The History of KTAB / KSFO, San Francisco
Copyright John F. Schneider, 2011
Copyright 2011 - John F. Schneider & Associates, LLC
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The great radio station that was to become KSFO had its start through a little-known program that aired on KGO in 1924, called "The Hour of Prayer". This was a series of daily morning radio sermons delivered by the Rev. George W. Phillips, pastor of the Tenth Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland. The hundreds of letters that poured into the station in response to the program had convinced Phillips there was publicity value in the program that greatly benefitted the church. However, just as he was beginning to become enthusiastic about the idea, KGO cancelled the program.
Searching for another outlet for his talks, Phillips conceived the idea that the church could start its own station. After all, he reasoned, if there's a benefit in being on the air an hour a day, the benefit for ten hours would be much greater. Phillips proposed his idea to the church Board of Directors. He told them:
The average radio program is not worth listening to. Time is used up with second-class entertainments, with inferior productions, with unrestrained stunts. I have been watching this for some time, and there is a field on the Pacific Coast for a station that will give something worthwhile. Some stations are ... most are not. We can make this station of ours worthwhile.
The Board of Directors was unanimous in its approval. The next obstacle was proposing it to the congregation. On a memorable Sunday evening, Rev. Phillips made the same proposal from the pulpit. He proposed a station that would be owned and operated by the church, but would be non-sectarian in program content, providing top-quality general programs as a public service to the community. He planned to make it the most worthwhile station in the West. There was a moment of silence as he finished his proposal, and then an out-of-town gentleman pledged $2,500 to help start the station. Then the entire congregation responded. Before the evening concluded, they had pledged nearly $35,000.
They contacted a construction company, and plans were drawn up. The church building, at 1410 Tenth Avenue, was too small to accommodate the station, and so the contractor proposed to raise the building a story and construct the studio underneath it. Phillips, some of the trustees and the architect all crawled under the building to inspect the foundation and they determined it was feasible.
Construction was begun. What was originally the main chapel on the ground floor became the second floor, and two studios and the operating room were added in the basement. An auxiliary studio was set up on the third floor. But when it came time to raise the towers, it was found that the church property was too small to hold both of them. The only feasible solution would be to construct one of the towers in a neighbor's yard. They approached the woman and offered to lease the property from her. "I don't want to lease it," they were told. "But, I'll give you all the land you need for your tower -- deed it to you."
Construction was begun on two 155-foot towers. A cornerstone, laid between the legs of the main tower, read:
The main tower was topped with a large flagpole. From this pole each night, a pennant would be flown showing the name of the musical conductor for the evening. Mounted on the side of the tower in large, illuminated letters were the station's newly-assigned call letters -- KTAB, for the Tenth Avenue Baptist.
At a time when most stations still built their own transmitters, the church decided to purchase a new factory-built Western Electric model 6A 1000-Watt unit, one of only two such units in Northern California (the other one was at KPO in San Francisco). This was considered “high power” in 1925.
A small house was constructed behind the church for the Chief Engineer to live in, so that he would be available on a moment's notice. Loudspeakers were placed in the chapel, so that whenever KTAB was on the air, the members of the congregation could sit in the pews and hear the station's programs. In addition, they would have the opportunity to inspect their station's facilities every Sunday morning after services.
Phillips set about the task of choosing his staff. He himself would be in charge of Sunday's religious programming, but for the remaining six days of the week he wanted someone who was already well-experienced in programming a broadcast station. For this task, he chose Mrs. Ada Morgan O'Brien, the Program Director and Hostess at KPO and former Hostess at KFDB (now off the air). While at KPO, "O. B." had helped build that station into one of the most respected on the Pacific Coast. She had been described there as the "sole feminine arbiter of radio entertainment on the Coast."
Mrs. O'Brien told a reporter in July of 1925 about her plans for KTAB. She said:
We intend to keep off the air when we have nothing really fine to offer. We want radio fans to realize that when they tune in for KTAB, they will be assured of something that is of high musical excellence and superiority. This is the essential behind this station -- to make it the most worthwhile station in the West, and the program will form a large part in this plan.
An independent organization, The Associated Broadcasters, was formed to take responsibility for programming KTAB Monday through Saturday, and a staff was assembled. Harrold Castle McQuarrie, an Oakland businessman, was named managing director of the station; William S. Tupper was the business manager; Elsie Bishop, secretary; and Rod Hendrickson, a San Francisco lumberman, became the treasurer. In addition, Mrs. O'Brien chose six sub-directors to work under her, each to be in charge of one night's programming. Lyle Tucker, the former host of KPO's "Big Brother" children's program, was hired to conduct a children's hour every night. Hendrickson would be the station announcer. Other performers would be hired from the area for their performances.
With these high standards, KTAB went on the air August 1, 1925, broadcasting with 500 Watts on 215.7 meters (1395 kHz), but within three weeks that was changed to 240 meters (1240 kHz). The station operated at this reduced power, using its maximum allotment of 1,000 Watts on Sundays only until the Department of Commerce approval for full-time higher-powered operation was received two weeks later. On July 10, 1926, KTAB moved to 990 kHz with 1,000 Watts, and then on June 15, 1927 to 1070 kHz with 500 Watts. (Frequency changes were commonly ordered by the government during radio's early years.)
The new KTAB was well accepted by the Bay Area radio audience. Some of the best musical entertainment in the area was heard on KTAB's nightly concert programs. In addition, "The Hour of Prayer" was on the air again, this time assured of uninterrupted air time. Indeed, it continued without interruption into the 1970's, first on KTAB and later on other stations, becoming one of the oldest programs of its kind in the nation.
KTAB aired a series of "DX" programs that became widely known, and gave KTAB world recognition among early radio fans. The first program was held on Christmas Eve, 1926, at 4:00 AM. Their plan was to broadcast at a time when other stations were off the air so that it could be heard without interference at much greater distances than normal. Amateur radio operators helped spread the word to radio buffs around the world through the ARRL (American Radio Relay League). The KTAB program, broadcast in cooperation with the Oakland Post-Enquirer newspaper, was heard on the Atlantic Coast and all over the Pacific, notably in Hawaii, China and Australia. The program content dealt with the city of Oakland and the Oakland port. It was enough of a success that several like it followed in later months.
KTAB also received world recognition in July and August of 1927 when it broadcast exclusive reports of the Smith-Bronte flight and the Dole flight to Honolulu. On both occasions, the station remained on the air 24 hours daily to report on the flight's progress, and when the Dole fliers went down in the Pacific, KTAB helped relay information to the rescue ships.
But it appears that the cost of running a radio station were increasingly becoming a drain on the little church, at a time when selling radio advertising was still frowned on. The congregation apparently lost enthusiasm as the novelty of the station wore off and contributions to keep the station on the air dwindled. There was undoubtably pressure to contract less expensive or amateur performers, which would have compromised Mrs. O'Brien's lofty musical standards. Finally, in April, 1927, she resigned her post as program director and took a job with a broadcast talent booking agency in Los Angeles.
In 1926, Reverend Philips contacted Oakland investment banker Wesley I. Dumm to get his advice about KTAB. Philips wanted to accept advertising for the station to relieve the financial burden on the church, but he was concerned that it would negatively reflect on the dignity of the church. Dumm suggested that the church form a separate corporation to operate the station, with the church members as stockholders, establishing an arms-length relationship with the church. Philips followed Dumm's advice and formed The Associated Broadcasters, Inc. $150,000 of capital was authorized and $25,000 worth of stock was issued.
In its report to the Federal Radio Commission in January of 1928, KTAB stated that it was broadcasting 83-1/2 hours a week, and that the “musical programs broadcast from this station are of the highest order, no jazz or dance music is broadcast from KTAB. Educational programs, broadcast daily by direct wire from Mills College (supported by Richfield Oil Company), consume about 25 percent of the station's time on the air.” The Aarion Trio, a female vocal group, was frequently heard on KTAB. They would later move up to KPO and the early NBC Pacific Coast network.
The Pickwick Years
As the financial drain on the church became more untenable, Pastor Phillips began to seek a solution. Finally, on July 7, 1928 – less than three years after KTAB signed on – the Tenth Avenue Baptist Church signed an agreement to lease the station license and all its equipment to the Pickwick Corporation for a period of twenty years. The company operated Pickwick Stages, a rapidly growing bus line that was building a chain of hotels across the West and was also building a chain of radio stations. Pickwick would take responsibility for all programming and the maintenance and operation of equipment, paying just $100 per month to church. The church also retained two daily half hour program slots for its own use – morning and evening – plus five hours on Sundays, including Phillips' program, “The Hour of Prayer”.
Pickwick Stages buses serviced the West Coast from San Diego to Portland, and was principally owned by Charles F. Wren of Los Angeles. The company was known as a transportation innovator, introducing buffet coaches in 1925 that served hot meals on board. In 1928 it debuted an innovative line of double-decker sleeper buses. The company in the middle of a rapid expansion plan – in 1928 it established a factory to build its own buses, and then in 1929 opened Pickwick Airways, transporting long-distance passengers via a combination of airplanes and buses. That same year, it combined operations with the Yelloway System and Northland Transportation Company of Minnesota to provide full bus service across the Western U.S. The combined operation began to promote itself as “the Greyhound Lines”, and used the now-familiar running dog as its symbol.
Hotels were also a part of Pickwick's business strategy. The company's hotels also served as bus terminals and provided overnight accommodations for its passengers. In 1926 they opened the Pickwick Hotel in San Francisco - a seven story 189-room neo-gothic structure at Fifth and Mission Streets. Another hotel was opened in San Diego, followed in 1930by even bigger hotels in Salt Lake City and Kansas City.
If all of those business activities weren't enough to keep Charles Wren busy, he had also developed an interest in radio broadcasting. In 1928 he bought KFBC in San Diego and changed its call sign to KGB, named after station manager George Bowles. The studios were moved to the Pickwick Terminal Hotel in San Diego. He also bought KTM (formerly KNRC) in Santa Monica, and then combined these stations with KTAB under the banner of the Pickwick Broadcasting Company. KTAB became the key station for the new network.
New KTAB studios were built on the second floor the Pickwick Hotel in San Francisco. The lavish glass-enclosed studios said to rival KPO's studios in size and scope. The transmitter was to remain at the church temporarily, but plans were announced to construct two towers out at the end of the Golden Gate Ferry pier, 3-1/2 miles off the Berkeley shoreline. According to announced plans, the towers would be outlined in neon lights and would be visible from all over the bay. (However, the new site was never built.) The new station manager was Mel LeMon, and Pickwick brought back Mrs. Ada Morgan O'Brien to be the program director.
So with new operators, a new source of finances and a fresh head of steam, the new KTAB debuted from its San Francisco studios September 29, 1928. The FRC authorized KTAB to increase power from 500 Watts to 1,000 Watts for just one day–for its birthday reunion and the opening of its new studios. The dedicatory program lasted from 7:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m., beginning with the national anthem sung by the Pickwick Serenaders. After an invocation by the Rev. Dr. Phillips, there were addresses by Charles Wren, president of the Pickwick Corporation, Mayor Rolph of San Francisco, Mayor Davie of Oakland, and Bernard H. Linden, the Federal Radio Commission's local radio inspector. MGM film star Raquel Torres appeared before the microphone. In between celebrities and musical numbers, the Master of Ceremonies Mel LeMon read the congratulatory telegrams that were pouring into the station. In the next few days, more than 50,000 people from the general public toured the new lavishly furnished glass-enclosed studios.
However, KTAB's new owners quickly ran into problems with the FRC, who notified the church in August that the lease it had executed with Pickwick was not acceptable. It pointed out that the lease was executed in name of the Tenth Avenue Baptist Church itself instead of The Associated Broadcasters, Inc., the church's holding corporation and licensee of record. The FRC asked the church to file to transfer the KTAB license to Pickwick, but the matter was resolved by transferring 99% of the Associated Broadcasters stock to Pickwick.
More problems with the FRC surfaced again the next month when Commissioner Harold LaFount ordered KTAB to share time with KLX in Oakland effective on November 11, 1928 – 1/3 of the time would be for KLX and 2/3 for KTAB. The change was part of a major reallocation of frequencies that was affecting stations around the country. But Charles Wren arranged for the intervention of an influential senator who persuaded LaFount to make other arrangements before the order took effect. KTAB was instead assigned to 1280 kHz – full time but on a less desirable frequency, and one which resulted in major interference with KYA on 1230 kc. In a telegram to LaFount, Wren wrote that both stations were affected because it was impossible for most listeners to separate the two stations, adding that KYA was “practically off the air in Oakland due to interference from us”. LaFount quickly found them another frequency, and KTAB was ordered to move to 550 kc. on November 24. The station's power remained at 500 Watts. The following May, KTAB was authorized to move again to 560 kHz and told it would be allowed to increase to 1,000 Watts if it agreed to modify its transmitter for crystal frequency control. That move would take KTAB to the favorable dial position that its successor KSFO still occupies today.
In its 1929 license renewal application, Pickwick said that KTAB “is operated by a public service corporation, the Pickwick Stages System, strictly in the public interest and as a good will feature for their lines, under a policy where all surplus funds above operating expenses are expended in improving programs and providing better entertainment for the public.” It reported eleven people on the staff with a total weekly payroll of $546.
KTAB was once again a first class station, and winning favors with the radio audience. But the Pickwick Company had grown too quickly and it was highly leveraged - not a safe position for any business to be in when the stock market crashed in 1929. In a 1930 restructuring, Pickwick merged with twelve other bus lines to become Pacific Greyhound Lines, Inc., operating 406 buses covering Portland to San Diego. Charles Wren became a director of the new company. But the next year, the new company was forced into bankruptcy by several major creditors whose loans had bankrolled the company's rapid expansion of. A number of subsidiary lines were sold off, and General Motors assumed $1 million of Greyhound debt.
KTAB went into receivership after the bankruptcy, and in January, 1931,Bob Roberts was named as the interim General Manager. He was succeeded by Thomas E. Morgan, who succeeded in purchasing all but five shares of The Associated Broadcasters, Inc., in May of 1932. KTAB's studios were still in Pickwick Hotel, and the transmitter was still at church at this time. 1932 records showed that KTAB had a staff of 21 full time employees.
Meanwhile, the now-struggling station continued to have problems with the FRC. In 1931, its license was conditionally renewed because of two complaints - one about a broadcast of advice by a dietary specialist, and another about the improper announcement of phonograph records. Then its 1932 license renewal was set for hearing because of complaints from listeners about two astrology programs offered by KTAB. In 1931, an astrologer named “Zoro” had invited listeners to send in a dollar to purchase a “star map”. The map entitled the purchaser to ask three questions, which were answered over the air, and the income from the sale of maps was split with the station. He was followed in 1932 by another astrologer named “Kobar” who used a similar program format. The FRC frowned upon such broadcasts, and the station immediately discontinued the broadcast when the complaint was voiced by the FRC. After a judicial hearing, the Commission renewed the station's license based on management's promise to never again broadcast such a program.
Wesley Dumm Acquires KTAB
In spite of financial reports to the contrary registered with the FRC, Morgan apparently could not keep the station financially afloat, and the ownership of the stock and KTAB reverted to the Tenth Avenue Baptist Church in 1933. The church found itself back in the radio business and additionally it was now saddled with a huge debt. In its desperation to rid itself of this albatross of his own creation, Rev. George Phillips turned once again to investment banker and long-time church supporter Wesley Dumm for help. In 1926, Dumm had advised Philips to form a holding corporation for the station. This time, the contact resulted in Dumm purchasing the corporation from the church. In a few short years, he would turn the little radio station into one of the West's most important independent stations.
Wesley Innis Dumm was born in Columbus Ohio on March 23, 1890. The son of a Methodist minister, he was educated in the public schools of Toledo, Ohio and also spent time herding sheep on his family's ranch in Casper, Wyoming. Athletic and vocal talents enabled him to finance his college education at Ohio Wesleyan University. His dream was after college was to return to Wyoming and manage the family ranch, but the Reverend William Dumm thwarted his plans by selling the ranch, so Wesley Dumm entered the banking business in Green River, Wyoming, and eventually became the president of a Cheyenne bank.
In 1924, Dumm was offered the presidency of a San Francisco building and loan association, a job offer that brought him to California. When he soon determined that his new employer was headed for insolvency, he left the firm and opened his own business across the bay in Oakland, where building was booming. His business prospered, and by 1933 his success had put him in the financial position to solve the Tenth Avenue Baptist Church's radio problem. In a letter to the author in years later, he explained what happened then:
The Board of Trustees of the church found itself in debt about $100,000 due to its employees, and had other obligations which they were unable to meet on the day when President Franklin D. Roosevelt closed all of the banks in the United States following his inauguration. It was at this point that the Church Board and its Pastor, George W. Phillips, called upon me at midnight at a meeting which terminated in making the sale of the station to me. I paid up the indebtedness and signed an agreement allowing them the daily use of thirty-minute programs to continue the "Hour of Prayer", together with five hours on Sunday, for the use of the church in any manner whatsoever, retaining any income which they might produce for themselves.
Wesley Dumm became the new president of the Board of Directors of the Associated Broadcasters. In May of 1933 he moved the KTAB studios to the penthouse of the Insurance Building, one of Oakland's finest buildings, with auxiliary studios at 115 O'Farrell Street near Union Square in San Francisco. The transmitter continued to be at the church in Oakland, but all new equipment was installed throughout both facilities.
Once the station had received a thorough face-lifting, the new KTAB staff set out to pull the station out of its number twelve rating in the twelve-station market. Sports became a key programming ingredients, and regular basketball, baseball, ice hockey, boxing and wrestling broadcasts were heard. KTAB's special news coverage abilities were demonstrated by its broadcasts of the landing of Amelia Earhart in Oakland in 1934, the flights of Captains Ulm and Kingford-Smith, and the first Trans-Pacific Clipper flight.
In its December, 1933, license renewal application, KTAB reported that it was on the air over 470 hours per month – daily from 7:00 AM to midnight except for reduced hours on Sunday. It now showed a gross income of $9,500 a month with no liabilities. Talent expense was listed as $2,300, and other expenses as $2,100. M. E. Roberts signed the application as General Manager.
By February of 1935, Dumm decided he needed experienced management for the station, and he hired Phil Lasky, the highly respected young manager of KDYL in Salt Lake City. Once Lasky and Dumm joined forces, things really started to happen at KTAB. Within three months, the call letters were changed to KSFO, to help listeners better identify the station with the San Francisco-Oakland area. (In 1983 Herb Caen, columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle noted, "...the call letters, KSFO, will go down in history as probably the best ever devised - an all time winner.") At the same time, the main studios were moved again – this time to the penthouse of San Francisco's tallest business monolith, the 32 story Russ Building at 235 Montgomery Street. This building was also home to many of the city's top advertising agencies, which putt KSFO in a good position with potential advertisers. Lasky capitalized on this by setting aside one room in the station's 31st floor studios as a record auditioning room - the only one in the building - and he gave a key to each agency. In 1935, Dumm and Lasky made another important move when they signed a deal with Guy Earl and Naylor Rogers, owners of the powerhouse independent station KNX in Hollywood, forming a two-station hookup called the Western Network. Within a matter of two years, the old KTAB had completely transformed itself.
The CBS Years
Elsewhere in California, changes were taking place in the Don Lee broadcast network. Don Lee was a Los Angeles automobile dealer who also owned KFRC in San Francisco and KHJ in Los Angeles. The two stations, together with a number of key affiliates in other cities, made up the Columbia Don Lee Network – the West Coast outlet for the CBS network. When Don Lee died of a sudden heart attack in August of 1934, the control of his broadcast empire passed to his son Tommy Lee, who was reportedly more interested in race cars than radio. The relationship between CBS and the Don Lee organization soon soured, and CBS began to look for alternative ways to cover the West. This resulted in CBS's purchase of KNX in 1936. CBS now needed new affiliate in the Bay Area, and the network reportedly had already been trying to buy KLX from the Oakland Tribune. But the little network that KNX had established with KSFO led CBS to Wesley Dumm's doorstep, and their negotiations quickly culminated in CBS signing a five year lease of KSFO with options to extend the lease for two more five year periods. CBS was to pay The Associated Broadcasters $25,000 per year plus 1/7 of the station's gross revenue above $175,000.
Now needing a bigger home for its San Francisco key station, CBS built a lavish new $250,000 dollar studio complex as an annex to the Palace Hotel. It was designed by San Francisco architect William Lescaze and boasted no less than seven studios and 26 offices spread out over two floors of the hotel. The construction began in June of 1937, and KSFO moved into the new facility the following summer - almost at the same time that KNX opened its new Columbia Square building in Hollywood. The gala inaugural broadcast on August 12, 1938 featured San Francisco Showcase starring the Jack Meakin and Lud Gluskin orchestras, Tito Guizar, Jo Stafford's Pied Pipers, the Simeone Sisters and several Hollywood stars. Congratulatory messages were broadcast by the other Pacific CBS Network affiliate stations.
Also in 1937, KSFO received authorization to move its city of license and transmitter from Oakland to San Francisco. CBS began the construction of a new 5,000 Watt transmitter site at Pier 92, Islais Creek, just north of what would become the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard on the San Francisco Bay Shore. The new concrete building was erected at the water's edge on land leased from the State Harbor Commission, and a 389 foot self-supporting Truscon tower rose from the roof of the building. The new site was licensed for operation on September 14, 1937.
From 1937 to 1942, KSFO became the origination point for many CBS programs that were heard along the Pacific Coast, as well as a few heard nationwide. By 1939 its staff had grown to 85 employees. The four-year rise of KSFO from the market cellar to the CBS's regional key station became a local broadcast legend.
For Wesley Dumm, one disadvantage of the new CBS affiliation was that it put "The Hour of Prayer" in jeopardy. When he first purchased the station, he had committed to the Tenth Avenue Baptist Church that he would keep the program on the air, but the lease meant that CBS would control all KSFO's programming, meaning that the program would be cancelled.
In an effort to find a new home for "The Hour of Prayer", Dumm joined forces with Phil Lasky and Fred Hart (the former owner of KQW), and purchased KROW in Oakland in 1939 for $110,000. Dumm held 45% of the stock, Hart had 30% and Lasky had 17-1/2%. Lasky left his position with KSFO to become the manager of KROW, replaced by Lincoln Dellar, who came to KSFO from WBT in Charlotte. (Edward J. Jansen became Co-General Manager on February 14, 1944, sharing duties with Dellar. Later in 1944, Mr. Jansen was succeeded as Co-General Manager by Wilton Gunzendorfer. Dellar left KSFO in 1945, and went on in his later years to become an important California station owner. ) Six years after purchasing KROW, the FCC's new duopoly rule, which prohibited the ownership of multiple stations by a single interest, forced Dumm to sell his interests in KROW to Lasky and others.
The North American Radio Conference in Havana, held in 1937, caused a major realignment of the AM band. The international agreement that came out of that conference, known as the NARBA treaty, would go into effect in 1941. One of the changes caused by this agreement was the assignment of the 740 kHz frequency to California as a 50,000 Watt national clear channel. San Jose's KQW was earmarked by the FCC to take over that frequency because its existing 1010 kHz channel would now become a Canadian clear channel under the same treaty. But instead, CBS made an agreement with Julius Brunton and Charles L. McCarthy, the owners of KQW, allowing KSFO to take over the 740 frequency instead, with KQW moving to KSFO's 560 frequency and acquiring its transmitter site at Islais Creek. KSFO filed its application for 740 kHz in February, 1940.
But complications were developing that would soon impact KSFO's relationship with CBS. In November of 1938, the Federal Communications Commission had issued a surprise ruling invalidating CBS's lease of KSFO. Station leases, it ruled, although they had previously been allowed by the FRC, would no longer permitted under the terms of the new Communications Act of 1934 that created the FCC.
With its lease invalidated, KSFO reverted to affiliate status with CBS, but the network still wanted full control of its own station in the important San Francisco market. CBS proposed to purchase KSFO outright, but Dumm was not interested in selling the station. After protracted negotiations failed to result in a satisfactory solution for CBS, the network decided to terminate its affiliation agreement with KSFO when it expired at the end of 1941 and move its network affiliation over to KQW. (In 1949, CBS purchased KQW outright from Brunton and McCarthy).
It had already become apparent to CBS that its previous agreement to move KQW to KSFO's frequency would no longer be in their interest. As a result, KQW also filed an application with the FCC for the 740 frequency, placing both stations in competition for the same frequency. The FCC chose to award the channel to KQW on Sept. 9, 1941, but KSFO appealed, causing the FCC to set aside its KQW decision on October 28, and it set both applications for hearings to be held in the spring of 1942. But at the start of World War II the Commission placed a moratorium on any changes, and this put of these both applications on hold. In the interim, the FCC gave temporary authority for KQW to operate on 740 kHz from its site at Alviso, near San Jose, using its normally assigned power of 5 kW.
It is apparent that both KSFO and CBS anticipated the upcoming change of affiliation well in advance and were each making alternate plans. In February of 1941, CBS transferred ownership of the Islais Creek transmitter facility to KSFO for $100,000, an amount just slightly less than the original construction cost. CBS also told KSFO to vacate its Palace Hotel studios at the end of 1941, and so in April, KSFO signed a lease for space in the Mark Hopkins Hotel on Nob Hill and started the construction of new studios. They would move into temporary studios on the 17th floor until permanent facilities could be built in a new annex to that hotel. But the new space still wasn't ready by the end of the year, and so KSFO refused to vacate. KSFO manager Lincoln Dellar said “Remaining in Columbia's headquarters beyond January 1 has been inconvenient for all, but their notice of change in network affiliation in this area and their desire for us to vacate the present studios was received only a few weeks before the change was made, leaving little time to find a new location suitable for our expanded needs.” CBS ended up sueing KSFO over the issue, but it later agreed to drop the suit. KSFO finally moved out of the Palace Studios April 11, 1942, and KQW moved in soon afterwards. KSFO's temporary Mark Hopkins location had six studios, a master control room and engineering offices. The business offices were located in a nearby building.
The War Years
The great station that KSFO had become did not cease to exist when it parted company with CBS. With the start of World War II, KSFO refocused its programming on news reporting, and it was soon producing war news that rivaled, and occasionally surpassed, the networks. The KSFO news organization now included Bob Anderson, a local newspaper editor; Austin Fenger, who had been the editor of the station's Farm Journal program; William Winter, who had been broadcasting news commentaries over CBS from KSFO before the breakup with the network; Robert W. Desmond, the head of the University of California's School of Journalism; and Brooke Temple, who joined KSFO from another station in the East.
As the key station for the Universal Broadcasting Company, a new but short-lived transcription-based network, KSFO provided extensive news coverage and regular news commentator reports to other stations around the nation. Locally, it broadcast fifteen-minute newscasts hourly, emphasizing national and world news, in-depth reporting and feature stories. In the mid and late forties, KSFO provided live coverage of many major news events. For example, the station had its own reporter on the scene to cover the Japanese surrender in 1945; a KSFO broadcast of General Douglas MacArthur's arrival in San Francisco had reporters broadcasting from seven different vantage points; and, the station had its own box at the United Nations organizational meeting in San Francisco in 1945, broadcasting every major event of the meeting live.
The city's proximity to the war in the Pacific also brought KSFO into the business of shortwave broadcasting. As the 1940's dawned, there were only ten shortwave stations in the United States – all of them privately owned. Collectively these stations broadcast just 35 hours of programs a week – mostly relays of U.S. domestic network programs aimed at Latin America. General Electric's KGEI in San Francisco was the only station on the West Coast, and so it was the only United States radio signal that could be heard clearly in the Pacific Rim.
Even before Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt was seeing the war clouds on the horizon and recognized that building more shortwave stations would be critical to America's ability to communicate to the rest of the world. Roosevelt was already a big believer in the power of radio broadcasting, having successfully sold his “New Deal” plans for combating the 1930's depression through his famous series of “fireside chat” broadcasts. He knew that the power of radio would be increasingly important during the upcoming war. But the isolationist congress of the 1930's, under strong pressure from the National Association of Broadcasters and other private broadcasting entities, had prohibited the U.S. government from conducting any direct broadcasting activities, either domestic or international. There was no way that the U.S. government could directly broadcast its official views and positions to the peoples and governments of the world. In the days before Pearl Harbor, Congress was not willing to soften this position, nor would it agree to fund international shortwave radio. FDR needed to find a way around Congress.
Thus it was that in August of 1941, an emergency meeting was called in Washington by William “Wild Bill” Donovan to encourage the construction of new international shortwave stations. Government leaders, major broadcasters and equipment manufacturers were all invited – including KSFO's Wesley Dumm. At that meeting, Donovan and Roosevelt laid out the situation and asked the participants to construct 32 new shortwave stations on the East and West coasts. Money was not available to fund the stations immediately, but FDR promised the broadcasters that he would reimburse them for their construction costs at a future date.
At the meeting, CBS and NBC agreed to turn over all of their shortwave broadcast facilities to the government. Powel Crosley, the owner of WLW in Cincinnati, also agreed to turn over his shortwave station WLWO and to build a new high-powered shortwave facility at Bethany, Ohio. And Wesley Dumm agreed to build two new shortwave stations on the Pacific coast. Dumm described this meeting in an April, 1971, letter to this author:
Donovan, made an urgent appeal for me to come to Washington in August of 1941 for a meeting which was called to include President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Robert Sherwood and others for the purpose of organizing a "Voice of America", also attended by representatives of Great Britain and Australia.
During this meeting, not only was the first meeting organized for the birth of the "Voice of America", but also, President Roosevelt asked me if I would build two shortwave stations in San Francisco to serve the Far East. In his plea, he not only stated that NBC and CBS Networks had lost so much money broadcasting into South America with their shortwave stations but that they had refused to consider a station to be located in San Francisco in order to carry out his wishes.
President Roosevelt further informed me that he would reimburse me with emergency funds in his possession if he failed to find support for such an investment out of government funds.
On December 15, 1941, just eight days after Pearl Harbor, the OWI (Office of War Information) leased KGEI from General Electric, which made it the first international station to be operated under direct government control. The KGEI staff became government employees, producing propaganda programs in the station's Fairmont Hotel studios that were aimed at the Pacific Rim countries. The federal government underwrote the entire operating cost.
Two months later, the OWI established radio studios in New York to originate shortwave programs beamed to Europe on selected leased shortwave stations in the East. Radio actor John Houseman was named as the head of radio programming in New York. A staff of hundreds of English and foreign announcers, translators, censors and other program and management personnel was soon operating three networks simultaneously, broadcasting to the Far East, the North and South Pacific and South America on an around-the clock basis.
Then on November 1, 1942, the OWI formally leased every shortwave station in the country for the creation of a “Voice From America”. All the station owners would continue to operate the transmitters, but the government would pay all expenses and providing the programming. All transmitter sites were off limits to the public and were guarded by the military as essential national infrastructure. These government broadcast operations in New York and San Francisco formed the beginnings of what in later years would become the Voice of America.
Because of the jamming that KGEI was increasingly experiencing from the Japanese, Wesley Dumm's new San Francisco station was urgently needed to strengthen wartime broadcasts to the Pacific. The FCC issued a construction permit in December, and its approval was personally expedited by Donovan.
A powerful transmitter was needed as quickly as possible, and so KSFO purchased General Electric's big 100 kW transmitter at WGEO in Schenectady for $150,000. The COI bought the transmitter, with Dumm agreeing to reimburse the COI. It was taken out of service in Schenectady and shipped by rail to San Francisco. A 50 kW transmitter was temporarily placed into service in Schenectady until a replacement transmitter could be built. The giant transformers needed to be stripped of their insulators so they could meet railroad height restrictions.
Meanwhile, KSFO's transmitter plant on Islais Creek was hurriedly expanded to make room for a shortwave transmitter, An addition to the south side of the building would house the transmitter's massive electrical transformers. The original front entrance to the building was sealed off and the new transmitter was mounted in the vestibule. (A 1943 addition on the north side of the building would later house a second shortwave transmitter for KWIX).
One of the innovative features of the building expansion was an antenna switching “roundhouse”. Several curtain array antennas were constructed on an eleven-acre site west of the transmitter building, aimed at Alaska, the Far East, Australia and Latin America. KSFO's Chief Engineer Royal V. Howard and his assistant Al Towne (who would later become chief engineer), planned and built the entire station in just eleven weeks at a cost of $250,000. The new station's call sign was KWID (using the initials of its benefactor, Wesley I. Dumm). Test broadcasts commenced May 5, 1942, only five months after Pearl Harbor. Soon the station was broadcasting in ten languages up to twenty hours a day. The programs originated in the KGEI studios and were simultaneously broadcast on both stations. With an Effective Radiated Power of 5,200,000 Watts, the new KWID was said to be the most powerful shortwave station in the world.
Back at the small KGEI studio in the Fairmont Hotel, the sudden increase in human activity caused by the OWI's around-the-clock operation quickly overflowed the small studio, and the OWI once again turned to Wesley Dumm for assistance. KSFO was still operating from its temporary studios on the 17th floor of the Mark Hopkins Hotel, but was ready to start building its permanent studios in a new annex to the hotel, to become known as Number One Nob Hill Circle. An agreement was made to enlarge the planned facility, providing additional studio space for the OWI.
A two-story office annex was constructed on the south façade of the hotel facing Pine Street, and a complex of eleven studios was built in the hotel's underground parking garage, where it was felt that the building's sturdy construction would make them virtually bomb-proof. The largest studio – Studio Eleven – was two stories high and was big enough to hold a medium-sized orchestra. Eight smaller studios were arranged in a V configuration, with a large U-shaped master control console sitting in the center of the vee. Construction began in July of 1942 and the building was ready by June of 1943. It soon housed the combined domestic and international broadcasting efforts of KSFO, KWID, KWIX and the Universal Broadcasting Company, and it also provided additional studio space for the OWI broadcasts for a short time. At the same moment, NBC was moving out of its old Pacific Coast studios at 111 Sutter Street and into its posh new “Radio City” building. The OWI then adopted the old NBC studios as its headquarters and moved in on January 1, 1944. Programs were now being produced in several languages and from several studios simultaneously. KWID broadcast 24 hours a day for the duration of the war.
The service provided by these stations was invaluable to the Pacific war effort. American servicemen kept in touch with home through the hourly English broadcasts, and thousands of telegrams and letters from areas such as the Phillippines, China and Samoa attested to the fact that the stations were widely listened to, bringing the people of those countries an extra measure of hope needed to persevere. In fact, General Douglas MacArthur broadcast his famous "I will return" message to the Philippines over KGEI after that country's fall to Japan,
As the war progressed, a veritable arsenal of shortwave transmitters was gradually assembled around the country. In 1943, the government purchased 22 new GE and RCA transmitters, making a total of 36 frequencies aimed at Europe and the Pacific. A new 50 kW transmitter went to KWID and became KWIX.
A new transmitter was sent to KGEI, which went on the air as KGEX. NBC built a major shortwave complex in Dixon in 1944 with four new transmitters, and a new CBS site in Delano operated with three transmitters. (Wesley Dumm also applied for additional shortwave stations in Los Angeles and Seattle in March of 1942, but the stations were never built.)
This maelstrom of broadcasting activity in San Francisco all came to an end after V-J Day. After the war, San Francisco quickly lost its importance as a news gathering center. In 1946, the Voice of America consolidated all of its operations in New York. It purchased the NBC and CBS sites in Delano and Dixon, and the Crosley site in Bethany, Ohio, and so it no longer needed to lease time on the remaining private stations. One by one, the program leases were terminated.
In San Francisco, General Electric continued to operate KGEI under private ownership until 1959. It later sold the station to the Far East Broadcasting Company, who operated it until 1995 transmitting educational and religious programs to Latin America.
The VOA's leases of KWID and KWIX continued until 1953, but were finally terminated by the government at the end of the Korean War. According to one account, the government ended the leases because of the inconvenient proximity of the transmitters to the Hunter's Point Naval Shipyard. The Navy had been off-loading munitions from its ships before they approached the shipyard because of the risk of explosion caused by the RF radiation from the stations, and it lobbied the VOA to eliminate the expense and inconvenience of that process.
When the VOA leases finally ended, KSFO made the decision to close the two powerful stations. Wesley Dumm explained the reasoning in a 1971 letter:
The Associated Broadcasters, Inc., benefitted from the results of the NBC and CBS Networks and forfeited the operation of these stations when the operating appropriations ceased to be forthcoming, and decided to forfeit the licenses rather than to experience the same type of losses as were reported by NBC and CBS in their programming to South America.
Incidentally, the GAO refused to honor the costs advanced for the construction of KWID and KWIX, and President Roosevelt kept his word by giving me an order upon the Treasury Department, reimbursing me completely at the close of the war.
The two shortwave stations left the air for the last time on June 30, 1953. The transmitters were sold to Far East Broadcasting Company who moved them to Manila. The antennas were dismantled and the wooden masts were reportedly sold for firewood.
The Post-War Era
After the excitement of the war news era had subsided, KSFO found itself without a network affiliation at a time when the big network radio stations were drawing an ever-larger share of listeners. The station looked for new ways to make a niche for itself. Post-war KSFO relied heavily on the "news and music" formula. The fifteen minute hourly newscasts that had been inaugurated during the war continued, with uniform music programming filling the remainder of each hour. Programs such as dinner and dance music, symphonies and musical comedies were typical of post-war KSFO. Disk jockeys were still not commonly heard at that time, and so the music was formally introduced by announcers reading prepared scripts. Occasionally, live popular music programs could also be heard, such as the "Lucky Lager Dance Time" and the "Hale Brothers' Hour". One popular exception to the "news and music" concept was Wally King's "Man on the Street" interviews, one of several programs of this type on the air in San Francisco at the time.
In 1946, the FCC lifted a freeze on the expansion of broadcast facilities that had been in effect during the war years. This reopened the long-ignored issue of who would get the coveted 740 kHz frequency, KQW or KSFO. . The FCC initiated a lengthy hearing on the subject.
In 1947, CBS purchased 45% ownership of KQW for $300,000, with Julius Brunton retaining 55%. Two years later, the network bought out their remaining interest and changed the call letters to KCBS.
KSFO and CBS resumed their backroom negotiations. In August of 1948, in response to a joint petition by both parties, the FCC awarded 740 to KSFO and authorized KQW to take over the KSFO site and the 560 frequency. Plans were immediately readied for the construction of an elaborate, multi-tower KSFO transmitter site at Novato, in Marin County. At the same time, KSFO also applied to the FCC for FM and TV licenses, which were both granted without controversy. (The FM station was never built.)
The matter finally seemed settled, after several years of heated debate. But then KSFO began to doubt the wisdom of its decision. According to Phil Lasky, who sold his interests in KROW and returned to KSFO as manager in 1946, KSFO conducted an elaborate study to determine the post-war future of broadcasting. A manuscript of several hundred pages was the end result, in which a number of predictions were made. It concluded that the future of radio was dim, and that television would be the rising star of the fifties. The KSFO management team called a hasty conference, and it decided to fall back and regroup. An offer was made to CBS to trade the 740 kHz dial position for the CBS-TV San Francisco network affiliation at KSFO's new TV station. The new contract that was signed between KSFO and KCBS provided for CBS to assume KSFO's lease on the Novato site and to reimburse KSFO $18,000 out of pocket expenses for its application. CBS estimated the cost to construct the site at $340,000. KCBS finally went on the air with 50,000 Watts from the new site in August of 1951, and the city of license was moved from San Jose to San Francisco.
The Associated Broadcasters' new television station would be the first TV signal in Northern California. Potential call letters were toyed with, and KSFO-TV and KWIS were both considered and rejected before KPIX was finally settled upon (an acronym for PIXtures). It was soon discovered, though, that the call letters had already been assigned -- to a fishing boat in the Puget Sound! Dumm contacted the owner of the ship, who proved reluctant to give up the call letters. But Dumm, who had once used his initials to name his shortwave station, KWID, managed to convince the mariner to obtain new call letters made up of his own initials. This caught his fancy, and the change of call signs was quickly arranged by Dumm.
The first KPIX-TV broadcast of its channel 5 signal took place on Christmas Eve, 1948, when there were only 3,500 Northern California homes equipped with TV receivers. It was the 49th television station in the United States. Phil Lasky, manager of KSFO, also became the manager of KPIX. At first, it shared studio space with its radio sister in the Mark Hopkins Hotel, and the big KSFO Studio Eleven became the first KPIX television studio. The transmitter was on the top floor of the hotel, above the Top of the Mark Restaurant. The antenna was mounted on the roof of the hotel, which at that time was the highest building in downtown San Francisco.
In 1952, both KSFO and KPIX moved into new quarters at 2655 Van Ness Avenue. This new three story television and radio complex was then hailed as the most modern broadcast facility in the nation. That same year, the television transmitter made the move to Mount Sutro in the geographic heart of the city. Its power was upped from its original 16,700 Watts to 100,000 Watts the following year. When KSFO-KPIX moved out of the Nob Hill Circle annex building, KEAR AM (1550) moved in for a year. Later KYA occupied the space for many years (1958-79). No other station ever used the large studio, and it became a hotel storeroom. The additional studio areas were converted back into hotel parking garage.
1952 Alan Lee Torbet, formerly KROW's manager, became the new manager of KSFO. Phil Lasky continued as manager of KPIX and executive vice president of the corporation. Wesley Dumm was president and his brother Franklin M. Dumm was the secretary-treasurer.
The next year, Torbett introduced a new music and news format that he called ''The New Sound". Torbett had previously developed the format at KROW, based upon a successful Los Angeles station. He soon brought over the bright young morning disk jockey named Don Sherwood, who had worked for him at KROW. Sherwood (real name, Daniel Sherwood Cohalen) had been part of a two person KROW morning team named Nick and Nudnick, and he quickly stood out as an exceptional talent. On KSFO, Sherwood soon rose to the height of local fame and popularity, becoming one of the nation's highest paid radio personalities.
The Associated Broadcasters sold KPIX to the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company in 1954. Phil Lasky stayed with the TV station as its manager, ending his long relationship with Wesley Dumm. He remained in his position for another 15 years until his retirement. In May of 1954, KSFO was transferred from The Associated Broadcasters Inc. to San Francisco Broadcasters Inc., but there was no actual change of ownership.
On February 15, 1955, KSFO moved its studios to 950 California Street in the Fairmont Hotel, just a block from its previous home at the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Roman Wassenberg was named KSFO general manager in 1955, succeeding Alan Torbet. Wassenberg became the executive vice president and general manager of KSFO in early 1956.
The Golden West Era
In July of 1956, Wesley Dumm sold KSFO to for $951,333 to The Station Of The Stars, Inc., owned by movie cowboy Gene Autry and his business partner Robert O. Reynolds. Autry and Reynolds also owned KMPC in Los Angeles. Mr. Autry (51% owner with his wife, Ina) was chairman of the board, while Reynolds (17.83 % owner) was president of KSFO's new licensee. William D. Shaw joined KSFO as general manager in the late summer of 1956, later becoming vice president and general manager. Bert S. West was named assistant general manager and sales manager in December 1956. In early 1957, the licensee of KSFO changed its corporate name to Golden West Broadcasters.
Under the careful guidance of manager Bill Shaw and program director Al Newman, KSFO rose to even greater heights. This was accomplished with a skillful blend of personality “middle of the road” music programs, local news and local sports. The result was a station where each of these three program elements complemented each other to the extent that it was sometimes hard to distinguish one from another. Morning man Don Sherwood was joined by other well-known KSFO disk jockeys - Al “Jazzbeaux” Collins, Del Courtney, Jim Lange, Jack Carney, Carter B. Smith, Dan Sorkin, Gene Nelson and Terry McGovern. They would help make KSFO the consistent leader in Bay Area program surveys for the next decade.
During the Golden West years, KSFO acquired the exclusive broadcast rights for San Francisco Giants Baseball, Fortyniner's football, and U. C. Berkeley football. Early KSFO sports broadcasters included Bud Foster, Bob Fouts and Bill King. Then, in 1957, a young sports announcer named Lon Simmons was hired to do the Fortyniners' broadcasts. when the New York Giants were moved to San Francisco the following year,, they brought with them a seasoned veteran sportscaster by the name of Russ Hodges. From that year on, the Simmons-Hodges broadcast team became the area's best-known. It was a partnership to be broken only by Hodges' death in 1971.
In February 1968, Bill Shaw was promoted to vice president of Golden West Broadcasters, and in September of that year he became its president. Bert West was promoted to general manager of KSFO in December 1968, later becoming vice president and general manager. Shaw again became the Vice President and General Manager of KSFO in April 1975, succeeded by Jack Bankson upon his retirement 2 years later, who was in turn followed by James Myers in 1979.
In April 1979, the FCC granted KSFO a construction permit to increase night power from 1,000 to 5,000 Watts. In late 1981, a second tower was added just east of its existing self-supported tower near Pier 92, Islais Creek and the nighttime power was increased to 5,000 Watts.
Deregulation and the Decline of AM Radio
In the 1980's, the FCC began a gradual process of de-regulation of the broadcast industry, and restrictions on radio station ownership were loosened. These changes began a period of great upheaval in the radio industry. Where radio stations had previously been operated by small companies or individual ownerships as community businesses, the FCC changes allowed the formation of large publicly-held companies that owned hundreds of radio stations around the country. This unleased a period of intense speculation in the radio business, in which stations were bought and sold between companies like poker chips. The upheaval this caused ended the relative stability of radio ownership and programming, and despite its historic success KSFO was not shielded from these powerful forces.
The Golden West era at KSFO ended in 1983 when Gene Autry and his partners sold the station for $6 million to the King Radio Broadcasting Company, the owners of KING AM/FM/TV in Seattle. The group also purchased KYA AM/FM. Fred Schumacher became the General Manager, followed by Ron Saito the next year. Also at this time, the station moved out of the Fairmont Hotel and into a new broadcast center at 300 Broadway, which it shared with KYA. In 1986, KSFO changed to an oldies music format which was simulcast with sister station KYA-FM.
In 1992, KSFO and KYA-FM were sold again, to First Broadcasting Company, for $13 million. KSFO separated from KYA-FM and adopted an oldies and sports format, but the sports component was shortly dropped. In September, 1993, KSFO adopted a talk format. The next year, the station was purchased by Capital Cities/ABC, the operators of KGO-AM, and KGO's manager Mickey Luckoff became the manager of both stations. Luckoff fired the previous KSFO air staff and adopted a politically conservative “hot talk” format featuring local commentators as well as national figures like Rush Limbaugh. At the same time, KSFO moved in with KGO at 900 Front Street. In 1996, Cap-Cities ABC was acquired by the Walt Disney Company, and became ABC, Inc. In 2007, KGO and KSFO were purchased by Citadel Broadcasting, which was in turn acquired in 2010 by Cumulus Media.
WESLEY INNIS DUMM retired from broadcasting after his sale of KPIX and KSFO, except for his absentee ownership of KXA in Seattle (1946–1975). He retired to La Jolla, California, and contributed to many philanthropic organizations in his later years. He died November 29, 1977, at age of 87.
PHILIP G. LASKY retired from KPIX in 1969. He died on November 14, 1989, at the age of 80.
After he left KSFO in 1945, LINCOLN DELLAR went on to be the owner of a number of AM and FM stations in California (including KROY in Sacramento, and stations in Stockton and Chico). He was also the original partner of Lester Smith in the Kaye-Smith stations in the Northwest (KJR, KXL, KJRB). Lincoln Dellar died at his Santa Barbara home on June 26, 1992 at the age of 85.
DR. GEORGE W. PHILLIPS served as the pastor of the Tenth Avenue Baptist Church from 1918 until his death in 1940. The church was destroyed by fire iin 1940 and was rebuilt as the Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church.