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NBC Pacific Network Hookup
NBC Engineers Pose in the NBC Control
Room, 111 Sutter Street, 1938
NBC Staff in Studio 'A', 111 Sutter Street, 1941
The First RCA 44A Ribbon Microphones are Installed at 111 Sutter Street
Meredith Willson, NBC's second
Pacific Coast music director
Meredith Willson, Music Director
of Carefree Carnival.
The Standard School Broadcast, 1940s
Joseph Henry Jackson
NBC Remote Broadcast Truck, outside California Palace of Legion of Honor, 1930's
NBC Remote Broadcast Truck, 1940's
national network hookups,
1935 and 1937
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.
The NBC Radio City building,
Taylor and O'Farrell Streets, 1942
A NETWORK IS BORN
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!
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
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
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.
THE NBC "ORANGE"
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.
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.
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.)
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. )
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
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
NBC GOES COAST TO COAST
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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",
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
NEW PHONE LINES BRING EXPANSION
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
technological and pricing changes combined with market forces to set the stage
for the future decline of San Francisco as a network center.
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.
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.
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.
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.
THE EXODUS BEGINS:
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.
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.
$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.
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.
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
SAN FRANCISCO'S "RADIO CITY"
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
by author with Bill Andrews, former NBC announcer; San Francisco, 10/13/70,
by Michele Hilmes – University of Illinois Press, 1990
Business and Radio by Gleason L. Archer, American Book-Stratford
Press, Inc., 1939
Quarter Century of American Broadcasting by E. P. J. Shurick, Midland Publishing Company,
Mary Jane Higby, Cowles Education Corporation, 1966
Francisco Chronicle, 4/1/27
Francisco Examiner, 12/6/67
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”
“Optimism Prevails on West Coast”
“C of C Files Protest Against Radio’s Exodus”
“AT&T Revises Radio Line Rates Downward”
Weekly” Magazine, 3/10/1929, “Don Gilman – NBC”, by Monroe Upton
Broadcast News”, April 1936, “NBC’s New Hollywood Studios” by O. B. Hansen
Electric Oscillator”, December, 1945, George de Mare, "And Now We Take You
To -- !"
Weekly Magazine”, 8/24/29, page 6.
of Broadcasting”, Vol. VIII, No. 1 (Winter 1963-64), page 31- 44, "1928:
Radio Becomes a Mass Advertising Medium", by John W. Spaulding
Record” Magazine, November 1942, "San Francisco's Radio City" by Albert
City souvenir dedication brochure, 4/25/42.
to Radio Guide", by Louise Landis, Feature Editor, NBC, 111 Sutter Street,
San Francisco, May 16, 1934; from KGO's history file.
Release, "NBC Inaugurates Second Nationwide Network", 1936
history cards for KGO and KPO: https://www.fcc.gov/media/radio/radio-history-cards-without-facility-id
of NBC West Coast Studios” by Bobby Ellerbee, Eyes of a Generation
San Francisco Press Club, 1970.
Man's Family -- A History and Analysis", unpublished doctoral dissertation
`by Walter Sheppard, University of Wisconsin, 1967, from the personal files of
John F. Schneider & Associates, LLC
Updated article, Copyright, 2018