberty, Mo., from William Jewell College.

KWJC had been operated via a long-term LMA by EMF since May 31, 2006, first as a KLOVE affiliate. On Dec. 16, 2007, EMF switched programming to Air1, as KLOVE could now be heard on KCXM-FM. That same year, an upgrade from 4kw to 7kw came forth for KWJC.

The LMA with EMF resulted from the elimination of the college’s radio communication program, citing costs. Worsening the situation was a devastating E-4 tornado that ripped through campus on May 4, 2003, resulting in $10 million-plus in repair costs.

Prior to that, KWJC was fully student-run, and secular.

It’s set to be secular again, with the University of Missouri’s Talk-focused NPR Member station serving Kansas City — KCUR-FM 89.3 — confirming early Friday (8/16) that KWJC will bring 24-hour classical music programming to the market.

It’s the opposite of what has been seen in markets including Miami, Fort Myers-Naples and West Palm Beach, where Minnesota Public Radio abruptly pulled the plug on “Classical South Florida” by selling facilities in the three markets to EMF.

KCUR GM Nico Leone said, “Given the strength of the performing arts community and the classical music community in town, we think it’s a huge hole, both for audiences and performing arts organizations. We see in market after market that classical music stations can be a rising tide for performing arts organizations.”

The arrival of classical music on KWJC follows recent moves by the University of New Orleans and the University of South Florida to bring Classical-formatted programming to the FM dial in the Big Easy and in Tampa Bay, respectfully.

The University of Missouri is paying $2 million for KWJC, with a $94,500 escrow deposit placed with the broker of record, Guest Technology LLC.

The balance is due at closing.

Serving as William Jewell College’s legal counsel in this transaction is Mark Lipp of Fletcher Heald & Hildreth; Scott Flick of Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw, Pittman served as the legal counsel for the University of Missouri.

Air1 programming, as expected, shifted to the translator at 107.9 MHz as it had previously aired on a fringe signal to the Kansas City market. The move resulted in the end of an LMA, and no substitute programming for William Jewell College to consider.

Leone says KCUR has been working to raise roughly $5 million need to not only cover the station acquisition, but also startup costs. Leone said Friday to KCUR that roughly $2.5 million has been raised, and he expects the newly branded classical music station to launch in spring 2020.

Enter Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, President of William Jewell College.

“As we were looking at a signal that, quite frankly, had been leased by an entity that really has no association with Kansas City, we realized we had the opportunity to leverage this asset so we could actually contribute to the betterment of the region,” she said. “It really was not something we had to contemplate for very long.”

KWJC will operate as a standalone entity separate from KCUR — although some back office functions will be shared, KCUR notes. The two stations will operate out of the same space at 4825 Troost in Kansas City, Missouri, in a building owned by UMKC.

Leone said the plan is to hire eight or nine people, including announcers, and create programming “with a distinctively local focus,” unlike other markets where Classical 24 or other plug-and-play syndicated programming is used.

“There’s very little point in doing a radio station like this in classical music if you’re not intensely focused,” Leone said. “When people can get music from anywhere, the only way you can differentiate yourself is with your connection to the local community.”

Once KWJC relaunches as a classical music station, KCUR plans to drop its three hours of classical music programming on weeknights and substitute news programming.

Kansas City’s last 24/7 classical music station was KXTR-FM. That facility today is Entercom-owned KRBZ-FM 96.5 “The Buzz.”

In August 2000, under VP/Station Manager Brian Burns, KXTR’s Classical programming relocated to 1250 kHz, today KYYS-AM; on the FM dial KXTR ranked No. 12 of 25 metro signals in the spring 2000 Arbitron ratings for Kansas City.

It ultimately disappeared, leaving Mid-America minus Mozart.

Nearly two decades later, he’ll be back.