KTN was founded in March 1990 by Jared Kangwana and was the first non-pay privately owned TV-station in Africa, and the first to break KBC's monopoly in Kenya. KTN became famous for Activism Journalism in the 1990s, developing a sophisticated, aggressive and unique style news coverage, and has continued with the same hard line stance, issues-based reporting to date, branding itself as the 'authoritative and independent' news channel. KTN became the model for some governments in Africa when they allowed media liberalisation to take place in the late 1990s. Many of the new radio and TV stations across East and Central Africa not only relied on KTN as a model, but benefited directly in terms of recruiting former KTN staff to run their operations.
Since 1990, KTN has offered a mixture of relayed re-transmission of Cable News Network (CNN) programming, business and entertainment, as well as MTV, and European, American and Australian programming, in addition to programs developed in other African states. KTN also filed stories for use by affiliated foreign stations. KTN reporters doubled as foreign correspondents and news sources for CNN World Report, BBC, and VOA.
Transmitting on the UHF channel, KTN started out as a pilot project for a 24-hour subscriber TV service in Nairobi and its environs, but abandoned plans to scramble its signal and for most of the 1990s derived its revenue from advertising and TV production services.
The vast majority of beneficiaries of the growth of KTN were the music and theatre industries, as well as the African fashion industry that benefited from the improved media culture. Nairobi, already the hub of the East and Central African region, became even more fashionable, hosting more international events and trade shows, and attracting more tourists from all over the world. The quality and popularity of programming at KTN was remarkably exceptional, even by international standards. In these early years, Kenyan commercials began to win international awards, and foreign correspondents flying into Africa came increasingly to depend on KTN reporters for orientation and research. KTN also provided briefings for relief agencies and corporate investors, as well as access to KTN facilities for editing and filing stories to stations outside Africa.