The station began broadcasting on December 1, 1958 as KVKM-TV in Monahans, Texas, an ABC affiliate. It was originally owned by Tri-Cities Broadcasters, which co-owned KVKM radio (1340 AM; now KCKM 1330). Initially broadcasting from a 777 ft (237 m) tower between Kermit and Monahans (shared with the radio station), KVKM-TV moved to a 1,080 ft (330 m) tower at the edge of the Caprock on February 1, 1963.
Grayson Enterprises (named for Sidney Grayson but after 1964 not owned) bought the station in 1969 and renamed it KMOM-TV, for Monahans-Odessa-Midland. Grayson added other stations to his operation during the late 1960s and 1970s, including KCCN (now KKEA) in Honolulu, Hawaii, KLBK-TV in Lubbock, Texas, and KTXS-TV in Abilene/Sweetwater, Texas, among others.
Under Grayson's ownership, KVKM added two satellite stations: KWAB, and KAVE-TV (channel 6) in Carlsbad, New Mexico. The latter station served as a KVKM/KMOM satellite from 1966 until 1969, when KVKM was sold to Grayson, and KAVE became a satellite of KELP-TV El Paso. KAVE later sold to Stanley Marsh 3 and continued as a satellite of KVIA-TV in El Paso, Texas. (KAVE is now KOCT, a satellite of KOAT-TV in Albuquerque, New Mexico.)
However, Grayson Enterprises ran into license renewal trouble in 1968, 1971, 1974, and 1977 for some of its stations. These stations were accused of fraudulent billing, program and transmitter log fabrication, main studio violations, failure to make required technical tests, and other issues. The stations had their renewals deferred and hearings ordered as a result.
The case was settled in what was then described as a "distress sale", in which Grayson's stations were broken up and sold to minority-controlled groups (nowadays known as historically-underutilized groups) at a reduced price. The parameters of such a sale were defined by this sell-off. As a result, Grayson sold both stations to Permian Basin Television Corporation in 1980, while KLBK and KTXS went to Prima, Inc. (whose principals were African American).
The station swapped affiliations with KMID-TV (channel 2) in 1981 and joined NBC. Simultaneous with the affiliation swap, channel 9 changed its call letters to KTPX-TV and moved its studio operations to a new building on County Road 127 in Midland. Permian Basin Television sold the station to MSP Television in 1985. Current owner Drewry Communications Group bought the station in 1991. On August 16, 1993, the call letters were changed to KWES-TV. (KTPX-TV is now assigned to the Ion Television affiliate in Tulsa, Oklahoma.)
Current owner Drewry Communications Group had planned to sell its stations to London Broadcasting in 2008; however, by January 2009, the deal fell through.
In addition to NBC programming, KWES became the home of Dallas Cowboys preseason television broadcasts in 2011, gaining the rights from KPEJ-TV. The rights gave Drewry all Dallas Cowboys preseason rights in West Texas, as KTLE-LP had held the Spanish-language rights since 2006. KWES held Houston Texans preseason TV rights in 2002 and 2003 (during a period when NBC did not hold any NFL rights), but low ratings were produced due to tape delaying the broadcasts until Sunday afternoon. KWES chose to let go of the Texans preseason rights, and they weren't picked up again until 2010 when KPEJ picked them up. KWES lost the rights to the English broadcasts of Cowboys preseason games in 2013.
KWES lost rights to LATV on December 29, 2013, but they were able to gain the rights to The CW from KWWT. As a result, KWES now airs The CW programming on KWES-DT2 with The CW Plus feed. On June 12, 2014, KWES-DT2's CW feed was made available to local Dish Network subscribers on Channel 10.
On August 10, 2015, Raycom Media announced that it would purchase Drewry Communications for $160 million. The sale was completed on December 1.