The station first signed on the air on March 8, 1953, and was founded by Ransom H. Drewry, who started his broadcasting company (which eventually became Drewry Communications) in 1941, when he signed on Lawton radio station KSWO-AM (1380, now KKRX); six years later in 1947, Drewry signed on his second radio station, KRHD – the call letters of which were named after his initials – in Duncan (the KRHD callsign is now used by its ABC-affiliated sister station in Bryan-College Station, Texas). Drewry co-founded KSWO-TV with a group that included J.R. Montgomery, T.R. Warkentin, Robert P. Scott and G.G. Downing.
The station's first transmitter was located at its studios, located east of Lawton, which was a relatively low-power unit that transmitted over a limited 55-mile radius spanning to Altus to the west, Wichita Falls to the south, Anadarko to the north and Ringling to the east. By the late 1950s, other nearby ABC affiliates (such as KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City and KTEN in Ada, Oklahoma) began encroaching the northern and eastern fringes on KSWO's viewing area, but wide gaps in signal coverage existed to the south and west of Wichita Falls – the only primary ABC stations in north and west Texas at the time were Dallas affiliate WFAA-TV, and Amarillo affiliate KVII-TV (Lubbock and Abilene did not get their own primary ABC affiliates until KAMC affiliated with the network in 1969 and KTXS-TV switched to ABC from CBS in 1979, respectively).
In 1959, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave permission for Drewry to construct a 1,000-foot-tall (300 m) tower for KSWO-TV, broadcasting at 316,000 watts of power (the maximum power allowable for stations broadcasting on VHF channels 7-13) near Grandfield, Oklahoma; Wichitex Radio and Television and Sydney Grayson – the respective owners of NBC affiliate KFDX-TV (channel 3) and CBS affiliate KSYD-TV (channel 6, now KAUZ-TV) in Wichita Falls – opposed the application, resulting in Drewry having to convince the FCC that the construction permit needed to approved. The new site was located about halfway between Wichita Falls and Lawton, and from a Lawton perspective in the same direction as the Wichita Falls stations. The transmitter facility was activated on February 28, 1960, expanded channel 7's signal to encompass a much larger area of northwestern Texas and southwestern Oklahoma – bringing stronger reception of ABC network programming to additional areas of the two states for the first time. Many years later, when KJTL (channel 18) signed on as an independent station in May 1985, it chose to build its transmitter facility near KSWO-TV's transmitter in Grandfield (ironically, KJTL is now operated by KFDX-TV, which continues maintain its own transmitter from the original site in Wichita Falls, as is the case with KAUZ-TV).
Over the years, the Drewry family gradually expanded their broadcasting group by acquiring other stations in the northern half of Texas: KFDA-TV in Amarillo (acquired in 1976 through Amarillo Telecasters, a partnership between R.H. Drewry and Ray Herndon, majority owner of KMID-TV in Midland); KXXV-TV in Waco (acquired in 1994); KWES-TV in Midland, Texas and Big Spring satellite KWAB-TV (both acquired in 1991); K60EE (now KTLE-LP) in Odessa (acquired in 2001); KSCM-LP in Bryan (acquired in 2006) and KEYU in Amarillo (acquired in 2009).
From 1967 to 1970 and again since 1977, KSWO-TV has used some form of the Circle 7 logo used by many ABC owned-and-operated and affiliated stations that broadcast on channel 7. It is the longest-continuously used logo among the television stations in the Wichita Falls-Lawton market, having been used continuously since 1979 – although the version first used in its second tenure of use for two years prior was similar in resemblance that used in the 1980s and 1990s by CBS affiliate KOSA-TV in Odessa. The station switched back to the proprietary version of the "Circle 7" initially designed by G. Dean Smith for ABC's owned-and-operated stations in 1979, as part of a reimaging that included the introduction of a new set as well as the Action 7 News brand for its newscasts, which would last for more than 15 years until the current 7 News branding and "Newsplex" format was implemented in 1996. The current incarnation of the logo (introduced in 2005), which uses a red background instead of the blue standard for the proprietary ABC version of the logo, is similar in resemblance to the version used by Sunbeam Television stations WHDH in Boston and WSVN in Miami, both of which also integrate their newsdesk within their newsrooms (KSWO's own newsroom/studio set is loosely based off those used by the two stations).
In late May 1996, KSWO broadcast its early morning newscast Good Morning Texoma with limited backup electricity, performing the newscast virtually in the dark due to electrical outages affecting the Lawton area following a severe thunderstorm that rolled through southern Oklahoma the previous night that produced damaging straight-line winds. The only power available to the studio came from a portable generator located in one of the station's live trucks, which also served as a makeshift studio-transmitter link to relay the signal to the transmitter. The broadcast was done with one camera, one tape deck and one microphone (which was passed between the anchors).
On July 1, 2008, Drewry Communications Group announced its intention to sell its eleven television stations (as well as radio station KTXC in Lamesa, Texas) to Dallas-based London Broadcasting Company – a company founded by Terry E. London the previous year to acquire broadcast properties in small to mid-sized markets within Texas, which had purchased CBS affiliate KYTX in Tyler in February 2008 – for $115 million. While the deal received approval by the FCC, London Broadcasting filed a notice of non-consummation to the FCC in January 2009, terminating the deal due to market uncertainties resulting from the Great Recession.
On August 10, 2015, Raycom Media announced that it would purchase Drewry Communications Group's eight television stations for $160 million; as part of the deal, American Spirit Media will purchase KAUZ-TV from Hoak Media. While KSWO and KAUZ will remain jointly operated, the existing joint sales agreement between with KAUZ will be terminated upon the sale's closure due to FCC rules prohibiting such agreements by counting the sale of 15% or more of advertising time by one station to a competing junior partner station in the JSA as a duopoly in violation with the agency's ownership rules (the Wichita Falls-Lawton market has only four full-power television stations, four fewer than that allowed to legally form a duopoly). The sale was completed on December 1.
Upon the JSA's termination, Raycom will enter into a shared services agreement with KAUZ, under which KSWO will handle news production, administrative and production operations, and provide equipment and building space for that station. Through its ownership by Drewry, KSWO-TV had been one of the few television stations in the country not owned by a major network that has had the same callsign, owner and primary network affiliation throughout its history; it was also the only remaining major television station in the Wichita Falls-Lawton market to be locally owned.