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San Francisco Bay Area Radio History: 1940s
by Alex Cosper


Introduction 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s


see also American Radio History


Shortly after the Pearl Harbor incident in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Wesley Dumm and asked the radio owner to set up a pair of short wave radio stations to broadcast for the Allied armed forces around the world. Dumm set up the stations KWIX and KWID in 1942 and 1943 respectively. These two stations marked the beginning of what would be established in 1943 by the Office of War Information as "Voice of America." In 1946 the network moved its base to New York. Dumm and his company Associated Broadcasters became majority owners of Universal Records during the war, which did transciptions for the military.

KSFO and Gene Autry

Ownership rules were much different in the forties than toward the end of the century. Back in the FDR era owners were only allowed financial interest in one station per market. The FCC's ruling on duopolies led to Dumm being forced to divest his share of crosstown KROW in 1944 and just concentrate on KSFO. He had purchased KROW from Oakland Educational Society in 1939 with partner Fred Hart, who was an early owner of KQW. Dumm and Hart's company that owned KROW became the Educational Broadcasting Corporation, in which Phil Lasky was VP/GM, while running KSFO at the same time. They changed the Oakland station's format from religious to personality and popular music.

After the FCC ruling Lasky became part owner of KROW Inc, with partner Sheldon Sackett. KROW had originally been KFWM in the twenties at 1270, then moved to 930 in 1929, shared with KFWI. The station then moved to its own frequency at 960. The call letters changed to KABL in 1959 after being purchased by top 40 pioneer Gordon McClendon, who moved the KROW calls to Dallas as a simulcast of his legendary station, KLIF.

Dumm sold KSFO to Gene Autry's Golden West Broadcasters in 1956, as Dumm went on to become President of sister televison property KPIX. During the fifties, KSFO was like most stations of the era, full-service news, personality and music. With the move of the Giants baseball team from New York to San Francisco in 1958, KSFO became the official Giants station featuring the popular sportscasting of Lon Simmons and Russ Hodges, which lasted until Hodges died in 1971.

During the fifties Alan Torbet became station manager of KSFO, as well as KROW then KABL. He later became owner and GM of KRAK in Sacramento and established a national consultancy, Torbet Broadcasting Representatives, for 180 radio and TV stations around the country. One of Torbet's best moves at KSFO was hiring Don Sherwood, who would not only become the biggest radio star in the Bay for many years, but would also become the highest paid radio personality in America. Other voices who helped build the station's identity and made it a top station were Al Collins, Jim Lang, Jack Carney and Dan Sorkin.

KQW became the first station in the Bay to sell advertising. In 1925 Charles Herrold sold the station to Fred J. Hart of First Baptist Church, who sold it to the Pacific Agricultural Foundation, headed by Fred J. Hart in 1930. Four years later Hart sold his company to Ralph Brunton and Charles L. McCarthy, who kept the theme of agricultural news going for awhile. Brunton was the owner of crosstown KJBS, as the two stations wound up in the same building on Pine Street in San Francisco. In 1935 KQW's power increased from 1000 to 5000 watts. Another boost came in 1937 when the station signed on as an affiliate of the Mutual-Don Lee Network, which lasted through 1941.

After KSFO decided not to be bought out by CBS, the network approached KQW with an opportunity to become an affiliate, which the station accepted in 1941. At the same time the city of license changed from San Jose to San Francisco and the programming shifted from agricultural to network shows featuring the national voices of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. During World War II KQW became a base for the network show "Dateline San Francisco," which delivered national news.

In 1949 CBS bought the station and changed the call letters to KCBS. They also improved the signal a few years later by building a multi-tower antenna in Novato. At the same time CBS made a deal with KSFO to give their sister TV Channel 5 (KPIX) network affiliation in exchange for KCBS switching from 1010 to the 740 AM dial position, which was the FCC's final allocation of a 50,000 watt AM frequency for the market. KSFO was already on the cutting edge by being the first entity to introduce television to the Bay Area on Christmas Eve 1948.

Dumm set up the stations KWIX and KWID in 1942 and 1943 respectively. These two stations marked the beginning of what would be established in 1943 by the Office of War Information as "Voice of America." In 1946 the network moved its base to New York. Dumm and his company Associated Broadcasters became majority owners of Universal Records during the war, which did transciptions for the military.

Ownership rules were much different in the forties than toward the end of the century. Back in the FDR era owners were only allowed financial interest in one station per market.

The FCC changes the dial

The Federal Communications Commission made sweeping dial position changes across the country in 1941. The Bay Area was affected by the reallocation of the airwaves. KLX moved from 590 to 910. KRE moved from 1370 to 1400. KYA moved from 1230 to 1260. KROW moved from 930 to 960. KJBS moved from 1070 to 1100. KGGC moved from 1420 to 1450 before becoming KSAN AM. KLS moved from 1440 to 1310. KGO moved from 790 to 810. They also increased power to 50,000 watts in 1947. The FCC had just lifted its wartime ban on power expansion.

National Networks

During World War II the FCC issued a freeze on radio station allocation. With the end of the war came new stations in 1946. By the end of the 1940s the AM dial had been crystalized while FM stations began to appear. During this period national radio networks led the industry. The affiliations were: 610 KFRC (Mutual-Don Lee), 810 KGO (ABC), 680 KNBC (NBC) and 560 KQW (CBS). In 1946 the FCC ruled that NBC had grown too large and had to sell off one of its two radio networks. They kept the Red Network and sold the Blue Network, in which the Orange Network was a west coast subsidiary. KGO was part of the Orange Network at the time. The Blue Network then became ABC.

A new network was born in 1935 when KSFO and Los Angeles independent station KNX created the Western Network. But the network fell apart after CBS bought KNX in 1937 and KSFO became a CBS affiliate, replacing KFRC, that same year. From that time until 1942 many CBS radio shows were created in the studios of KSFO. It was during this period that CBS took full control of programming at KSFO, dropping "The Hour of Prayer." CBS, however, changed affiliation to KQW after KSFO refused to be bought out by CBS.

San Francisco AM Dial 1942

560 - KSFO (formerly KTAB)
610 - KFRC
680 - KPO
810 - KGO
910 - KLX
960 - KROW (first appeared in late twenties)
1010 - KQW San Jose (in 1947 moved to 740 and changed to KCBS, the final AM assignment in the market)
1100 - KJBS (first appeared in late twenties, in 1958 became KFAX)
1260 - KYA
1310 - KLS (formerly at 1440 and previously 1280, shared with KTAB, became KWBR in 1945)
1400 - KRE (formerly at 1370 until 1941)
1450 - KSAN (formerly KGGC)

The first FM in the market was KWBR (97.3) in the forties but today is known as "Alice" (KLLC). The first stereo FM in the market (and in the entire country) was KPEN (101.3), now known as "Star 101" (KIOI). It signed on in 1957 and went stereo four years later. Today it remains the most powerful signal in the market at 125,000 watts. Its original owner, Jim Gabbert, achieved many milestones in his career and pioneered some of the most important technology in the evolution of radio since that period. Today the Bay Area radio dial is so saturated with signals, there is literally no room left for the FCC to allocate new frequencies, according to Gabbert.

San Francisco FM Dial 1949

source: OldRadio.com

91.7 - KALW
94.1 - KPFA Berkeley (Pacifica Network)
94.9 - KFSH
96.3 - KSJO San Jose
96.5 - KRON FM
97.3 - KWBR (became KGSF in 1950)
98.5 - KLOK FM San Jose
98.9 - KJBS
99.7 - KNBC
102.9 - KRE FM (went on the air Feb. 1949 as simulcast of KRE-AM)
103.7 - KQW (became KCBS in 1950)
104.5 - KRCC
106.1 - KGO FM

FCC Tightens Ownership Rules

The FCC's ruling on duopolies led to Dumm being forced to divest his share of crosstown KROW in 1944 and just concentrate on KSFO. He had purchased KROW from Oakland Educational Society in 1939 with partner Fred Hart, who was an early owner of KQW. Dumm and Hart's company that owned KROW became the Educational Broadcasting Corporation, in which Phil Lasky was VP/GM, while running KSFO at the same time.

They changed the Oakland station's format from religious to personality and popular music. After the FCC ruling Lasky became part owner of KROW Inc, with partner Sheldon Sackett. KROW had originally been KFWM in the twenties at 1270, then moved to 930 in 1929, shared with KFWI. The station then moved to its own frequency at 960. The call letters changed to KABL


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