About KEYCKEYC-TV debuted on October 5, 1960, just in time for NBC to broadcast the first game of the World Series that evening. Lee Enterprises owned it, as did the neighbouring KGLO-TV (now KIMT) in Mason City, Iowa. Less than a year later, KEYC changed its allegiance to CBS, which it has kept to this day. Due to FCC ownership constraints, Lee Enterprises was obliged to sell KEYC to United Communications in 1977 in order to buy KOIN-TV in Portland, Oregon. During UPN's run, the station transmitted part of the network's programs on a secondary channel.
KEYC benefited greatly from an exemption to the FCC's "212 + 1" strategy for distributing VHF television capacity. There were twelve VHF channels and 69 UHF channels accessible in the early days of broadcast television (which was later reduced to 56 with the removal of high-band channels 70-83 in the early 1980s). The VHF bands were more attractive since transmissions broadcast on them went further. Because there were only twelve VHF channels available, the stations could not be placed too close together. The FCC's Sixth Report and Order, issued in 1952, described a new distribution table for VHF licenses and opened up the UHF spectrum. Almost the whole United States would be able to get two commercial VHF channels plus one non-commercial allocation as a result of these activities. A third VHF channel would be available to the majority of the rest of the country ("1/2"). Other parts of the nation would be categorized as "UHF islands," since they were too close to major cities to get VHF coverage.