The Radio Historian


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The NBC Pacific Coast Network, San Francisco

By John Schneider, W9FGH
Updated article, Copyright 2018 -
John F. Schneider & Associates, LLC

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(Click on photos to enlarge)

Hunter-Dulin Building
111 Sutter Street, San Francisco -
The Hunter-Dulin Building

Floor plan
Floor plan of NBC studios
at 111 Sutter Street

Network connections
NBC Pacific Network Hookup

Don Gilman
Don E. Gilman, NBC Western Division Manager

Orange Network debut
A scene from the inaugural program of the NBC Orange Network - April 5, 1927

NBC debut broadcast
Engineers oversee the debut broadcast of the NBC "Orange" Network, April 1927.

NBC Master Control Room

NBC Master Control Room
at 111 Sutter Street


NBC Engineers Pose in the NBC Control Room, 111 Sutter Street, 1938

111 Sutter
More views of NBC at 
111 Sutter Street, 1927

The "Announcer's Delight", NBC, San Francisco, about 1930

Jennings Pierce

Jennings Pierce, NBC announcer

NBC announcers
NBC staff announcers

Max Dolin
Max Dolin
NBC Pacific music director

Max Dolin and NBC Orchestra
 Max Dolin and NBC  Orchestra

Don Amaizo ad
NBC advertisement for violinist Don Amaizo, who was in reality Max Doli

NBC Standard on Parade
Some NBC studio broadcasts


Carleton E. Morse
Carleton E. Morse

One Man's Family

A broadcast of "One Man's Family" from
111 Sutter Street

Remote mixing engineer
Audio engineer mixing a remote broadcast

NBC Staff in Studio 'A', 111 Sutter Street, 1941

The First RCA 44A Ribbon Microphones are Installed at 111 Sutter Street 

Transcription room
The NBC transcription room at 
11 Sutter Street

Meredith Willson
Meredith Willson, NBC's second
Pacific Coast music director


Meredith Willson, Music Director 
of Carefree Carnival.

Standard School Broadcast

The Standard School Broadcast, 1940s 

Joseph Henry Jackson
Joseph Henry Jackson

Page Gilman and Don Thompson
Page Gilman and Don Thompson

Al Pearce
Al Pearce on NBC

NBC Remote Broadcast Truck, outside California Palace of Legion of Honor, 1930's 

NBC Remote Broadcast Truck, 1940's 

NBC remote broadcasts
NBC remote broadcasts

More NBC Remote Broadcasts - 1940's

NBC network hookups

NBC national network hookups,
1935 and 1937

NBC Melrose Avenue

NBC opened its first studio building in Hollywood in 1935, but outgrew it in less than two years.

NBC Hollywood

NBC's second Hollywood studio opened for business in 1938.  Virtually all West Coast network operations were moved here, leaving only a modest operation in San Francisco. 

NBC Radio City
The NBC Radio City building,
Taylor and O'Farrell Streets, 1942



















 The news fell on the fledgling radio industry like a bombshell on September 13, 1926.  AT&T – an American pioneer in radio broadcasting - was getting out of the radio broadcasting business, selling its radio assets to RCA!

 Although AT&T had been a major shareholder in the Radio Corporation of America and a charter member of the “radio trust”, it had increasingly developed into a competitor to RCA in the field of broadcasting.  This rivalry had principally played out on the radio waves of New York and Washington where AT&T operated its two big radio stations, WEAF and WCAP, and had tied them together to share programs over its own phone lines.  What started out as one-time hookups for special event broadcasts gradually gave way to the regular distribution of programs.  Bit by bit, additional stations had been added to the chain, forming the embryo of America’s first real radio network.  Simultaneously, a few blocks away in Manhattan, RCA operated its own station, WJZ, which it connected to its Washington station, WRC.  But AT&T had refused to make its phone lines available to the competitor, and so RCA was forced to use inferior Western Union telegraph lines.  A few other stations had joined this smaller RCA network.

The competition between the two powerhouse companies grew more severe, with the companies trading patent infringement lawsuits and other intrigues, until it reached a surprising conclusion - AT&T’s agreement to retire permanently from the radio broadcasting business, selling its two radio stations and its fledgling network to RCA for $1 million.  In return, RCA pledged to lease its equalized network lines from AT&T, assuring the latter company a continuing and ample income stream from broadcasting without the complexity of creating daily programming.  The scarcity of these lines also assured NBC a near-monopoly in the network business.

RCA now found itself in the driver's seat of the burgeoning broadcast business as the owner of the country’s only two radio station chains.  It wasted no time in forming a new division - the National Broadcasting Company, owned 50% by RCA, 30% by General Electric and 20% by Westinghouse.  The WEAF network was renamed the NBC “Red Network”, and the WJZ network became the NBC “Blue Network”.  (The names were derived from the color codes that AT&T used to distinguish the hookups on their maps and control panels.)  The inaugural NBC broadcast was a gala program from the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York on November 15, 1926.  25 stations were charter members of the network.


But NBC was "National" in name only, as AT&T’s broadcast lines reached only as far west as Denver.  The only way to establish a coast-to-coast hookup was to make a phone call between Denver and San Francisco over ordinary low-fidelity phone lines.  AT&T expected a delay of several years before its broadcast lines would cross the Rocky Mountains.  And so, as a solution to this dilemma, NBC established a third network: the Pacific Coast "Orange Network”, on December 3, 1926.  A full duplicate of the New York program staff was assembled in San Francisco, which would originate programs for seven Pacific Coast stations: KPO and KGO in the Bay Area, KFI Los Angeles, KGW Portland, KHQ Spokane, and KFOA Seattle (this affiliation later changed to KOMO). NBC chose San Francisco because it was the central distribution point for the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company’s lines.  From the Bay Area, programs could be fed south to Los Angeles and North to the Pacific Northwest, traveling over 1,709 miles of equalized lines.

The inaugural NBC Orange Network program was held on April 5, 1927, less than five months after the first NBC broadcast in New York.  It originated from temporary studios in the Colonial Ballroom of the St. Francis Hotel, as permanent studios in the new Hunter-Dolin Building were not yet ready for occupancy.  The program opened with an address by Henry M. Robinson, the Pacific Coast member of the NBC Advisory Board and president of the First National Bank of Los Angeles.  Robinson spoke from the studios of KFI in Los Angeles. Then the program switched to San Francisco for the broadcasts of music by Alfred Hertz and the San Francisco Symphony, and by Max Dolin, the newly-appointed West Coast music director, conducting the National Broadcasting Opera Company.

The network began a regular schedule of programs on April 11 with "Eight Neapolitan Nights", sponsored by the Shell Oil Company.  Its initial schedule was 8 to 9 PM Monday and Saturday, and 9 to 10 PM Tuesday through Friday, giving the network a total of six hours of programs weekly.  (The network only operated in evening hours at first because circuits could not be spared from the standard telephone service during the day.)

The Orange Network primarily recreated the same programs heard in the east on the Red Network. At the conclusion of a program in New York, all of the program continuity, including the scripts and musical scores, would be shipped to San Francisco by Railroad Express, where it would be rehearsed for performance a week later.  Thus, the San Francisco cast was producing such well-known early network shows as "The RCA Hour", "The Wrigley Program", "The Standard Symphony Hour", "The Eveready Light Opera Program", "The Firestone Hour" and many others.  At the conclusion of each program the announcer would state, "This program came to you from the San Francisco studios of the Pacific Coast Network of the National Broadcasting Company."  This announcement would be followed by the NBC chimes.  (The chimes intially were a seven-note sequence, but they were later shortened to the well-known three-note G-E-C progression.  The NBC chimes were struck by hand until the mid-1930, when they were replaced with electronically-produced, perfect-pitch chimes. )

Shortly after the NBC Orange Network's inaugural broadcast in 1927, it moved into permanent headquarters in the brand new Hunter-Dolin Building, at 111 Sutter Street.  It was from these studios that most of San Francisco's "Golden Decade" programs would originate.  The studios occupied the entire 22nd floor, with offices on the second floor.  The facility, decorated in a Spanish motif, included three fully-equipped studios.   One unique features was a glass-enclosed mezzanine that opened into the large studio “A”, decorated to resemble a Spanish patio.  From there, a small audience – usually the program’s sponsors - could watch the programs while they were being broadcast.  Studio “B” was home to a Robert-Morton two-manual, 6-rank organ on which Paul Carson and other musicians would perform for a number of famous network programs.

 To staff its new network in San Francisco, NBC primarily hired talent away from the local stations.  KGO and KPO (now KNBR), the network’s two local affiliates, lost the most of their staff members to NBC, and this process continued as the network schedule expanded.  One of the most popular personalities to make the move was Hugh Barrett Dobbs, who moved his KPO "Ship of Joy" program to the network, where it became the "Shell Ship of Joy", sponsored by the oil company of the same name.  It was eventually broadcast nationwide for a short time.

During the first years of operation, program announcements were made by the actors, musicians, or generally whoever was available.  However, as the staff continued to grow, the first full-time staff announcer was hired, who was also borrowed from a local station - Bill Andrews moved from KLX in Oakland to NBC in 1928. Other announcers followed: Jack Keough came from KPO; Jennings Pierce was recruited from KGO; Cecil Underwood was imported from affiliate KHQ in Spokane. Many others were gradually added until there were seventeen at the height of the operation.  

The NBC-Pacific operation was headed by Don E. Gilman, vice president in charge of the Western Division.  Gilman was a newspaperman and the head of the local advertising association when he was tapped to manage the NBC operation in 1927.  He had a good understanding of music performance, and was said to be as good of a pianist as anyone on the staff.  In school he had studied electrical engineering, business, English and writing.  In short, he was well-versed to oversee the many and diverse activities of a radio network.

 Initially, the network had little influence over the day-to-day operations of its two local affiliated stations, other than providing several hours of programming in the evening hours.  KGO was operated by the General Electric Company, and KPO by Hale Brothers Department Store and the San Francisco Chronicle, and both stations had their own established program schedules, staffs and audiences.  This changed in 1930, when NBC purchased KGO outright and leased the facilities of KPO (which it subsequently purchased in 1932).  Once that happened, the program staffs of KGO, KPO and NBC were all consolidated into one collective workforce of over 250 persons under one roof at 111 Sutter Street.  This included complete orchestras, vocalists and other musicians (there were five pipe organists alone), and a complete dramatic stock company.  It was from there that all programs for the network originated (by then averaging about fifteen hours a week), as well as the local programs heard over KGO and KPO.  As a result, those stations lost their independent identities except for their separate transmitter facilities and engineering staffs.  (KGO transmitted at 7,500 watts from a General Electric transformer factory in East Oakland.  KPO broadcast from the roof of the Hale Brothers Department Store on Market Street with 5,000 watts until 1933, when a new 50,000 watt facility was constructed near the Bay Shore at Belmont.)  

 As the network expanded into the daytime hours, one of its more popular offerings was the “Woman's Magazine of the Air".  The mid-morning home economics show had begun as a local offering on KPO in 1928 before graduating to the network.  Broadcast from its own model kitchen-studio in the old KPO studio in the Hale Brothers department store, it was hosted by “Jolly” Ben Walker.  Other regulars were Ann Holden, Helen Webster, Marjorie Gray and Bob Nichols, and an orchestra led by Edward Fitzpatrick.  Reportedly, the first bona fide singing commercial -- that is, one sung for the sole purpose of praising a product -- was heard on this program, promoting Caswell's National Crest Coffee.  Other sponsors included Pet Milk, Safeway Stores, and Van Kamp Seafood.

 Among the other programs that originated from 111 Sutter Street during these years, there was "Don Amaizo, the Golden Violinist", who played for the American Maize Company (the musician who performed for West Coast audiences was Music Director Max Dolin); "Memory Lane"; "Rudy Seiger's Shell Symphony", broadcast by remote from the Fairmont Hotel; "Dr. Lawrence Cross"; and the "Bridge to Dreamland", originated by Paul Carson and consisting of organ music by Carson intermixed with poetry written by his wife.

 Throughout all of these programs, even though the performers went unseen by their radio audiences, NBC required formal dress.  This meant that the actors and announcers wore black ties, actresses wore formal gowns, and musicians wore uniform smocks, with the conductor in tie and tails.  This was done for appearance, in the event that the sponsor or some other important person should drop in unannounced.  The engineers were required to wear a tie and jacket.


 Until September of 1928, there was still no such thing as a weekly "coast-to-coast" network program.  Whenever required, the connections between Denver and Salt Lake City were temporarily made by placing a long distance telephone call.  Eleven sponsors reached the Pacific Coast with their programs using this method for a few months.  Finally, in December of 1928, AT&T completed the important missing link in its broadcast quality telephone network.

 The first program to use the new line was "The General Motors Party" on Christmas Eve, 1928. Originating in New York, it was carried on 51 stations east of the Rockies plus the 7 West Coast stations.   Regular programming began shortly thereafter, and Western listeners could now enjoy the original Eastern productions for the first time.  NBC now boasted a nationwide network of 58 stations, with the potential to reach 83% of all U.S. radios.

 With the inauguration of the new transcontinental service, the process of duplicating East Coast programs in San Francisco was discontinued.  Instead, many East Coast performances were repeated three hours later for Western audiences.  Because there was only one circuit available, the Red and Blue networks could not be fed simultaneously.  Instead, a selection of the best programs from each network was fed West of Denver.  Thus, the Orange Network continued to exist, although in name only.

 Although the duplication of programs was no longer necessary, the Western Division staff was not dissolved.  It continued to produce additional programs for western consumption only, augmenting the eastern schedule.  Because of the time difference, the later evening hours were all filled with West Coast programs.

 Occasionally, the trans-continental line would be reversed, and programs produced in San Francisco would be fed eastward to the rest of the nation.  The first nationwide broadcast from the West Coast had been the Rose Bowl Game from Pasadena on New Year's Day, 1927, with Graham McNamee at the microphone, but, this had been accomplished on a temporary hookup over normal phone lines.  The first regular coast-to-coast broadcast from the west over high-quality lines took place in April of 1930 with the "Del Monte Program" sponsored by the California Packing Company.  Other programs quickly followed.  Soon, the San Francisco staff was bigger than ever, simultaneously producing programs for local broadcast over KGO and KPO, for the Western hook-up, and for nationwide consumption.  All of these production activities were complicated by the time difference between the East and West Coasts.  This meant that a program for broadcast in the east at 7 PM would have to be performed in San Francisco at four, and then repeated three hours later for Western audiences.  It was not uncommon to have all three San Francisco studios in use at once: one producing a program for the East Coast, another for the West Coast, while a third was feeding one of the local stations.

 Several San Francisco programs within the next few years gained national popularity.  These included "Death Valley Days", "The Demi-Tasse Revue", Sam Dickson's "Hawthorne House", and others  

 Sam Dickson was one of San Francisco's best-known radio writers. He got his start there in the twenties at KYA, writing shows that featured the station manager and the switchboard operator as principal characters. In 1929, Dickson conducted a survey for the Commonwealth Club about radio advertising. Broadcast advertising had not yet come into its own, and there were many who voiced objections to radio being put to such a use. Dickson's survey was revolutionary, in that it discovered 90% of the city's radio listeners did not object to commercials, providing they were in good taste; and, virtually all of them actually said they patronized the few advertisers that were then on the air. The results of Dickson's survey were indeed revolutionary, but they also prompted a revolution he didn't expect -- he was blacklisted by every station in town!   

 Dickson fought the blacklisting as best he could. He was still doing some writing for KYA, and managed to do some writing for NBC under an assumed name. By the time NBC discovered his true identity, however, his work had become admired to the point where he was allowed to remain as a staff writer. He wrote scripts for many programs in the ensuing years, including two popular series, "Hawthorne House" and "Winning of the West", as well as police stories and biblical stories for children.  He continued with NBC as one of its most prominent writers up into the sixties, and in later years was the author of "The California Story", a series heard on KNBC (ex-KPO, now KNBR) for a quarter century.

 Another nationally-popular San Francisco program was "Carefree Carnival", a Saturday night variety program sponsored in the west by the Signal Oil Company.  Master of ceremonies Ned Tollinger hosted a smorgasbord of comedy skits and music, playing the straight man for comedic abuse from characters such as Helen Troy (Sally of “Cecil and Sally”), who played a Gracie Allen-style screwball.  Elmore Vincent performed in character as Senator Frankenstein Fishface, a master of fractured political oratory; and Pinky Lee played a lisping sailor (he would later host a nationwide children’s show on early television).  The music was provided by radio’s talented up-and-coming conductor and composer Meredith Willson and his NBC Orchestra, augmented with Western music by Charlie Marshall and the Mavericks, and the sweet ballads of vocalist Tommy Harris.  The “Carnival” was broadcast in front of a live audience from the stage of the Marines' Memorial Theater from 1933 to 1936 -- starting as a West Coast feature but soon expanding nationwide over the Blue Network.

 However, the most famous program to ever originate in San Francisco was "One Man's Family". It was a national favorite on radio and television for 27 years, and always ranked among the ten most popular programs nationally.  Its author, Carleton E. Morse, was one of the biggest figures in San Francisco radio at the time.

 Moving into radio from the newspaper business, Morse was hired by NBC just two weeks before the 1929 stock market crash.  He later explained how he was hired:

 They had a show coming in from New York -- it was called "The House of Myths", dramatizations of Greek classics.  They said, "We can't do these -- they're terrible.  Can you take them and rewrite them, or dramatize some myths that we could produce?"  So, they sent me home and I conceived the idea of doing the myths in modern vernacular with a heavy … tongue-in-cheek innuendo on the sex life of the Gods.

 Morse’s version of the "House of Myths" received good listener response on the Coast, although it drew little reaction in the east where it was also performed for a while.  After the series ended, he dabbled with several other ideas but failed to draw any significant listener response, but he caught listeners’ attentions when he tried his hand at mysteries.  A number of popular Morse mystery series followed: "The Witch of Endor", "The City of the Dead", "Captain Post: Crime Specialist", "The Game Called Murder", "Dead Men Prowl", and others.  Especially well liked were a series of four programs based upon the files of the San Francisco Police Department, "Chinatown Squad", "Barbary Coast Nights", "Killed in Action" and "To the Best of Their Ability".  San Francisco Police Chief William J. Quinn worked closely with Morse in the writing of these episodes, and narrated all four series.

 By 1932, Carleton E. Morse was the biggest name in radio drama on the coast, but he had tired of the continual diet of murder and violence. As an antidote to this, he began working on a series he called "One Man's Family", inspired by John Galsworthy's "Forsythe Saga".  Morse was appalled by what he felt was the coming deterioration of the family life style in America, and so he decided to write a series giving "a down-to-earth, honest picture of family life".

 "One Man's Family" told the story of the Barbours, an affluent, moral family residing in the Sea Cliff district of San Francisco.  The concept did not fit into any previously-tried program formulas, and was unlike anything that had been done on radio up to that time.  It simply told the story of everyday life in a model family.  Morse hoped it would become popular because the public would identify closely with its characters, and he was right.

 "One Man's Family" made its debut on Friday, April 29, 1932.  It was carried from 9:30 to 10:00 PM on just three stations, in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. However, after the first few episodes, other West Coast stations asked that the program be opened to the entire network.

 The four main characters forming the nucleus of the cast were portrayed by the same actors for the entire 27 year run of the program.  They were: Father Henry Barbour, played by J. Anthony Smythe; Mother Fannie Barbour, played by Minetta Ellen; Paul Barbour, who was played by Mike Raffetto; and Hazel, portrayed by Bernice Berwin.  Other characters were the twins, Clifford and Claudia, played by Barton Yarborough and Kathleen Wilson, and Jack, who was played by Page Gilman (son of Western Division head Don Gilman).  All of these actors had been hand-picked by Morse from the beginning of the program.  In fact, each character had been created specifically with its actor in mind, encompassing his or her own personality traits, so that -- as Morse put it -- they could really "get into their own parts".

 Western listeners responded to the program almost immediately, and their response was overwhelming.  "One Man's Family" quickly became one of the most listened-to programs on the coast.  Nonetheless, it remained unsponsored until Wesson Oil and Snowdrift bought the program on January 18, 1933.  Then on May 17, it became one of the first San Francisco programs to be sent eastward through the trans-continental line to be heard nationwide, although it was broadcast in the east as a sustaining (unsponsored) feature.  Separate scripts had to be utilized for nearly eight months until eastern audiences could catch up with the story line and the two productions could be consolidated.  In 1934, the program was being performed three times: Fridays from 7:30 to 8:00 PM for the Mountain and Central time zones; 8:15 to 8:45, sponsored by Wesson Oil for the Pacific Coast; and again the next day at 5:30 for Eastern listeners.  When a national sponsor was finally found, “One Man’s Family” moved to Wednesday nights on November 21, 1934, sponsored by Kentucky Winners Cigarettes.  But there was such a public outcry that such a “wholesome” program would be sponsored by a cigarette company that the sponsor cancelled after only ten weeks on the air.  The show moved again, this time to Sunday nights, and went another two months without a sponsor.  Finally, in March of 1935, Standard Brands, Inc., began a fourteen year sponsorship of the program, and during the remainder of radio's golden years, "One Man's Family" would be synonymous with Royal Gelatin Desserts and Tender Leaf Tea.

It was about this time that Morse began tiring of the repetitiveness of "One Man's Family".  Just as he had grown weary of continual murder-and- violence stories, he now tired of the sugar and syrup of his latest and most successful program.  He needed to create another series to create some excitement, and so "I Love a Mystery" was born.  This children’s' adventure series, featuring the trio of adventurers Jack, Doc and Reggie, was a national favorite for nearly two decades, and was heard on NBC through network radio's declining years.


 By the early 1930’s, additional network-quality lines had been installed up and down the Pacific Coast, and this opened up expansion possibilities for NBC.  When the owners of the four-station Pacific Northwest ABC group went bankrupt after the stock market crash, NBC acquired its stations:  KEX Portland, KJR Seattle, KGA Spokane, and KYA San Francisco.  Incorporating these into the company’s operations, NBC debuted the Pacific Coast “Gold Network” in 1931.  It consisted of KPO San Francisco, KECA Los Angeles, and the three Northwest stations – KEX, KJR and KGA.  The Gold Network operated in parallel with the Orange Network, which fed KGO, KFI, KGW, KOMO and KHQ.  Additionally, KTAR Phoenix and KSDO San Diego signed up as auxiliary affiliates that could choose programs from either network.  NBC was now feeding 119 hours of network programs per week from San Francisco – 47% of which were sponsored.  (KYA was not a part of either network, and it broadcast separate local programs also produced at 111 Sutter Street.)

 But the Gold Network lasted only two years.  By April of 1933, at the bottom of the depression, sponsorship was dropping while line costs were increasing.  Scaling back its Pacific Coast operations for the first time, NBC elected to close down the Gold Network.  In its place, it announced it would broadcast its secondary network programs through KPO’s new high-power 50 kW transmitter in San Francisco, which was providing clear nighttime coverage up and down the coast.  KGO replaced KPO as the new key station for the Orange Network.  The three Northwest stations were leased to the Orange Network affiliates in their respective cities for $1 a year – and so KOMO in Seattle took over KJR; KGW in Portland took over KEX, and KGA in Spokane joined up with KHQ.  (Subsequently, those Orange Network affiliates purchased the three stations outright.)  Although they would occasionally be tapped to broadcast overflow NBC programs that were preempted by their main stations, the three Northwest stations were otherwise locally programmed.  NBC soon after also disposed of KYA in San Francisco, selling it to the Hearst Newspaper chain in 1934.

 By 1936, the economics of the radio business had rebounded somewhat, and the networks and some of the larger stations were earning good money.  Also, some major changes with AT&T’s management of its broadcast lines opened up new opportunities for network broadcasting.  The telephone utility had finally installed a second NBC broadcast line, allowing both the East Coast Red and Blue networks to be fed simultaneously to the coast.  Now, for the first time, the entire compliment of programs from both networks could be heard on a nationwide basis.  As a result, the original NBC "Orange Network", with the exception of KGO, became the Pacific Coast Red Network.  KGO, along with KECA Los Angeles, KFSD San Diego, KEX Portland, KJR Seattle and KGA Spokane, formed the new Western Blue Network.  The West Coast Blue Network was inaugurated with the broadcast of the Rose Bowl Game from Pasadena on New Year's Day, 1936.   

Prior to 1932, only a limited number of West Coast programs were fed eastward.   The AT&T lines were one-way circuits, and they fed westward to San Francisco and then up and down the coast.  In order for a program to be fed to the east, it was necessary for attendants at each line amplifier location to simultaneously manually patch the circuits to feed in reverse.  Additionally, the programs had to first be fed all the way to New York, from where they would be sent onward to the Midwest and South, doubling the per-mile line charges.  This was a dilemma for the networks, because the national demand for West Coast programs was increasing, spurred by success of “One Man’s Family” and “Carefree Carnival”.  More than 20 new Hollywood programs were planned by networks for fall 1935. 

As a solution, AT&T introduced a new system called the "quick reversible" circuit in 1936. Under this arrangement, the operation of a single key would reverse the direction of every amplifier in the line between the West Coast and Chicago, so that a line that formerly fed westward could now move programs from west to east.  By this method, the circuit could be completely reversed in less than 15 seconds -- well within the time of a station break.  Additionally, Midwest stations could now take the program off the main line on its way east, instead of having to double back from New York.

 But the most important change was the substantial reduction in broadcast line rates that AT&T put into effect in October, 1936.  Pressed by an FCC investigation into its pricing practices and monopolistic control of network lines, AT&T elected to cut its line rates almost in half.  It also instituted a number of other flexibilities that further reduced costs and offered new options to the networks.

 These technological and pricing changes combined with market forces to set the stage for the future decline of San Francisco as a network center.


 In the early years of the networks, the relationship between the radio and motion picture industries was strained.  In 1928, a special broadcast extravaganza originating from Hollywood, promoting the introduction of a new Dodge automobile, played the voices of Hollywood film stars like Douglas Fairbanks, John Barrymore, Charles Chaplain and Dolores Del Rio through American radios for the first time.  That broadcast was a huge success, and it demonstrated the public’s appetite for hearing big-name movie stars on their radios. 

 Nonetheless, the film studio executives perceived radio as a competitor that was siphoning off box office receipts by offering free in-home entertainment during prime theater hours.  The result was a complete studio ban in 1932 – all major studios (except RKO, which was owned in part by RCA) adopted a policy of keeping their contracted stars off the air.  However, this resolve gradually faded as the executives came to realize that having their stars appear on radio generated free publicity for their films.  Additionally, the studios wanted to incorporate some of radio’s newly-minted stars into their own productions.  In 1931, Rudy Vallee, while in Hollywood for the making of a motion picture, broadcast his weekly program from California and introduced his audience to many film star guests.  Before long, the relationship between the studios and radio networks thawed and the boycott was forgotten as each side saw the other as an effective vehicle for cross-promotion.  By the 1934/35 radio season, there were no less than 20 network programs being broadcast from Hollywood over NBC and CBS.

 But before 1936, it wasn’t easy for Hollywood stars to appear on NBC programs.  The network lines emanated south out of San Francisco, and Hollywood was at the end of the line.  To broadcast a Hollywood celebrity, they either needed to fly to San Francisco  or NBC had to purchase a one-time temporary hookup from Hollywood to San Francisco.  If a program was to be fed nationally from Los Angeles, it needed to be fed eastward over a separate circuit to Chicago, where it could link up with the network.  When Eddie Cantor moved his "Chase and Sanborn Program" to Hollywood, this factor added $2,100 per week in line charges to the program's budget.   

 There was considerable pressure on NBC to find a better solution.  One result was the Quick Reversible circuit.  Additionally, the new circuit that brought the Blue Network to the coast in 1936 terminated in Los Angeles instead of San Francisco.  For the first time, it became economical for NBC to produce national programs in Hollywood on a wide scale.  Hollywood stars like Al Jolson, Bob Hope and Clark Gable were regularly heard on NBC after that time.


 If it was going to originate more than a few programs from Hollywood, NBC would need studio facilities in that city.  The first programs in 1935 had been broadcast from a temporary studio on the RKO motion picture lot, but the network now sought a permanent home.  In 1935, the company acquired a building at 5515 Melrose Avenue that had formerly housed the Consolidated Film Industries studios.  Its grand opening as an NBC facility was held on December 7, 1935.  The two story building housed four studios, including two auditorium studios with seating for over 200 persons.  Don Gilman, NBC’s West Coast VP, told the press, “The need for adequate studios in Hollywood has long been apparent.  The growing importance of Hollywood has caused us to prepare to take advantage of the great reservoir of talent.  It’s expected that more programs of national interest will originate in Southern California when we have provided proper facilities.” Nonetheless, Gilman continued to work out of San Francisco, commuting to Hollywood for his regular visits.  He insisted to the press that the network’s presence in the city by the bay would not be diminished in spite of its expansion into Southern California. 

 However, by December of the following year, it was already apparent that the Melrose studios were too small for NBC’s growing needs.  Gilman then announced plans to expand NBC’s facilities in both Hollywood and San Francisco. A 4-1/2 acre tract at Sunset and Vine was acquired, and a rush construction project undertaken.

 The palatial $2 million NBC Hollywood studio complex officially opened for business October 17, 1938, and it became the new Western Division headquarters.  All West Coast executive offices that had previously been divided between San Francisco and Hollywood were consolidated in a new three-story executive building on the property.  On the production side, there were eight studios, including four auditoriums that seated 350 persons each, the largest ever constructed for radio.   

 In spite of Gilman’s declaration to the contrary a year earlier, the completion of the NBC Hollywood complex accelerated a trend that had already begun – the relocation of San Francisco programs to Hollywood.  In 1937, concerned over loss of payroll and jobs, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce protested the exodus of radio production to the network.  The relocation of “One Man’s Family” alone had shifted south over $2,000 in weekly payroll.  One newspaper columnist called San Francisco a “Radio Ghost Town:  “By mid-autumn, San Francisco will merely be an outlet on a ‘ghost to ghost’ network – an outlet for Los Angeles airshows which formerly originated here.”  The Musicians Union also protested the dismissal of studio orchestra musicians in the city.  For its part, the entire NBC management team was moved to Hollywood.  By 1942, only a skeleton crew remained in San Francisco – just enough to generate the programs for the two local NBC stations.

 NBC wasn’t alone in this.  CBS established a beachhead in Hollywood with its purchase of KNX in 1936.  At the same time, the Don Lee Network was moving the production of many of its programs from KFRC in San Francisco to KHJ in Los Angeles.  Both companies built opulent studio buildings in Hollywood, located just a few blocks away from NBC.  Soon, hundreds of radio actors, artists and musicians were shuffling between the network buildings to produce a growing number of radio shows.  Clearly, the nation’s new radio production center had sprouted from the ground up almost overnight.


 During the intervening period when NBC had intended to operate equal personnel and artist staffs in both cities, it had drawn up plans for a new San Francisco studio building to replace the outmoded facility at 111 Sutter Street.  This was NBC's "Radio City", designed to match the opulence of the new Hollywood facility.  It drew national acclaim for both its architectural styling and broadcast innovations.  And it was a colossal mistake.

 In 1940, bids were taken for the construction of an ultra-modern four-story studio complex at Taylor and O'Farrell Streets.  About this same time, the NBC executives in New York were arriving at a decision to close down the San Francisco network operation. According to one story, the ground breaking was set to begin when Al Nelson, the network’s West Coast vice president, received a telegram from New York.  It said a decision had been made to phase out the San Francisco operation, and that the new building must not be built.  But, it was too late; the contracts had already been let, and the event, once set into motion, could not be reversed. The vice president himself officiated at the ground breaking ceremony that day, with the telegram in his pocket.

 NBC’s million dollar San Francisco facility was formally dedicated April 26, 1942.  It was an impressive edifice -- four stories of pink, windowless walls with layers of glass brick delineating each floor. Over the marquee, at the main entrance to the building, was a three-story mosaic mural designed by Gerald F. Fitzgerald which depicted different facets of the radio industry.  Inside, the facilities included a 41-by-72 foot main studio, two 24-by-44 secondary studios, and four smaller studios.  A parking garage occupied practically the entire first floor. One of the smaller studios, Studio “G”, was equipped with a false fireplace, fur rugs and comfortable furniture. It was reserved for V.I.P. guests exclusively, and Harry Truman, General Sarnoff and H.V. Kaltenborn were just a few of those who eventually used it.  Another feature of NBC's radio palace was a roof garden where Sam Dickson, Dave Drummond, James Day and other staff writers could produce scripts in their swimsuits and work on their suntans at the same time.   

 The building was a magnificent tribute to the state of the art. It was also San Francisco's last great fling as a radio center, for less than a year after its completion the southward exodus had ended, and most of the facility stood unused except for an occasional network sustaining feature.  In the ensuing years much of the building was sublet as office space, and the entire radio operation consisted of a disc jockey playing records from a third floor booth.  KGO moved to Golden Gate Avenue in the early 1950's, and KPO, by then known as KNBR, moved out in 1967 once NBC’s 25 year lease on the building expired. That was the year the building was acquired by the Kaiser Broadcasting Company to become the new home of KBHK Television.  At last, the structure would see extensive usage for the purpose for which it was built.


 Most all network program production had departed from San Francisco by 1942.  After that time, the city still saw some national prominence as a network news center for the war in the Pacific. It was also the programming and transmission headquarters for three powerful short wave stations that broadcast to the Pacific, programmed by the Office of War Information (part of the genesis of the Voice of America).  Additionally, San Francisco did retain some importance as a switching center for the AT&T network. But it would never again see the prominence in broadcasting it experienced during its heyday of the late 1920's and 1930's.



Interviews by author with Bill Andrews, former NBC announcer; San Francisco, 10/13/70, 11/2/70, 4/1/71.

 Hollywood and Broadcasting by Michele Hilmes – University of Illinois Press, 1990

 Big Business and Radio  by Gleason L. Archer, American Book-Stratford Press, Inc., 1939

 First Quarter Century of American Broadcasting by E. P. J. Shurick, Midland Publishing Company, 1946

 Tune In Tomorrow, Mary Jane Higby, Cowles Education Corporation, 1966

 San Francisco Chronicle, 4/1/27

 San Francisco Examiner, 12/6/67

 “Broadcasting” Magazine: 11/1/31, 4/1/33, 1/1/36, 1/1/37, 11/1/38; also,

  • 1-15-1935:  Gilman:  NBC not moving to Hollywood, “Spikes NBC Rumor”
  • 10-15-34 “Optimism Prevails on West Coast”  
  •  7-1-37 “C of C Files Protest Against Radio’s Exodus” 
  • 10/1/36 “AT&T Revises Radio Line Rates Downward”

 “Broadcast Weekly” Magazine, 3/10/1929, “Don Gilman – NBC”, by Monroe Upton

 “RCA Broadcast News”, April 1936, “NBC’s New Hollywood Studios” by O. B. Hansen

 “Western Electric Oscillator”, December, 1945, George de Mare, "And Now We Take You To -- !"

 “Broadcast Weekly Magazine”, 8/24/29, page 6.

 “Journal of Broadcasting”, Vol. VIII, No. 1 (Winter 1963-64), page 31- 44, "1928: Radio Becomes a Mass Advertising Medium", by John W. Spaulding

 “Architectural Record” Magazine, November 1942, "San Francisco's Radio City" by Albert F. Roller

 Radio City souvenir dedication brochure, 4/25/42.

 "Special to Radio Guide", by Louise Landis, Feature Editor, NBC, 111 Sutter Street, San Francisco, May 16, 1934; from KGO's history file.

 NBC Press Release, "NBC Inaugurates Second Nationwide Network", 1936

 FCC history cards for KGO and KPO:

 “History of NBC West Coast Studios” by Bobby Ellerbee, Eyes of a Generation

 "Scoop", San Francisco Press Club, 1970.

 "One Man's Family -- A History and Analysis", unpublished doctoral dissertation `by Walter Sheppard, University of Wisconsin, 1967, from the personal files of Carlton Morse.

John F. Schneider & Associates, LLC
Updated article, Copyright, 2018