Photo courtesy of Mike Carter
Kansas City is known for its jazz heritage and barbecue but the city is also home to a little known piece of Black history. Kansas City’s KPRS was the first Black owned radio station, west of the Mississippi River. Today it also has the distinction of being the oldest continually Black owned and operated radio station, in the entire country. KPRS was founded in 1950 by Andrew “Skip” Carter and in an age of large radio conglomerates, the station is still run by the Carter family.
Skip Carter was born in 1919 in Savannah, Georgia. He built his first radio while still in high school and worked as a radio engineer. Carter served in the Army from 1940-1945, studied physics at Georgia State University, went to the RCA School for Electronics and then attended New York University. In 1947 Carter earned his First Class broadcast license. Carter’s ambition was to own and operate his own radio station but found it virtually impossible, as a Black man. In 1948 Carter wrote a letter to Broadcast Magazine, detailing the racism he experienced in the industry. The letter caught the attention of Alf Landon, the Governor of Kansas, who knew Carter. Landon owned four stations and hired Carter to run one, KCLO in Leavenworth. Carter quickly turned the station around and Landon helped him get his FCC license: Carter was only the second Black man to receive one.
In 1950 Carter launched KPRS in Kansas City, the first Black station west of the Mississippi. The station played music by Black artists, like Ray Charles and James Brown. In 1952, Carter and business partner Edward Pate purchases KPRS for $40,000 from the Johnson County Broadcasting Corporation, making KPRS the first Black owned radio station west of the Mississippi. Carter’s wife, Milly, convinced him to try FM radio and in 1963, he received his FM license and was granted a 100,000-watt FM facility. KPRS moved to its current home on the FM dial, 103.3.
In 1987 Carter named his grandson, Michael, president of KPRS Broadcasting Corporation, in order to ensure the business would remain family-run. Skip Carter died in 1989 at his home in Florida and in 1996, was posthumously inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame. KPRS has been and continues to be a staple in Kansas City’s Black community, an institution that the Carter family guides. With its platform, the station has the ability to not only entertain but educate the community, strictly because of Black ownership.