San Francisco Radio:
Histories In Brief
THE HISTORY OF KLS/KWBR/KDIA
By John F. Schneider
One of the earliest Bay Area radio operations that has been in continuous operation until the present time was KLS, the Warner Brothers’ station. This station did not belong to the Warner Brothers of motion picture fame, but rather to the brothers Stafford W. and Eugene N. Warner.
The Warners were amateur radio operators who ran a small grocery store at 22nd and Telegraph in Oakland. They originally sold radio parts in one corner of the store, but the interest in radio sales grew until they finally discontinued grocery sales completely and turned their store into a wireless shop about 1918. They operated their amateur station 6XAM from the shop, and it eventually evolved into a broadcast station. In 1921, the Warners were airing regular programs consisting of phonograph records and occasional piano music. On March 6, 1922, 6XAM was licensed as KLS, and the little station continued to broadcast through the twenties, mostly with programs of recorded music. Its sole function was to serve as a publicity agent for the Warners’ Oakland radio shop, as well as their two later San Francisco stores. Its most prominent early program was the “Radio Church of America”.
At first sharing 360 meters with all stations in the area, KLS was assigned to 1440 kc. in 1923, and transmitted with 250 watts. In 1928, KLS moved to 1280 kc., where it was required to share time on the frequency with KTAB until the mid thirties. When KTAB became KSFO and moved to the 560 dial position, KLS adopted the 1280 frequency full time. (In 1941, in a massive nationwide frequency reallocation, the station moved to its final assignment of 1310 kc.)
In 1936, the studios were moved to 21st Street (now 22nd Street) on what is now Kaiser property in Oakland. The Warners leased the entire second floor of a building there, and started what they called “Warner Brothers Radio Village”. Several shops were constructed next to the studios in the form of an indoor shopping mall, and it was hoped that the presence of the radio studio would draw people to the shops. The plan was only moderately successful, however. A tower was built on the roof of the building, and the station’s power was increased from 250 to 1,000 watts.
Programs on KLS were mostly ethnic or religious. Some regular programs were “The Voice of Portugal”, “Mi Rancho”, the “Daily Litalia” program, and Rev. Charles Lukens’ “Valley Church of the Air”. The station’s music was also segmented, with popular music played mornings, rhythm and blues in the afternoons, foreign music evenings and jazz overnight. The all-night program, called “The Cigar Box Review”, was so named because it was sponsored by several 24-hour cigar stands.
KLS changed its call letters to KWBR on September 10, 1945, and continued to be operated by the Warners Brothers until June of 1959. At that time, the station was sold to Egmont Sonderling. The call letters were changed to KDIA, after Sonderling’s successful Memphis station, WDIA, and it began programming for a black audience, featuring black disk jockeys and Rhythm and Blues music (later to be called “Soul” music). KDIA found a competitor for a while in KSAN, which changed its call letters to KSOL in 1964, and was programmed for the black audience until 1971.
Interview between author and Eugene Warner, former owner of KLS. Oakland, California, September 22, 1970. Interview between author and Bill Doubleday, manager of KDIA. Oakland, California, May 7, 1970. The Federal Radio Commission Station List, as authorized on 11/11/28. With research by Barry Mishkind, 1993-94.
KGTT/KGGC/KSAN, SAN FRANCISCO
by John Schneider
The potential of radio for ministering to the public was obvious from the beginning to pastor and administrators of the Glad Tidings Temple, located on Ellis Street in San Francisco. A radio application was made in 1922, and a license was granted, giving the call letters KDZX. There is no evidence that the station ever went on the air, however, and the call letters had been deleted by July of the following year.
The church’s second attempt at building a radio station was more successful, however. A license was issued again in 1925 for the call letters KFVZ. These call letters were chosen by the Federal Radio Commission in their pattern of issuing call letters in alphabetical order. Indications are that the call letters were never used, and that the church requested and was granted a modification of the call letters to KGTT, standing for “Glad Tidings Temple”. The station went on the air November 30, 1925, with a power of 50 watts, and was operated by the pastor, Robert J. Craig, who also served as the station’s manager and announcer. The station initially broadcast on 1420 kc., where it shared the frequency with KFQU in Holy City, California.
Sometime before 1930, the station was transferred to the Golden Gate Church, and the call letters were changed to KGGC. (It may be that this simply represented a change of name of the church, however.)
KGTT/KGGC had been a minor station in the Bay Area through the twenties and thirties. That changed in 1939 when Sherwood Patterson purchased the station and changed the call letters to KSAN. New studios were constructed in the Merchandise Mart near Market Street. A radio tower was erected on the roof of the building, and a 250 watt transmitter was installed. The reborn station attracted considerable attention with its programming of popular music and disk jockeys. Two popular KSAN personalities in 1941 were Les Malloy and Vic Paulsen. Evening host Malloy called himself the “Midnight Son”, while Paulsen, who held down the morning shift, was known as the “Rising Son”. After the Pearl Harbor attack later that year, however, Paulson’s nickname was quickly dropped. Dave Crosatto had the first sponsored all-night program in the Bay Area on KSAN, supported by the Mark Hopkins Hotel and the Yellow Cab Company. Perhaps the most notable aspect of KSAN’s programming, however, was its devotion to horse race results. At any time of the day, programs were interrupted to announce the latest results from Golden Gate Fields. The station found instant success with this policy, as Vic Paulsen told it. He explained that even people who didn’t like the station would listen, just to keep up on their bets. This policy did not win any fans at the F.C.C., however, and the station reportedly lost its bid for a 1,000 watt frequency to a Santa Cruz station because it gave more attention to race results than to public service features.
KSAN remained as a popular music station in the Bay Area throughout the forties and early fifties. In the mid fifties, the music format was changed to feature rhythm and blues music, aimed at a primarily black audience. This continued to be the station’s reason for existence for a number of years. In 1964, the station was purchased by Les Malloy, who changed the call letters to KSOL, reflecting the evolution of rhythm and blues into “Soul” music. The station competed for the black audience with KDIA in Oakland (formerly KLS and KWBR) until 1971. That year, the station was sold again, and the call letters were changed to KEST. Programming was changed to feature mainstream adult-oriented music, despite many complaints from the station’s loyal black listeners. KEST was acquired by Douglas Broadcasting, Inc., in December of 1988.
Radio Service Bulletins, 1922 and 1925. Interview between author and Vic Paulsen, former KSAN announcer, San Francisco, California, December 9, 1970. Interview between author and Dave Crosatto, former KSAN announcer, San Francisco, California, April 27, 1970. The Federal Radio Commission Station List, as authorized on 11/11/28. With research by Barry Mishkind, 1993-94.
KYA, SAN FRANCISCO
by John Schneider
Many efforts were made to establish coast-to-coast networks to compete with NBC and CBS. Many of those fledgling networks found their efforts dashed by the unforeseeable effects of the great depression.
One such network that started out with great plans but ended in bankruptcy was the Pacific Broadcasting Company. This was a Seattle-based company that owned and operated KJR in that city, and had plans to build a West Coast network of super-stations. Vincent Kraft, who was the founder and manager of KJR, was President of the new company. The plans called for stations in Seattle, Spokane, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
December 18, 1926, was the first day of the planned expansion beyond Seattle. On that date, the network’s San Francisco outlet, KYA, went on the air. KYA broadcast initially on 970 kc. with 500 watts, but it was planned to later increase its power to 20,000 watts. On Christmas day, the network’s two other Northwest outlets, KEX in Portland and KGA in Spokane, went on the air, each with 20,000 watts. The Los Angeles outlet, KPLA, came on the air within the next several months. A postal loop hookup was established between KYA and KPLA, and the two stations exchanged sponsored programs on a regular basis.
KYA’s first facilities were located in the Clift Hotel in San Francisco. The studio was located on the fifth floor, and the transmitter was on the sixteenth floor with the antenna on the roof. Claire Morrison, KPO engineer and announcer, was hired as Manager, and Edward Ludes of KJBS was Chief Announcer. The station changed frequencies several times during the next two years, operating with 1,000 Watts first on 850 and later on 830 kc.
KYA and the Pacific Broadcasting Company had financial problems from the outset. Within a year, the company joined forces with the West Coast Theatres and a new network was formed, the first of a number to take the name American Broadcasting Company (ABC), headquartered in Seattle.
On December 3, 1927, the station moved into its new studios in Loew’s Warfield Theater, 988 Market Street. The hope was that the merger with the vaudeville theater chain would provide the network with entertainment for its broadcasts, and with studios in the Warfield, the performers had only to walk down to the basement studios to broadcast a network program. An agreement was made with the San Francisco Examiner that provided for the exchange of news bulletins and publicity, and KYA became the Examiner station. The new basement studios were elaborate and well-decorated, designed to be a showplace for theater-goers that might wander down the staircase before a performance.
On alternate nights, KYA supplied nearly all the ABC network’s programming, and originated some programs for CBS when its local station KFRC had a conflict — specifically the East-West Football Game and the “Old Gold” program.
In a massive nationwide reassignment of frequencies which took place November 11, 1928, KYA was ordered to the less desirable frequency of 1230 kc., perhaps due to a failure to build the high powered facility first proposed. (The station moved again in 1941 in another wholesale frequency shift, this time to 1260 kc.)
A short period of rapid expansion followed, and the ABC network was quickly being built into a coast-to-coast network, under the command of Seattle banker Adolph Linden. But everything fell apart overnight in 1929, right after the stock market crash, when Linden was arrested for embezzling his bank’s funds to bankroll the network. The ABC network went into receivership and became the Northwest Broadcasting System under the control of receiver H. I. Pierce. KPLA in Los Angeles was sold to Earl C. Anthony, and it became KECA. KYA was operated by F. C. Dahlquist under receivership until the entire ABC operation was purchased by the National Broadcasting Company in 1930. At that time, KJR, KEX and KGA became the NBC Blue Network stations in their respective cities. KYA became the key station for a minor NBC hookup that was called the “Brown Network”, which was eventually dissolved.
NBC’s acquisition of KYA allowed the purchase a state of the art RCA 1B screen-grid transmitter. The “Greater KYA” debuted with its new transmitter from its new location at the Hotel Whitcomb on June 25, 1930.
KYA was never a good fit with the NBC organization, which desired to operate a pair of stations in each major city to transmit its Red and Blue networks. But in San Francisco, they had three stations – KPO, KGO and KYA – and KYA was the odd man out. So KYA was sold once again, to the Hearst Publishing Company in 1934, and it and became the full-time radio voice of the San Francisco Examiner. The station was immediately moved into new facilities in the Hearst Building, at Third and Market Streets, where three well-equipped studios were constructed. The station’s program policy was to be a reflection in sound of the Examiner’s editorial pages, and it remained so until 1948.
On June 1,1937, KYA began transmitting with increased power from their new transmitter site on Candlestick Hill, overlooking the Hunter’s Point District of the city. A modern art deco transmitter building was constructed on the top of the hill, and a new RCA 5-C 5,000 Watt transmitter was installed. A new self-supporting 450 foot radio tower completed the installation.
In 1948, the “Examiner” sold KYA to a group of Stanford professors and instructors, doing business as “Palo Alto Radio Station, Inc.” This started a turbulent period in the history of KYA. Over a period of almost twenty years, KYA was operated by no less than eight different owners! The Palo Alto group sold the station to Dorothy Schiff of the “New York Post”. In the mid fifties, the station was purchased by Elroy McCaw and John Keating, doing business as KYA, Inc. They in turn sold the station to the Bartell Family Group in 1958, who subsequently sold to Golden State Broadcasters. From 1963 to 1966, KYA was operated by the Churchill Broadcasting Corporation, and in June of 1966 KYA was acquired by Avco Broadcasting.
Rock’n’roll music made its first appearance on KYA during the Bartell Group days, and then for only a portion of the station’s broadcast day. After an initial success, it quickly took over the entire day’s schedule. In 1961, a young unknown Georgia disk jockey who called himself Bill Drake was given the task of programming the station. Drake made drastic changes, streamlining the carnival sound of early rock radio, until an entirely new concept was developed. “The Drake Sound” became an instant success at KYA, and soon spread to other stations. Before long, Bill Drake had redefined rock’n’roll radio nationwide, which became “Top 40” radio. Drake became a multi-millionaire, programming nearly a hundred AM and FM stations from his home in Bel Air in the 1970’s. KYA and KFRC shared the important rock radio audience in San Francisco through the 70’s.
In 1983, Bonneville Broadcasting Co. purchased KYA and the call letters were changed to KOIT. The original call letters lived on, however, with KYA-FM, which was sold to another owner, KING Broadcasting of Seattle, which operated it together with KSFO. Two of San Francisco’s most historic call letters were now resided under one roof.
"San Francisco Examiner", December 16, 1926. "San Francisco Examiner", December 2, 1927. "San Francisco Examiner", December 3, 1927. "Broadcast Weekly", 1929. KYA historical notes by staff member Price Williams, 11/15/37. Interview between author and Carl Christiensen, former KYA engineer. San Rafael, California, March 25, 1971. "Puget Sounds", by David Richardson The Federal Radio Commission Station List, as authorized on 11/11/28. With research by Barry Mishkind, 1993-94.
All articles copyright © 1997-2006 by John F. Schneider. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with the generous permission of the author.