Sunday, January 25, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 6

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

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

In Paley's statement to the press announcing the new venture, he said:

"I know the new connection of the Columbia System on the Pacific Coast will react as a mutual benefit to the listeners in that territory and ourselves. These Pacific Coast stations have not been chosen to join the Columbia System on hearsay evidence, or on cold statistics alone. I personally toured the Coast during June and July of this year, and was convinced that through years of service to a faithful radio audience, the stations chosen are outstanding. It is with great pleasure that I am able to announce that they will be our western brothers in the world's largest regular radio network."

Don Lee's companion announcement stated:

"With the growth of public interest in radio, we believe the affiliation of these stations with the Columbia Broadcasting System will be welcomed by radio fans not only on the Pacific Coast, but throughout the United States as well. It will enable us to listen to the finest programs from the East, and will permit the Easterners to get the best of western programs."

The new chain began operations January 1, 1930, and was called the Don Lee-Columbia Network. Two more stations, KGB in San Diego and KDB, Santa Barbara, were purchased by Don Lee and became a part of the network. Also, Lee had been feeding programs to the McClatchy Newspaper station KMJ in Fresno since 1928, and that station became a CBS affiliate, along with the other McClatchy stations (KFBK Sacramento, KWG Stockton, and KERN Bakersfield). Additionally, four Pacific Northwest stations called the "Columbia Northwest Unit" were added (KOIN, Portland, KOL, Seattle, KVI, Tacoma, and KFPY Spokane).[4]

KFRC and KHJ originated numerous programs for the West Coast network. CBS programs were heard in the early dinner hours, and the Don Lee programs were fed after 8:00 when the eastern programs ceased.[5] For these later evening broadcasts, KFRC and KHJ alternated evenings in feeding their programs to the network. Additionally, several of the San Francisco and Los Angeles programs were broadcast nationally by CBS. Many of the most popular KFRC programs became network offerings in this way.

Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of KFRC and the Don Lee System during this period is the large number of people they graduated to national stardom. In 1929, Lee hired an unknown flutist to be KFRC's Music Director. The young man was a musical prodigy, having played with John Phillip Sousa's band at age 16, and he had been the lead flutist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at twenty. Now, he was to get a chance to conduct the Don Lee Studio Orchestra in San Francisco. To Meredith Willson, "The Music Man", radio would be the springboard to big and better things.


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