At noon on Sunday, October 27, 1957, from a 120-year-old adobe hut on Kings Mountain overlooking the San Francisco Peninsula, Stanford University students James Gabbert and Gary Gielow fired up their transmitter and placed KPEN on the air with 1,490 watts at 101.3 on the FM band, launching a radio station that would become a local institution.
On August 25, 1959, KPEN's power was increased to 35,000 watts from its new transmitter site on San Bruno Mountain, making its high-fidelity monaural signal available to a greater number of audio enthusiasts around the Bay Area.
One of the most popular programs on KPEN was James Gabbert's nightly "Excursions In Sound," which featured a broad variety of hi-fi recordings — music, comedy, sound effects — selected by the host in order to challenge the "fi" of the listener's audio equipment. Included were submissions by the listeners themselves of sounds they recorded on their own machines.
A steam whistle and a baby crib being pushed across a wooden floor are among the selections sent in and heard on the three audio exhibits presented here. The recordings include a variety of music (from folk to calliopes to exotica), as well as comedy from Stan Freberg, plus information on the latest hi-fi equipment from Mr. Gabbert.
The program is introduced by Gary Gielow on the September 8 and December 15 broadcasts, and by staff announcer Wayne Jordan on September 9. Be sure to listen for sample test tones at the top of each hour, sponsored by Rek-O-Kut turntables. (The tone generator utilized was an inexpensive Heathkit audio oscillator.)
Several of the programs were originally recorded by young David Billeci at his family's apartment on 16th Street in San Francisco's Mission District, using a reel-to-reel recorder at 3-3/4 i.p.s. with a handheld crystal microphone. The radio employed for the recordings was a Freed-Eisemann AM-FM classroom model much like the one shown at the top of this page, which Mr. Billeci notes was typical for all schools in the San Francisco Unified School District at that time.
KPEN began broadcasting in multiplex stereo in July 1961 (according to Mr. Gabbert in the 1962 edition of "Excursions" available on this page), becoming the first station west of the Mississippi using this method of broadcasting, at which time "Excursions In Sound" became "Excursions In Stereo." In December 1968, KPEN became KIOI and began announcing itself under the trademarked "K-101" identifier to more closely associate itself with its position on the FM dial.
Mr. Gabbert continued as principal owner of the station until October 1980 when it was sold for $12-million, at the time a record for an FM station. He would later own San Francisco's KOFY-TV (Channel 20) and two Bay Area radio stations known as KOFY (1050 AM and 98.9 FM), as well as the legendary Oakland soul station, KDIA.
Mr. Gabbert sold KDIA to Disney/ABC in 1998, after which the station became the local Radio Disney outlet as KMKY. Subsequently, Mr. Gabbert became a popular fill-in talk show host on KGO/810. He was inducted with the first class of the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame in 2006.