The station went on the air in 1948 as KFI and was the city's first NBC affiliate. NBC would launch a new station further up the dial, which is today KNBC/channel 4, and move its affiliation there. Channel 9 would become an independent, although it did carry affiliation with DuMont briefly. The station changed calls to KHJ after the station's owners, General Tire, bought the parent company of KHJ radio, Don Lee Broadcasting. Later, General Tire bought RKO Pictures and rebranded the broadcasting division as RKO General.
In 1989, KHJ was sold to the Walt Disney Company by Fidelity Television, who bought it--after years of legal red tape--from RKO. Disney changed the call to the current KCAL. In 1995, Disney bought ABC, which owned KABC/channel 7, so they had to sell KCAL to Young Broadcasting due to FCC regulations regarding duopolies at the time. Young sold KCAL to Viacom to offset debt from the purchase of San Francisco station KRON/channel 4 (currently affiliated with MyNetworkTV). Viacom had since split with CBS, which now owns KCAL outright.