Monday, June 14, 2021

KTLN Radio -vs- Kaytee Ellen

I'm so fortunate to have rescued these photos, a while back. The story of "Katey Ellen" (also spelled "Kaytee Ellen") is one of those Denver media stories, which was well ahead of its time - can a radio personality continue to use an air name, which sounds like the radio station call letters, after she is fired from said station?

Unfortunately these photos have no identifying writing, on the back. Hoping someone can definitively identify these ladies. Could one of them be "Katey Ellen," Irva Steffen?

On May 16, 1948, KTLN signed on the air, on 990 kHz. It was owned by Alfred M. Landon, former governor of Kansas and one-time Republican presidential candidate. It moved to 1150 on the dial, in 1951, so it would appear these photos are before 1951 (note the 990 banner in the back). In 1954, the station moved up the dial to 1280.  In 1969 the station changed its call letters to KTLK, then later KBRQ (1981-1987), KXKL (1987-1996), KRRF (1996-4/1999), KEXX (4/1999-5/1999), KXKL (5/1999-6/1999), and KVOD (1999-2001). It's now known as KBNO.

Irva Steffen was considered one of the most popular radio personalities in Denver, during that time. She went by the catchy name "Katey Ellen," a play on the station call letters. In 1954 the station fired Steffen, for undisclosed reasons, and hired her replacement, Shirley Wray. The new hire took over Steffen's shows, and even her radio name, Kaytee Ellen.  The change didn't sit well with Steffen, who claimed that she came up with the air name and should have full rights to use it. The station claimed that the name was an obvious phonetic play on the station call letters, and they should retain all rights.

Steffen filed suit, and in May, 1957 the case went to court. After several weeks, a judge ruled that the former station personality could keep her professional name, in spite of its phonetic similarity to the station's call letters, because "ratings showed that her personality gave the program drawing power, not the call letters."  She was awarded a $13,300 judgment, including $2,500 punitive damages, for what the judge described as "wanton and reckless disregard of plaintiff's rights and feelings." 

 However, in 1959, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the lower state court decision. "Since the radio station has developed a vested and valuable property interest in its trade name, the plaintiff cannot be held to have established a separate and severable property interest in a trade name that when spoken is indistinguishable from the call letters KTLN." 

Several decades later, the great-granddaughter of Steffen, Anika Pyle, would go on to have a band named Katie Ellen

If anyone can offer positive proof that one of the ladies in the picture is the original Kaytee Ellen, Irva Steffen (or is it Shirley Wray), please let me know.


  1. Fascinating story. KTLN was one of my favorite stations. I remember Rich Fromke doing the “Million Dollar Ballroom” show with big band music.

  2. The woman on the left with the hat is Kaytee Ellen. The name was never spelled Katey. From the day she came up with the idea for the radio show, it was Kaytee. She wrote her own scripts, sold her own advertising and was much beloved by her fans who showed up in droves for her events (like Hoffman House tours) and birthday parties. Kaytee Ellen was my mother.