KQED public radio was founded in 1969, and the station began broadcasting later that year with a skeletal staff of paid employees and volunteers. In 1987, the station's format was changed to an all-news and information service. Now the broadcast schedule is composed of programs from station, independent and network producers, including productions by National Public Radio, Public Radio International and the BBC. KQED produces seven award-winning public affairs programs, and also assists in the production of four other radio programs.
In May 2003, KQED acquired the 89.3FM frequency in the Sacramento area. The new station, identified by the call letters KQEI, broadcasts KQED's 24-hour news and information program service over the new frequency for listeners in the Sacramento area. Since 2000, KQED has offered live online streaming, and began offering archived audio files of its programs on KQED's via the web in 2002.
KQED has one of the strongest public radio signals in the state of California. It is currently the most-listened-to public radio station in the country, reaching over 745,000 listeners each week.