Saturday, January 24, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 5

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

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

The old 50-watt KFRC transmitter saw use for a while as a short-wave relay of KFRC's AM programs. Harrison Holliway and Harold Peery rebuilt the unit to operate on 108 meters, and the station received the experimental call sign 6XD. Originally, their plan had been to use the new station to transmit details of the Dole fliers in their trans-Pacific flight from Oakland that year, a plan later abandoned. But the station was operated for a while and heard as far away as Juneau, Alaska. [16]

The following year (November 14, 1927), Don Lee bought KHJ in Los Angeles from the Los Angeles Times. The station was relocated to the Don Lee Cadillac Building at Seventh and Bixel Streets in that city, where a new radio facility was built and stocked with all the finest new equipment. There were three elaborate studios including a full pipe organ.

Being the owner of two of the Coast's most prestigious radio stations, Don Lee wasted no time in connecting the two stations by telephone line to establish the Don Lee Broadcasting System. Lee spared no expense to make his two stations among the finest in the nation, as a 1929 article from Broadcast Weekly attests:

"Both KHJ and KFRC have large complete staffs of artists, singers and entertainers, with each station having its own Don Lee Symphony Orchestra, dance band and organ, plus all of the musical instruments that can be used successful in broadcasting. It is no idle boast that either KHJ or KFRC could operate continuously without going outside their own staffs for talent, and yet give a variety with an appeal to every type of audience.[2] "

In 1929, the nation's second network, the Columbia Broadcasting System, still had no affiliates west of the Rockies, and this was making it difficult for the network to compete with its larger rival, NBC. CBS president William S. Paley was in need of West Coast affiliates, and he needed them fast. Thus it was that Paley travelled to Los Angeles that summer to convince Don Lee to sign a CBS affiliate agreement. Paley was a busy man, and he was frustrated by Lee's casual, time-consuming ways of doing business. Lee insisted that Paley spend a week with him on his yacht "The Invader" before any business could be discussed. After two lengthy sailings during which Lee had plenty of opportunity to evaluate Paley's moral fiber in the relaxed, informal atmosphere at sea, Lee agreed to sign an affiliate agreement which Paley was to dictate without any negotiation whatsoever. The agreement was signed on July 16, 1929, and the Don Lee stations became the vanguard of the CBS West Coast invasion. [3]


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