The station was first launched as WRC-FM in June 1947 alongside its television partner, WRC-TV channel 4 (originally as WNBW). Both were built from the ground up by NBC, which launched WRC 980 AM twenty-four years earlier. It inherited the call sign from its AM radio partner based on RCA's ownership of the network. During its early days it carried a jazz format. The transition from the beautiful music format into what is now WKYS occurred when NBC moved the Top 40 format that was on sister station WRC/980 to WKYS to make way for an all news format on the AM station. For a short time in 1975, the two stations simulcast the Top 40 format.
Shortly after the simulcast was discontinued, the original AM Top 40 format continued for a short while on the FM station, but later, seeing the coming boom in disco music, WKYS adopted a highly successful disco format in the late 1970s and branded itself as WKYS, "Disco 93.9". DJs during the disco era included Donnie Simpson, Jack Harris, Stoney Richards, Joe Cipriano, Eddie Edwards, Bill Bailey, Jeff Leonard, Chuck Davis, Candy Shannon and Max Kinkel.
The disco format eventually evolved into the present urban contemporary format, WKYS, "93.9 Kiss FM" under the guidance of Donnie Simpson.
In the mid 1980s, WKYS gained competition from WMMJ and WPGC. While that caused a setback in its dominance, WKYS did not suffer a huge of a threat to its ratings and audience share even as it had to rank behind the competition, including WHUR-FM which converted its jazz format to urban AC in 1993. (The D.C. radio market was one of very few to have multiple urban stations on the FM dial for the longest time.)
When NBC divested all of its radio properties in 1988, WKYS was sold to Albimar Communications. Some years later, amid financial difficulties, the station was sold to Radio One. In the mid 1990s, WKYS was forced to drop the "Kiss FM" name and changed it to "93.9 WKYS" due to Clear Channel acquiring the rights to the branding itself and enforcing the trademark rights nationwide. However, WKYS reintroduced the "Kiss FM" name for a period of time years after with its over-the-air branding, though Clear Channel did not make further claims of legal action. WKYS, however, retired the "Kiss FM" moniker later on and simply calls itself "93.9 WKYS."
From the 1970s to 1993, WKYS was home to the legendary radio personality Donnie Simpson. The station is now the flagship of the nationally syndicated Russ Parr Morning Show.