KEEN Radio, San Jose
Grand Opening Broadcast

Saturday, June 21, 1947

KEEN Grand Opening Photo (1947)
Hollywood star Red Skelton (second from left) helps to celebrate the grand opening of Radio Station KEEN at San Jose’s Hotel De Anza. KEEN general manager Floyd Farr is at far right in the photo.
KEEN Transmitter Site (1976 Photo)
Original KEEN Transmitter Site, Old Oakland Highway, 1976

On Saturday, June 21, 1947, at 8 p.m., United Broadcasting’s KEEN Radio made its inaugural broadcast with 1,000 watts at 1370 kilocycles from San Jose. The grand opening broadcast originated from the Hotel De Anza on West Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose. (KEEN’s transmitter was located in an orchard on the Old Oakland Highway near Wayne Avenue, near the Milpitas town limits.)

The gala broadcast featured Red Skelton — a popular radio star who would later become a favorite on TV — and was followed by a reception for local luminaries and the station staff at the De Anza.

KEEN and United Broadcasting received its primary financial backing from George Mardikian, an Armenian freedom fighter who escaped from a Turkish prison and came to the United States in 1922. With limited knowledge of the English language, he made his way from New York to San Francisco to join his brother and sister. His first job in America was washing dishes in a cafeteria; from there, he took a job as a steward on an ocean liner and began learning the skills necessary to become a chef.

George Mardikian (Photo)
George Mardikian in front of Omar Khayyam’s in San Francisco

Upon his return to California, in 1932 he opened his first restaurant, Omar Khayyam’s, in Fresno, which led to two more restaurants of the same name — the most famous of which was located in San Francisco — and a chain of sandwich shops. From 1942 to 1954, Mr. Mardikian served as a food consultant to the United States Army. He also founded the American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians and worked with the Boy Scouts for more than sixty years. A naturalized citizen of the United States, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award an American can receive, for his service to the nation.

Mr. Mardikian became involved in radio through his “Dinner At Omar Khayyam’s” broadcasts on San Francisco’s primary NBC station, KPO, which led to a friendship with station executives George D. Snell, Jr., and B. Floyd Farr. The trio began discussing the ownership of their own radio station, and subsequently applied to the FCC for the available 1370 kc. frequency in San Jose, which they received authorization for in October 1946.

Along with Mr. Mardikian, Mr. Snell originally owned a 32% stake in United Broadcasting and served as KEEN’s first program director, while Mr. Farr held a 22% share and was its original general manager. Samuel A. Melnicoe (10%) and Alfred Aram (4%) held minority stakes in the company.

Red Murrell (KEEN Photo, Circa 1960)
Red Murrell and the Ozark Playboys at a KEEN Radio event in Fremont, Circa 1960

While KEEN soon became best known for its country and western music programming — with such notable personalities as Cottonseed Clark, Cactus Jack, Red Murrell, Black Jack Wayne, Cal Shrum and Foy Willing hosting shows on its airwaves — George Mardikian continued to host his own program, “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam,” at noon each Sunday on the station into the early 1950s.

You who have been born in America, I wish I could make you understand what it is like not to be an American — not to have been an American all your life — and then suddenly with the words of a judge in flowing robes to be one, for that moment and forever after. One moment, you belong with your fathers to a million dead yesterdays — the next you belong with America to a million unborn tomorrows.

— George Mardikian


KEEN 1370 Rate Card (Image)
KEEN Radio’s first advertising rate card from May 1947

Feature photograph and KEEN rate card courtesy of Keith B. Farr.




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Vic Madden
Vic Madden
19 September 2019 10:38 PM

I spent many hours of my youth listening to Cottonseed Clark (my favorite DJ), Red Murrell and Blackjack Wayne play the country songs of the day. Great memories. And I got to see the inside of the station on old Oakland Road.

12 August 2020 8:02 PM

Used to love listening to country music on KEEN radio in the early 1970’s. The DJ’s had KENO the tap dancing robot among other funny skits. i even remember some of the commercials (Babes Muffler Service comes to mind)

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