Saturday, January 31, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 12

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

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

The Mutual-Don Lee Network

Don Lee died suddenly of heart failure on August 30, 1934, at the age of 53, and Lee's son Tommy became president of the network.[9] This presaged a series of events which completely restructured network broadcasting on the West Coast over the next three years. CBS was apparently becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the structure of its western network. The affiliation between CBS and Don Lee, which had been a convenient mechanism for Paley to add affiliates quickly in 1929, was becoming a source of friction as CBS sought more and more control over its affiliates and programming. Apparently this friction even preceded Lee's death.[9] In any event, it came to a head March 19, 1936, when CBS consummated its purchase of KNX in Los Angeles for $1.25 million. This was the highest price ever paid for a radio station to that time. The acquisition of KNX gave CBS a 50 KW clear channel network-owned facility in an increasingly important market. As mentioned previously, Hollywood-originated programs were becoming highly sought after by the radio public, and KNX would become the springboard for a major CBS West Coast program origination effort.[10] (The network's new studios, Columbia Square in Hollywood, were officially dedicated April 30, 1938.[11])

Of course, the acquisition of KNX by CBS completely destroyed any remaining relationship with the Don Lee network. The purchase meant that KNX would replace KHJ as the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. KNX had been sharing a number of programs with KSFO in San Francisco, so it was natural as well for the CBS affiliation in the northern city to transfer from KFRC to KSFO. In fact, CBS soon announced it had leased KSFO with a later option to purchase the station outright.[12] (When that deal later fell through, CBS instead purchased KQW in San Jose, which became KCBS.) The entire structure of the Don Lee Network quickly collapsed. The McClatchy stations lost no time in joining with Hearst stations KYA San Francisco and KEHE Los Angeles to form the short-lived California Radio System.[14] The Northwest station group opted to remained with CBS.

As luck would have it, that same year a fledgling eastern network called the Quality Station Group had changed its name to the Mutual Broadcasting System and was rapidly seeking westward expansion. Tommy Lee contacted Mutual and lost no time in signing an agreement, and the Mutual-Don Lee Network was born. This was how Mutual became the fourth coast-to-coast network, and it also marked the beginning of a new West Coast chain that would continue operation into the fifties. The switch from CBS to Mutual was scheduled for December 29, 1936, the date which marked the expiration of the CBS/Don Lee contract. (In fact, for the last three months of the contract the CBS West Coast programs were produced at KNX and fed to KHJ for transmission to the network.[13] The stations on the new Mutual network were the four Don Lee-owned stations, plus KFXM San Bernardino, KDON Monterey, KXO El Centro, KPMC Bakersfield, KVOE Santa Ana, and KGDM Stockton.[15] Also joining the network via shortwave hookup were KGMB Honolulu and KHBC Hilo. (A number of Pacific Northwest stations were added the following year.)


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