KSFR Radio 94.9, San Francisco
A Broadcast Day Begins
Undated (Late 1950s?)
The Federal Communications Commission approved a Construction Permit on September 20, 1957, for KSFR, a new San Francisco FM station to be owned by H. Alan “Al” Levitt, who owned San Francisco Records and the Music San Francisco record shop in the City. He had previously worked as an engineering assistant at Oakland’s KLX (910 kc.), where he also announced horse races.
Originally, Levitt sought to have KSFR licensed to broadcast on 96.5 megacycles, but accepted an assignment to 94.9 mc. (Channel 235) instead. (In October 1957, the Chronicle Publishing Company received the FCC’s permission to revive KRON-FM, which was assigned to 96.5 mc. The company had originally operated KRON-FM on that frequency from July 1947 until December 31, 1954, before abandoning its effort.)
KSFR, “The Concert Music Station,” went on the air for the first time on March 11, 1958, from temporary studios at 217 Kearny Street in San Francisco, broadcasting classical music via its 9,400-watt transmitter atop San Bruno Mountain. Owner Al Levitt also served as KSFR’s general manager and one of its chief announcers; for many years, he hosted the station’s morning program, entitled “The Wolfgang — Baroque, Renaissance and Classical Sounds.”
KSFR moved to new studios and offices at 10 Claude Lane, San Francisco 8, later in 1958. In September 1961, the station’s power was boosted to 35,000 watts.
On Friday, June 1, 1962, KSFR began broadcasting in multiplex stereo, joining the burgeoning ranks of local FM stations moving up to even higher fidelity. The enhanced transmission quality was not gained without some difficulty, however, as reported by Bob Foster, radio-TV columnist of the San Mateo Times (June 5, 1962):
“… Al is not a modest guy, by any stretch of the imagination, especially as far as his station is concerned. We received a release almost as long as our arm telling us about the glories of multiplex stereo, and talking as if Al and his people personally discovered the medium.
Now what happened?
It seems that KSFR didn’t have the bugs ironed out, and the listeners who tuned in must have had a rough time with that 3000 cycle tone that crept into one channel of the transmission.
We called young Mr. Levitt this morning to discuss his problem, and were told that he and his engineers were aware of the problem … the tone, that is.
We are well aware that you can’t just go on the air with multiplex until it has been fully tested. KPEN, one of the pioneer stations in the West, found this out last summer. But the difference between KPEN and KSFR is that KPEN waited until things were in as near perfect shape as possible before they went on the air.
…Unfortunately, KSFR made such a lot of noise about multiplex stereo that anybody who might have dropped by an appliance store Friday night might have been convinced that it was no good.”
In 1965, Al Levitt moved his station to 211 Sutter Street in San Francisco and then, on October 12, 1966, the FCC approved his sale of KSFR to Metromedia Inc., for $380,000. According to a news report in the Oakland Tribune, the sale contract also stipulated that Mr. Levitt would remain as the station’s general for five years, and that he would be paid $25,000 a year for five years to serve as a consultant to the new owners. (Metromedia had also purchased Oakland’s KEWB in 1965.)
In spite of the reported agreement, Reid Leith replaced Mr. Levitt as KSFR’s general manager in October 1967, although the station continued the “Concert Music In Stereo” programming format as its founder had originally intended.
That came to an end, however, in the Spring of 1968, when the station began transitioning to a progressive rock format that was hastened along by the addition of former members of KMPX’s staff, many of whom had been jettisoned following an abortive strike at the pioneering San Francisco underground radio station. Included in the new group was Tom Donahue, who would become the station’s new operations manager.
On May 21, 1968, KSFR changed call letters to KSAN, and the celebrated Jive 95 era commenced.
The brief KSFR broadcast accompanying this exhibit (see below) was recorded by Paul Ogden, who also provided the following background notes:
“Sign-on of KSFR, Al Levitt (who owned the station) doing the announcing. It is wrapped in a Vivaldi Concerto for Diverse Instruments — so be patient. Note the frequency designation of 94.9 megacycles (not MHz). That definitely dates this. Also there is an emergency warning announcement. I would guess this was taped in the late 1950s.
That is followed by a brief introduction of the main morning-to-early-afternoon program “Musical Omnibus” by DJ Bill Agee, and includes a weather forecast by Agee. As I recall, Levitt and Agee were the mainstays of this obviously low budget but very high-quality classical radio station. I remember visiting the station studios once and meeting Levitt and Agee. For some reason, the station monitoring tuner sticks out in my mind — a Sherwood S-3000 with one of those green tuning eyes. If history counts, Levitt and Agee should be considered for the Hall of Fame, in my view.”
Mr. Ogden recalls that this broadcast was “originally recorded on a Viking tape deck, a quality component in its day.” He dubbed the tape from a Teac A-4300 at 7.5 I.P.S onto a Pioneer CT-F950 through an Eico tube preamp-amp system. “The fidelity is remarkable — far better than digital (especially on a tube system),” he notes, adding, “There is only one channel used.”
From Bob Foster’s column in the San Mateo Times, April 25, 1958:
— Text and additional research by David Ferrell Jackson
AUDIO: KSFR Broadcast Day Sign-On, Undated [Late 1950s?], (5 minutes); Courtesy of Paul Ogden.