International Broadcast Station KGEI: 1939-1994 History courtesy of FEBC International
1. 1939: The Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island was the birthplace of KGEI.
The guide shows that W6XBE was in the Electricity and Communications
building (however, W6XBE did not broadcast to Europe, but to the
The guide provided a beautiful cartograph of the fair. KGEI was located in
The 50 kw transmitter on display at the Golden Gate Exposition on
Treasure Island (before the call sign was changed to KGEI in August of
4b. 1939: A broader view of GE's radio exhibit with the change to "KGEI."
5. 1939: Hollywood stars Cesar Romero and Sally Eilers, broadcast greetings to Latin America from W6XBE (KGEI) at Treasure Island.
Folies Bergere dancers at the Golden Gate Exposition help publicize the name change to "KGEI."
7. 1941: KGEI's reinforced concrete transmitter building near Belmont. Built to withstand bomb or earthquake.
8. 1941: KGEI transmitter in the new building, outfitted with art deco trim.
9. 1941: The studio in the Fairmont Hotel.
William Winter in the Philippines, to attend a state dinner given in
his honor by President Manuel Roxas, for his KGEI broadcasts during the
11. 1941-45: Philippine Consulate General Tiburcio Baja was KGEI's Filipino voice of encouragement during WW2. (Photo 1960, Manila)
12. 1941-50: Classic RCA 44BX 1-4.
13. 1954-5: Noted Stanford professor Ronald Hilton (r.) conducted the International University of the Air.
KGEI Antennas as originally constructed by GE. Note US Marine guard
shack on far edge of the property, which appears through the lower left
section of first tower.
15. 1962: KGEI receives commendation from President Kennedy.
16. 1962: The award is signed by
Kennedy, Murrow and Minow.
17. 1970s: Popular station giveaway: a
18. 1970s: Thousands of "Diplomas of Friendship" were sent to listeners participating in the "Chain of Friendship."
19. c. 1972:
KGEI administrative, engineering and broadcasting staff. Listener
photos on the wall reminded broadcasters who they were talking to.
20. 1939-1995: The vintage GE 50 kw transmitter, with minor upgrades, performed flawlessly for 55 years.
21. 2002: KGEI building, just-remodeled for a church office in Redwood Shores. Under the boards on the facade, embedded bas-relief in the concrete it still says: "KGEI - General Electric."
Edited by Jim R.
Bowman, Manager KGEI, 1963-1977; Director of Field Operations FEBC,
1978-1992; President FEBC 1994-2002; International Chairman FEBC,
1939-1940: The Golden Gate International Exposition
International Broadcast Station
KGEI was established by General Electric Company in 1939, a high
frequency (HF) short wave station known initially as W6XBE. The 50 kw
transmitter was first located as an advanced technological display at
the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in San
Francisco Bay (Images 1-4). Noted personalities, especially those known
throughout the world, were invited to give greetings to the audience
from the fair (Image 5). In August of 1939, the station's call sign was
changed to KGEI (standing for "GE International"), and publicized with
the help of Folies Bergere chorus girls (Image 6).
At the Exposition's conclusion, the transmitter
was moved to the eastern tip of Redwood Peninsula (now Redwood City),
about three miles east of Belmont , next door to KPO (eventually KNBC,
now KNBR). The reinforced concrete building, with its 3-foot thick
walls, ceilings and floors (typical of most major transmitter buildings
of the wartime era), was built to address the possibility of bombing
attacks (Images 7,8). On the Bay side of the property a Marine sentry
shack was constructed to guard against amphibious incursions (Image
14). Even today, armed with a metal detector, .45 caliber bullets can
be located and extracted from the silty dikes, where guards apparently
took target practice during times of boredom.
GE's purpose for the station was to promote its
products to the world. Its three "curtain" antennas for 19, 25 and 49
meters, were perfectly aligned (126/306 degrees) with the capitals of
Latin America and Asia. In fact a perfectly straight line could (and
still can) be drawn from Tokyo, San Francisco, Mexico City, Quito and
Buenos Aires! In the days of relatively uncluttered HF bands, the 50 kw
signal was heard with great clarity, virtually around the world. KGEI
rebroadcast some features of KPO and KGO.
1941-1945: World War II
KGEI received considerable attention during World
War II. As a private radio station, GE had no explicit news editorial
policy. Its programs included, however, the personal isolationist views
of well-known figures such as Charles Lindbergh, and some contemporary
The news itself was "ripped and read" from an INS teletype
by announcers with no experience in editorializing. INS news tended to
reflect the personal political philosophy of its owner William Randolph
Hearst, who himself tended toward non-intervention. As Japan continued
with its territorial expansion in Asia, America's worried and
increasingly desperate allies in Malaya, China, Indochina and the
Philippines, were dismayed by radio broadcasts coming from the US,
which seemed to be in sympathy with Japanese propaganda.
all international stations at that time were operated by governments,
listeners to KGEI would assume that KGEI likewise reflected official US
Policy. KGEI was the only radio station at that time on which news from the United States could be heard in the Pacific.
The cause of the one-sided slant was unintentional. The laws of
the United States at that time, prohibited the establishment of an
official Government radio voice. President Franklin Roosevelt was well
aware of the problem, but was not eager to engage in debate with
Congress over what seemed to be a Constitutional issue (things would
change after Pearl Harbor).
But the President found a way get around
the dilemma, by indirectly convincing CBS and ultimately GE, (through
the intermediation of a British military officer from Singapore!) to
assign (and pay) one of its well-known commentators, William Winter
(Image 10)) to voice daily broadcasts on KGEI. Winter had just been
transferred to San Francisco to broadcast his commentaries, based at
KSFO. It was agreed that the news reports on KGEI would in fact be
commentaries which would reflect the majority view of Americans — that
neither Germany nor Japan should be allowed to expand their territories
GE agreed to air Winter's broadcasts daily, for which he
would be paid the princely sum of $50 a week. The broadcasts would not
replace other commentaries, but as a contrast to them, thus preserving
a model of American's freedom of speech. These programs were, in fact,
forerunners of what would eventually become Voice of America. The
programs were aired from a studio in San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel on
Nob Hill (Image 9).
The wartime broadcasts were widely heard in the Philippines
during the dark days of Japanese occupation, and played a historic role
in the life of General Douglas Mac Arthur. As the Japanese invaders
moved south from northern Luzon, US troops had been pushed down into
the Bataan Peninsula and onto Corregidor Island in the mouth of Manila
From his bunker in the Malinta tunnel on Corregidor, General Mac
Arthur, along with his staff, listened to the daily news reports from
KGEI, hoping to hear that the US government was gearing up to send
reinforcements to rescue him and his outnumbered troops. Ordered by
President Roosevelt to evacuate to Australia, Mac Arthur eventually
made three speeches in Australia averring his commitment to return to
the Philippines, summarized always in his famous promise: "I shall
These speeches were relayed by KGEI back to the Pacific, and
provided a rallying cry of encouragement to the Philippines and other
occupied countries. MacArthur's subsequent speeches upon his return to
the Philippines in October of 1944 ("I have returned"), were first
broadcast on mobile short wave transmitters from a US Navy
communications ship off Samar (Central Philippines), picked up in
California and rebroadcast to Asia by KGEI and other short wave
stations, which by now had been established by the Office of War
Information (OWI) in the Bay Area (KWID, KGEX, KROJ).
Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC) which eventually
acquired KGEI, and which has operated stations in the Philippines from
1945 to the present, has met many former resistance fighters who
listened to KGEI during that period. Now retired Philippine Ambassador
Tiburcio Baja, a good friend of FEBC, was KGEI's Tagalog voice during
Japanese occupation (Image 11) . Ambassador Baja tells of one group of
Filipinos who would listen secretly for encouraging news regarding
America's war progress in the evenings, and then dismantle the radio,
each person taking with him a small piece of the set to hide during the
For his KGEI broadcasts, William Winter achieved hero status
with the Philippine and Australian governments and received numerous
honors and awards, including, in 1956, the Philippines' Legion of
Honor, from President Ramon Magsaysay, who himself was a guerilla
fighter during the war.
Winter also received considerable notoriety
with the Japanese government. Several Hollywood writers and producers,
including John Houseman, had come to San Francisco to help the
broadcasting effort. They created dramatic skits, and brought in actors
to portray the roles on the air. The skits had a propaganda message,
and were specifically designed for wartime broadcasting across the
Japan then copied the KGEI mini-dramas with some amateurish
skits, including one in which three characters died but were refused
entry into heaven because of wickedness on earth. The three characters
were: Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt ... and William Winter!
A detailed account of KGEI's involvement during the War may be found in William Winter's excellent book:
Voice from America, a Broadcaster's Diary, 1941-1944, Anvil Publishing, Manila, 1994 (ISBN 971-27-0403-3).
1954-1955: Stanford's University of the Air
In 1954-55, Stanford University aired
broadcasts to Latin America under the banner of "The International
University of the Air," directed by noted Professor Ronald Hilton
(Image 13). The program promoted better understanding among the peoples
of the Americas, and boasted 12,000 letters received in a two year
1960-1994: Far East Broadcasting Company
Far East Broadcasting Company, a
non-commercial, non-denominational Christian broadcasting organization,
acquired KGEI in 1960. The station, along with its Christian
broadcasts, focused initially on Latin America as "La Voz de la Amistad
(The Voice of Friendship), and won awards from Latin American
government and private agencies for its work to promote harmony among
the nations of the [Latin American] "Continent."
KGEI also received
many commendations for its efforts to unite Bay Area Latin immigrants
with their families during times of natural disaster in their home
countries. The correspondence department regularly received hundreds of
letters weekly from every country of Latin America, especially in
response to its "Inglés por Radio" program. Listeners were encouraged
to share correspondence with listeners from countries other than their
A "Diploma de Amistad" (Diploma of Friendship) was issued to
participants who would agree to carry on such contacts with others (Image
18). The correspondence program was called "Cadena de la Amistad"
(Chain of Friendship). News broadcasts were a major feature of the
1960s: The Short Wave Freeze
The principle of freedom of speech and
international broadcast was tested again during the 1960's. KGEI was
prohibited from expanding its broadcast schedules, including planned
new broadcasts to Asia, due to a "freeze" placed on all three private
international stations (the other two were WNYW, Scituate,
Mass., and WINB, Red Lion, Penn.).
The problem stemmed
from broadcasts from the Red Lion station, which routinely excoriated
the internal and international policies of the United States in its
daily schedule to Europe, which conflicted with the broadcasts of VOA
and Radio Free Europe. While the Government wrestled with the problem,
an extended "freeze" was clamped on all three. It was not until the
1970's, after extensive legal and other approaches, that the SW
stations were allowed to expand, which ultimately allowed KGEI to add
another transmitter for its service to Siberia and the rest of Asia.
Missions Engineering 250 kw transmitter, and high-tech log periodic
antennas (LPAs), built by Technology Communications International
(TCI) of Mountain View, were eventually installed in order to compete
with the growing crowd of International stations, many operating with
1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis
An interesting series of experiences for KGEI
began in July of 1962 when a curious letter was received from a Cuban
listener, detailing the exact positions and descriptions of Russian
missile launching sites. Since nothing had yet appeared in the world
press about any such threat, KGEI's parent organization decided to
reproduce the letter, as a curiosity, in one of its fund-raising
letters to the donors. It was then KGEI learned that the CIA was on the
donor mailing list! The phone rang, a meeting was arranged. The agent
implored KGEI to bring such letters to their attention before making
them public! No similar letters were ever received.
But three months later, the phone would ring again! The call
this time was from the White House, in the voice of Presidential Press
Secretary Pierre Salinger, informing KGEI's station manager that "the
President himself" was requesting use of the station (and the two other
private SW stations) to rebroadcast VOA during the growing Cuban
Missile Crisis. The request was made for the station to "volunteer" its
The reaction of the KGEI staff was not positive, since great
care had always been made to convince KGEI listeners that its voice was
independent of government influence. However, while the phone
conversation was still in progress, a phone company field repairman
appeared at the front door with his work order to install a direct line
from Langley, Virginia (VOA headquarters). Apparently Kennedy was not
as idealistic about freedom of expression internationally as Roosevelt
had been during World War II. His concern was undoubtedly over short
wave station WINB in Red Lion, Pennsylvania (see above).
The station thus carried VOA broadcasts for three weeks
during the Crisis. After the crisis had passed, and for its trouble,
the station was invited to a special ceremony on the steps of the White
House, where President John Kennedy, Edward R. Murrow and Newton Minow
(FCC Chairman) presented certificates for "Service of Special Merit" to
FEBC President Robert H. Bowman (Images 15,16). But it took many weeks
and months to re-establish the audience.
Two unusual KGEI listener stories
Still, KGEI's philosophy was to exert a
different kind of influence on its Latin American listeners through its
Christian broadcasts. One example of this comes from an account given
by a listener, who revealed he had been a guerilla fighter with the
Marxist Shining Path movement in Peru. He related that he and
his companions were required to listen to Radio Havana in the evenings.
One night when he was listening alone in the jungle, he became
depressed with the constant harangues and hate-filled complaints
against "capitalist enemies" routinely broadcast from Havana. He moved
the dial in frustration and by chance hit upon KGEI's evening
broadcast, whose announcer was extolling, of all things, the virtues of
forgiving one's enemies! The effect was apparently so soothing, that he
continued to listen for a few evenings, whereupon he decided abandon
his unit and flee back to the city, where he sought out a church.
eventually studied to be a pastor, and one of the final requirements
for graduation from this particular Seminary, was to write a letter to
the person or persons who had turned their life around. And thus KGEI
received this amazing story.
One of KGEI's favorite accounts is that of a Guatemalan
listener who had decided to kill his unfaithful wife and her lover.. He
had tucked a pistol into his waistband and had headed out to his
motorbike. Discovering that he had forgotten the keys, he rushed back
into the house, just in time to hear the words come out of his radio
"Are you thinking about doing something really stupid?"
It turns out
the KGEI announcer was warning listeners that bad things will get worse
if one tries to solve problems without help from God. The man figured
God was trying to talk to him, and so he put the gun away. The story
has a very happy ending, for after some continued listening and
meditation, he became convinced that he himself was the problem in the marriage, reformed, and won his wife back!
One of the responsibilities (or in some cases,
liabilities) of international radio stations is to provide "QSL"
(Confirmation of Reception) cards to "DXers" (listeners who log the
world's stations as a hobby). KGEI routinely provided thousands of the
cards, especially to Japanese listeners who were especially fanatical
DXers. Insight into the fierce competition to log the most stations was
revealed after 1994 when the station was closed down, as FEBC continued
to receive reception reports from Japan! Apparently some listeners had
been "logging onto" outdated editions of World Radio and TV Handbook!
FEBC, with no buyers on the horizon, reluctantly
closed the station in July of 1994, in order to focus on its
broadcasting efforts within Asia. The vintage GE 50 kw transmitter was
donated to Christian missionary organization SIM, Inc. (minus the
historic ID plate! (Image 20)) for use in Monrovia, Liberia. Shortly
after its installation there, a rebel attack destroyed the transmitter
The 250 kw transmitter was donated to Project Aurora,
another Christian outreach ministry, for use in broadcasting to Russia
from Alaska. The property and the building was sold to Redwood Shores'
Fully Alive Community Church, who beautifully remodeled the building
for an administration office, and which can be visited today (image
There is one final story to tell. In 2002, when the church
was struggling to complete the remodeling of the KGEI building, they
were informed that all available phone lines had already been assigned
to Redwood Shores businesses and residents. A new trunk would have to
be run at a cost of $20,000, which the small congregation wasn't
But with no other choice for phone service, the work was
ordered. Fortunately, when the work order passed by the desk of a
former field repairman at the phone company, he thought he knew where
there might be an extra line. A closer examination of the
appropriate control panel revealed an unmarked pair, which, when tested,
ran directly to VOA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The line
installed from KGEI to VOA during the Cuban Missile Crisis forty years previously,
had never been disconnected! It seems that the Russian and Cuban
Marxists had indirectly and unwittingly provided a phone line for a