KROW Radio, Oakland
Radio Center Building
464 19th Street
From 1936 until 1964, Oakland radio station KROW (and its successor, KABL) occupied the second floor of this building on the corner of Broadway and 19th Street in the city’s downtown district. Referred to as “Radio Center” during its occupancy by KROW, the building carried two addresses — 1901 Broadway for the first-floor retail space, and 464 19th Street for the radio station’s upstairs suite of studios and offices.
Built in 1923 for Harvey B. Lyon of the well-known Lyon Moving and Storage firm — as of 2008, the 19th Street entry continued to bear “Lyon Building” on its façade — the edifice was designed by Edward T. Foulkes, architect of the landmark Tribune Tower. The retail space had a variety of tenants over the years, including a dry goods store, a florist, and Owl Drug Store, before becoming the original location of the first Kushins Shoe Store, which was the occupant when the photo shown above was taken.
For many years, after Harvey Lyon was beset by financial difficulties, the building came under the ownership of Capwell’s Department Store, which had its flagship store nearby at Broadway and 20th Street.
KROW, then owned by the Oakland Educational Society, under president and station manager H.P. Drey, moved to the Broadway & 19th complex from 1803 Franklin Street (about two blocks away) in 1936. The station’s transmitter and towers remained at the station’s early home at 1520 Eighth Avenue in Oakland, the site of the church where KROW’s predecessor, KFWM, originally maintained studios from 1926 to 1934. (The KFWM call letters were changed to KROW in June 1930; the station’s transmitter was moved to the so-called “Krow Island,” adjacent to the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza, in July 1953 and remains in use today.)
Several notable personalities toiled at KROW during its residence at 464 19th Street, including Don Sherwood, Dick Whittington, Russ Coughlin (then known as “Coglin”), Bruce Sedley, Don Barksdale, Rod McKuen (later a renowned poet) and an Alameda housewife-turned-administrative assistant named Phyllis Diller, who would rise to much greater acclaim as a caustic comedienne.
KROW became the property of the McLendon Pacific Corporation in May 1959, at which time it was rechristened as KABL. The station remained at the corner of Broadway and 19th until August 1964, when KABL moved its administrative and sales operation to 632 Commercial Street in San Francisco, and its broadcast studios to the transmitter site near the Bay Bridge.
The building at Broadway & 19th was beautifully restored by Warren Malnick and Fruitvale Investments LLC in 2004, and the retail space became the new home of the upscale J. Malnick apparel store, an Oakland institution dating back to 1916. The second floor, once occupied by KROW, retained much of its original configuration as offices for a variety of small businesses.
SOURCES: KROW Radio Center and J. Malnick-Lyon Building photographs from the collection of Warren Malnick. Print ad announcing KROW’s new transmitter system (Hayward Daily Review, July 13, 1953) from the archives of the Bay Area Radio Museum. Additional research by Len Shapiro. Some historical data courtesy of Jan D. Lowry and Broadcast Pro-File.