KXEL was first created by Don E. Kassner, who worked for Joe Dumond. This station began their broadcasts on July 14, 1942 and was the first radio facility in the United States to be granted 50,000 watts of power with its original license. It began airing ABC programming from pop hits of the 1940s. KXEL also featured country music programming before switching to its current news/talk format. Dumond later sold KXEL to career broadcaster Egmont Sonderling, then on November 9, 1958, Sonderling signed the papers transferring KXEL's license to Cy N. Bahakel.
In the early 1950s, KXEL filed for the channel 7 television license in Waterloo. However, Waterloo's other powerhouse radio station, KWWL (now KWLO, a sister station to KXEL) wanted the license as well. KXEL and KWWL went to court and battled it out. In the meantime, KXEL built a radio/television studio. This studio was mainly useless because KWWL won the lawsuit and signed on KWWL-TV on Thanksgiving Day 1953.