Radio Central Oregon, Inc. applied for and received authority from the Federal Communications Commission to construct a 1,000 watt daytime only AM station at 690 kilocycles in Prineville, OR in 1949. The company was formed by Collin R. Matheny, Robert M. Bruce and C.J. Stuart, all of whom were previously associated with KYJC-AM in Medford, OR. Five Crook County investors were also part of the new corporation: Paul B. Kelly, a Prineville lumberman; William B. Morse, a joint state legislator from Crook and Jefferson counties; Claude Williams, an irrigational farmer; Roscoe Hopper, a potato grower; Howard Dietrich, an attorney, and Robert Lister, a cattle rancher from Paulina. The company would operate the station for 29 years.
KRCO-AM became the second radio station in Central Oregon when it began broadcasting on January 31, 1950 from its newly constructed studio at 4455 North Madras Highway near the Crooked River. KRCO’s signal emanates from the tallest man-made structure in Central Oregon – a tower 305 feet in height – located four miles northwest of Prineville. The tower was erected by the Fisher Tower Company in late 1949. From the beginning the station was authorized to broadcast from 6:00 am (pre-sunrise) to sunset. It wasn’t until 1981 that KRCO-AM received authorization from the FCC to broadcast a 77-watt non-directional signal from sunset to sunrise. KRCO-AM must reduce power at night to protect radio stations in San Diego, CA and Vancouver, British Columbia that also reside on the 690 khz frequency. KRCO-AM is a Class D station with Class B status in Region 2 (western hemisphere).
In addition to his ownership role C.R. “Bob” Matheny served as KRCO’s original General Manager. Matheny delivered Hometown News weekday mornings at 10 am during his tenure at KRCO. The program is still on the air today, from 10:05 am to 10:30 am weekdays, featuring local community news, public service announcements and obituaries. He also was the station’s Farm Director and hosted daily farm reports during the morning show and the noon hour. Mr. Matheny served as President of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters in 1967.
Other members of the original KRCO-AM staff included:
- Co-founder R.M. “Bob” Bruce, who was the station’s first Sales Manager;
- Co-founder C.J. “Chester’ Stuart was the KRCO’s first chief engineer and installed the original Collins transmitter (a 1949 model 20T) that operated until the mid 1990’s. Stuart’s nephew, James Boyd, has handled KRCO’s engineering duties for the past decade (he is the owner of Boyd Broadcast Technical Services in Tualatin, OR);
- Norbert “Mike” Miksche was the station’s first program director and was actively involved in the community;
- KRCO’s Sports Director in the 50’s and 60’s was Dick Burger. He handled play-by-play of Crook County High School Sports and delivered daily sportscasts featuring hunting, fishing, skiing and water recreation. Mr. Burger was also an Account Executive;
- Rita Matheny was the station’s first traffic director (creating daily program logs);
- Alveta Gustavson was the receptionist and bookkeeper.
Among the personalities who later joined the KRCO-AM team under Radio Central Oregon’s ownership were:
- Barry “Buck” Lambert as KRCO’s news director;
- Troy Fowler’s “Country Music Time” show helped listeners begin their day from sign-on to 7 am Monday through Saturday. He was a noted live entertainer around Central Oregon on the country music circuit;
- Tony Annicelli, a Boston, MA import, who handled afternoon announcer duties and hosted “Sunset Serenade” in the 1950’s;
- “Lady Lookout” Jackie McRae, the wife of former Prineville Mayor Dick McRae broadcast homemaking hints, recipes and commentary from her home in Prineville during the stations’ early years;
- Dale Sundholm, a KGON Portland alum;
- Bob Arnott, of legendary Minneapolis radio station WCCO-AM.
High Lakes Broadcasting, led by John Kendall, a Dallas, Texas television executive acquired KRCO-AM from Radio Central Oregon, Inc. on November 28, 1978. Originally from Portland, Kendall became a highly respected member of the Prineville community and was named Businessperson of the Year by the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce in 1982. Under Kendall’s tenure, KRCO-AM was named 1986 Business of the Year by the Prineville-Crook County Chamber of Commerce. Kendell constructed KIJK-FM (now KLTW-FM) in the early 1980’s, creating an AM/FM combo licensed to Prineville, OR. Arnott, Bryan Williams and Bobby Smith were a few of the familiar voices heard during Mr. Kendell’s tenure as owner of KRCO-AM.
High Desert Communications, Inc. (dba Jay Man Productions, Inc.) acquired KRCO-AM/KIJK-FM from High Lakes Broadcasting on December 1, 1995. The company was owned by Jonathan Mann, a music industry veteran from New York City who had relocated to Eugene, OR. During his tenure, added KTWI-FM (changing calls to KWEG-FM) to the roster of stations.
Horizon Broadcasting Group, LLC, a company co-founded by former Seattle broadcaster Keith Shipman, acquired KRCO-AM (and sister stations KIJK-FM and KWEG-FM) from High Desert Communications, Inc. on May 1, 2000.
KRCO-AM continues its long heritage of serving Prineville, Crook and Jefferson counties with an extensive lineup of local programming, much of which originated in 1950. Hometown News is heard weekdays at 10:05 am and features local news and community events, public service announcements and obituaries.
KRCO’s Tradin’ Post, Central Oregon’s original buy, swap and sell program, was expanded to one hour in length (9:00 to 10:00 am daily) in July of 2000. Local news updates are offered on the hour from 6 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday with the KRCO news team. Northwest Farm news is featured Monday through Friday at 5:30 am. Interviews with local community leaders, public service announcements, school lunch menus, school-closure information and traffic reports are staples of the morning show. The station has carried a Classic Country music format for the past decade. Red Allen, Paul Valle, Skip Taylor, Dave Clemens, Rick Olson, Jack Friday and Bill Baker are familiar voices to KRCO listeners during the Classic Country era.
KRCO-AM was originally affiliated with the Liberty Broadcasting System, and later with the Mutual News Network until 2001 when the station became part of the ABC Direction Network web. In July 2004, the station became an ABC Information Network affiliate and, in addition to national newscasts on the hour and broadcast Paul Harvey News and Comment three times until his death in 2009. KRCO airs The Huckabee Report three times daily.
KRCO carries approximately 120 sporting events per year. The station entered into affiliation agreements with the Portland Trailblazers of the NBA and Oregon State University (football and men’s basketball) in 2000, and the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. Crook County High School football and boys and girls basketball were featured on the station from 1950 to 2012.
The station is actively involved in the community. As an example, the Crook County Rotary takes over the station on April Fool’s Day each year to raise money for its “Dollars for Scholars” program. Local Rotarians serve as announcers throughout the day on KRCO, taking requests and reading commercials in an effort that has raised over $200,000 for scholarships since it began in 1996. KRCO also takes part in numerous other non-profit events that benefit the Prineville community.
In October of 2008, KRCO-AM became the first AM station in Oregon to receive authorization from the FCC to rebroadcast its signal on an FM translator. KRCO is now heard in stereo at 96.9 mhz (K245BC), broadcasting from a translator located on Grizzly Mountain northwest of Prineville.
Today, KRCO-AM is part of Central Oregon’s largest radio group. In addition to KRCO-AM, Horizon Broadcasting Group, LLC owns and operates KLTW-FM (Bend’s Best Variety – 95.7 MY FM), KQAK-FM (Rock & Roll’s Greatest Hits 105.7), KWPK-FM (THE PEAK 104.1 – Today’s Best Music) and KBNW-AM (News Radio 104.5 FM/1340 AM).
Sources: KRCO-AM station archives, Portland Radio Guide; FCC Database