Friday, January 23, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 4

Originally published in the January, 2009, Old Radio Times.(

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks
John F. Schneider

The Don Lee Era

Perhaps it may be considered to be the re-birth of KFRC (it certainly marked a future of bigger and better things) when Don Lee, the California distributor for the Cadillac Motor Car Company, purchased the station in 1926. Lee had amassed a considerable fortune in his twenty years in the automobile business, and radio was to be an exciting and elaborate new venture for him. On an evening broadcast heard November 15, 1926, officials of the City of Paris formally turned over the station to Don Lee, and the audience was told of his plans for a great station to broadcast from new and elaborate studios he planned to build in the Cadillac building. He had a personal habit of doing everything in grand style, and this was to be his hallmark for the twenty five years he would own the station.

Temporary studios were soon built and installed in the Don Lee Building at 1000 Van Ness Avenue. The transmitter remained in its original location atop the Whitcomb Hotel, but plans were under way for an elaborate new studio complex and a 1,000 watt transmitter.

The new studios were completed and dedicated in a 28-hour marathon broadcast held July 6, 1927. The station was located on the mezzanine floor of the building, at the end of a large and ostentatious staircase leading up from the showroom floor. Two large studios had been decorated in a spanish motif, and they were said to be so acoustically perfect that a full orchestra could be on the air in one studio while a second group rehearsed in the adjoining one. The thousand-watt Western Electric transmitter on the top floor of the building fed a powerful new voice to the new antenna, strung between steel towers on the roof. As a higher power, Class "B" station, KFRC was authorized to move to the preferred frequency of 660 kc. (two years later, the station again moved, this time to its permanent home at 610 kc.) On its new frequency, KFRC was required to reduce its power to 500 watts after sunset.

(This 1,000 watt Western Electric transmitter is in the possession of the radio museum operated by the Perham Foundation in San Jose. The museum is temporarily closed, but plans are under way to reopen again at a new location.)


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