The Cowles family and rival KSO-AM (now KXNO; also owned by the Cowles interests until 1942) both applied for the channel 8 frequency and fought over it. A decision was held up due to issues with the Cowles' ownership of Look magazine. Eventually, the two stations reached a settlement that allowed KRNT to own 60 percent of the TV station and KSO to own 40 percent. Yet once the FCC approved the station's license, KRNT immediately bought out KSO's share of the station. KRNT-TV's broadcasting day was originally about five to six hours long, and included a 15-minute news program later in the evening. The station has been part of the CBS network ever since signing on, owing to KRNT-AM's long affiliation with CBS Radio.
The FCC tightened its ownership rules in the 1970s, forcing the Cowles interests to sell one of their Des Moines broadcast outlets. They opted to sell KRNT-AM and KRNQ-FM (now KSTZ) to Stauffer Communications in 1974 and keep KRNT-TV, which became KCCI-TV, with the initials standing for owner Cowles Communications, Inc.
Over the years, Cowles Communications bought several other media outlets, including KTVH (now KWCH-TV) in Wichita, Kansas (and its satellites in the western part of Kansas) WESH in Orlando, Florida and WQAD-TV in the Quad Cities.
In 1983, the Cowles family announced it was breaking up its vast media empire, selling off most of its assets except the Minneapolis Star Tribune. While the Register went to Gannett and The Register and Tribune Syndicate (best known as syndicators of The Family Circus) went to Hearst as a King Features division, KCCI and WESH went to H&C Communications. H&C sold two of its television stations, KCCI and WESH, to Pulitzer in 1993. Hearst-Argyle Television bought all of Pulitzer's television holdings in 1998.
KCCI began broadcasting in high-definition television on channel 8.1 in 2002. On July 24, 2006, KCCI launched "Weather Now," a 24-hour local weather channel that appears on digital subchannel 8.2 as well as local Mediacom digital cable channel 247, and the station's website.
Even though it was the last of Des Moines' Big Three affiliates to sign on, channel 8 has been the highest-rated station in Des Moines for most of its history. It has been especially dominant in news programming, which is not surprising given its newspaper roots. In the May 2008 sweeps, KCCI retained its dominant lead, with its nearest competitor, NBC affiliate WHO-TV, in second. The news department receives regional and national awards of merit on a regular basis. Among the honors are a number of Edward R. Murrow awards, and the photojournalism staff was recently named "Station of the Year" (Small/medium market) by the National Press Photographers' Association.
The station operates a website at www.kcci.com For several years the station's website was known as www.theiowachannel.com, following the practice of other Hearst-Argyle stations, and people going to kcci.com were redirected to theiowachannel.com. In October 2005, the station switched back to the kcci.com name for its web site, with theiowachannel.com serving as a redirect to the kcci.com website.
Current news personalities (as of August 2008) include:
In addition to CBS network programming, KCCI airs first-run syndicated programs such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dr. Phil, Live with Regis and Kelly, and Inside Edition, as well as reruns of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and the original Star Trek.