KxKx 88.5 FM
San Francisco, California
Circa 1962-63

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Emory Johnson (left) and George Conklin at KxKx-FM’s Ampex rack

The photographs on this page, from the collection of George Conklin, were taken around 1962-63 when KxKx-FM signed on the air from studios at 286 Divisadero Street, San Francisco. Rev. Conklin, an acclaimed educator, media producer, editor and minister, provided the following background on the photographs and the station:

Both studio pictures (above and below on this page) are of me, George Conklin, program consultant for the station, and Emory Johnson (with glasses), the general manager.

KxKx-FM was at 88.5 MHz with an ERP of 120 kilowatts. It was owned and operated by the Trustees of the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Rafael, a seminary of the Presbyterian Church. The call letters had been used earlier by a classical music station on the Peninsula. The use of upper and lower case in the call sign (KxKx-FM) was an effort to distinguish the new station at the low end of the FM band reserved for educational licenses.

The initial funding (about $250,000) came from the national office of the Presbyterian Church in New York, the seminary and local churches in the Bay Area. The station was state of the art with the latest RCA stereo ‘board’ (seen in the lower photo), Ampex stereo tape recorders and Neumann stereo microphones. The engineering design was done by Hammet and Edison.

The transmitter was an RCA located on San Bruno Mountain with an equipment cubicle adjacent to that of station KPEN-FM operated by James Gabbert. The link to the transmitter was a matched and balanced “20k” pair of telephone lines. Another telephone line was used for an SCA feed, and another line was used to remote control the transmitter. The Chief Engineer was Wayne Loerke.

The program format anticipated that of National Public Radio with a variety of interview shows, lectures, classical music and location recordings. The station had a small remote van with Ampex stereo tape recorders and Neumann stereo microphones. The “issue” of which local church to broadcast on Sundays was solved by broadcasting, via a location tape recording, services from the Stanford Chapel.

Station break announcements were initially done by William Pierce of WGBH/Boston, possibly the best-known educational station announcer at the time and noted for narrating live broadcasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops concerts. Pierce was the announcer for those broadcasts. Emory Johnson flew him out to San Francisco to record at KxKx-FM.

No Presbyterian programming per se was on the main stereo channel of KxKx-FM. The SCA (Subsidiary Communications Authorization) channel was used for educational programming. Presbyterian churches in the broadcast area has special SCA receivers in their education rooms.

Plans were made to begin a network of church operated stations in New York (WRVR-FM at the famed Riverside Church) and Hartford, Conn. (WSCH-FM at South Congregational Church), using broadcast-quality telephone lines. That dream was not realized.

The continuing operation of the station, with an annual budget of about $100,000, became too expensive for the seminary and churches and the station was sold to KQED-TV in the mid 1960s for $80,000. The Ford Foundation paid $40,000 of the sale price. The station became KQED-FM.

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George Conklin (left) and Emory Johnson at KxKx-FM’s RCA console

Early in the history of KxKx-FM, I had the distinction of burning out the transmitter! The entire staff of the station (perhaps four or five people) were attending a meeting of Presbyterian churches at a local church in the Bay Area to do a brief demonstration of the new station. Since I had an FCC license I was asked to operate the station with programming on the main stereo channel and the SCA channel.

As I was operating the station from two tape recorders, the off-frequency alarm went off. A quick check of transmitter parameters indicated that the frequency-specific crystal, which maintained the correct frequency, was drifting. The transmitter shut down automatically. I telephoned the church and talked with Emory Johnson and Wayne Loerke. We agreed that they would keep the phone open and when they started their presentation I was to turn the transmitter back on and over-ride the automatic shutdown by holding the shut-down switch in ON position.

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George Conklin in 2008

The next day we drove up to the transmitter site on San Bruno Mountain and opened the transmitter rack door. There was charring and the wiring to the crystal oven was burned out. In those days, before digital controls, transmitters were kept on frequency by precision crystals set to be on an exact frequency when they were ‘gently’ warmed — in a small crystal oven — to a point well above ambient temperatures.

What happened was a leak had occurred in the “helix cable” used to feed the 10 kilowatt transmitter power to the 12 bay antenna array high on the steel antenna tower. Moisture got into the cable and reflected the radio frequency energy back into the steel transmitter case. Our ‘guess’ was the first thing to burn was the light duty wire which heated the crystal oven. That caused the first symptom, going off frequency as the crystal cooled. Then the RF energy heated other components as I over-rode the automatic shut done. It is a wonder the station stayed on the air for the few minutes of demonstration.

There was a “happy” outcome to that event. The president of RCA was a Presbyterian layman who was very interested in the station project and provided the replacement transmitter at no cost.

CURATOR’S NOTE: The former quarters of KxKx-FM, which also later housed KQED-FM, at 286 Divisadero Street in San Francisco, is presently home to Yoga Garden of San Francisco.

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