About KTVOOn April 14, 1952, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ended the "Freeze of '48," a countrywide stop to restructure TV airwaves. VHF channel 3 was allotted to the Kirksville, Missouri area. North Missouri Broadcasting Partners, a company led by former U.S. Congressman Sam "Wat" Arnold and Sam Burk, owners of Kirksville radio station KIRX, had previously been considering the possibilities of adding a television station to their operations, were drawn to this prime channel. In order to offset the expenses and risks of the new endeavor, the Kirksville group joined forces with another led by James J. Conroy, owner of KBIZ in Ottumwa, Iowa, in early 1953. In exchange for KBIZ stock, the Kirksville group agreed to build a tower and transmitter location whose signal would encompass both Kirksville and Ottumwa. A 1,100-foot (340-meter) tower was erected in Downing, Missouri, after receiving FCC clearance.
On November 21, 1955, KTVO began broadcasting an analog signal on VHF channel 3. However, by the time the Kirksville group signed on, they had concluded that the enterprise had little chance of success and had sold all of their shares back to Conroy. KTVO was a major CBS affiliate for most of its early history, but its single market status allowed it to cherry-pick the most popular programming from NBC and ABC. Arnold and Burk's concerns that the Ottumwa/Kirksville Designated Market Area (DMA) would be too tiny to support a television station were confirmed at first, but Conroy persisted, thinking that southeastern Iowa and northeastern Missouri would be pleased to have a locally based station. This was not surprising given that KTVO was the sole station in the area until 1986, when KOIA-TV (channel 15, now Fox affiliate KYOU-TV) launched.