Sunday, February 01, 2009

The History of KFRC, San Francisco, and the Don Lee Networks, Pt. 13

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

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

Changes at KFRC

These upheavals had a major impact on KFRC as a radio production center. The CBS network feeds from the East had reached the West Coast at San Francisco, and branched north and south from there. This had made KFRC the key CBS West Coast station. But the new Mutual hookup reached the coast in Los Angeles, and KHJ became the key station. In the shake-up that followed these changes, most KFRC performers were either moved to KHJ or departed for other stations or networks.

One of those greatly upset by the restructuring was Harrison Holliway, as Murray Bolen related:

"H. H. did not necessarily approve of the deal, and felt it a down-grade. But not only that, it meant that the "key" station of the West would be KHJ in Los Angeles, no longer KFRC ... and he would no longer be number one. Also, his biggest pet program, The Blue Monday Jamboree, was ordered to L. A. for origination and became The Shell Chateau (with Al Jolson). So, everything was kind of blowing up, and in 1935 he was offered the top of NBC's biggest station, KFI, and he took it. It all made good sense to move. He was ready for the "big time", and that was starting in L.A. He simply grew more and more, and brought KFI to the peak of popularity with programming and management. "

Earl Anthony, ever the rival of the Don Lee organization, had seen a chance to steal away one of its most valuable people, and he took advantage of it. Holliway became nationally known at KFI for some revolutionary management concepts. He continued there until 1942, when he died suddenly at the age of 42. Holliway's replacement at KFRC was Tom Brenneman, a KFRC performer. He was soon superceded by Fred Pabst, a big wheel in the Don Lee heirarchy. Pabst guided the station with stern reins into the fifties, and then made a name for himself in local television.

Following the shake-up at KFRC, and under the guidance of Fred Pabst, a new KFRC appeared. During the late 30's and 40's, it remained among San Francisco's very favorites. Meredith Willson had moved to NBC, and he was replaced by Claude Sweeton. His nightly orchestral broadcasts became a San Francisco tradition, as did the nightly broadcasts of Anson Weeks' Orchestra from the Peacock Court of the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Tommy Harris, a 14-year- old vocalist who had appeared on the old Happy Go Lucky Hour, was another KFRC favorite. He and Joaquin Garay were regulars on Feminine Fancies. (Harris later moved to NBC, as so many from KFRC had done before him, and for many years operated his own night club, 'Tommy's Joynt', on Van Ness Avenue.)

Another KFRC favorite during this period was the Hodge Podge Lodge with Bob Bence. Still later years saw the lasting popularity of Jack Kirkwood's Breakfast Club, which continued into the fifties as one of San Francisco's best offerings.

Post Script

RKO-General acquired KFRC from the Don Lee organization in 1949. It operated as a personality-based middle of the road music station into the mid 1960's, without great success. In the mid 1960's, KFRC changed to a Top 40 rock'n'roll format, and quickly became the dominant station in the region with that format through the 1970's, featuring the tight, carefully programmed sound developed by RKO-General's star programmer, Bill Drake.

With the decline of the Top 40 format by the end of the 70's, KFRC's programming was changed to feature a 1940's big band nostalgia format, known as "Magic 61".

In the 1990's, KFRC continued with a nostalgia format, but this time serving the next generation, and playing the rock hits of the 1960's and 70's, recreating the successful Bill Drake years.


Interview between author and Alan Cormack, former KFRC Chief Engineer.San Anselmo, California, December 1, 1970.
San Francisco Bulletin, Sept. 23, 1924
San Francisco Call, September 15, 1926
San Francisco Call and Post, July 6, 1927; August 20, 1927
San Francisco Chronicle, April 24, 1957; June 3, 1961; June 12, 1961
[1] Douglas, George H., The Early Days of Broadcasting, (McFarland & Co., Inc., 1987), page 140.[2] Broadcast Weekly Magazine, 8/24/29, page 18.
[3] Paper, Lewis J., Empire: William S. Paley & the Making of CBS, (St. Martin's Press, New York, 1987), page 35.
[4] 1935 Broadcasting Yearbook, Broadcasting Publications, Inc., Washington, D.C.
[5] "KFRC, KHJ To Join CBS", Broadcast Weekly Magazine, 8/24/29, page 18.
[6] Various clippings from the scrapbook of Harrison Holliway, former KFRC manager; unpublished; loaned to the author by Holliway's former associate, Murray Bolen.
[7] Letter to author by Murray Bolen, Hollywood, California, 4/14/71.
[8] KFRC Press Release, dated 10/14/70.
[9] Broadcasting Magazine, 9/15/34
[10] Broadcasting Magazine, 4/1/36
[11] Broadcasting Magazine, 5/1/38
[12] Broadcasting Magazine, 6/1/36
[13] Told to author by Art Gilmore, former CBS announcer, 6/2/90.
[14] Broadcasting Magazine, 12/15/36
[15] 1938 Broadcasting Yearbook, Broadcasting Publications, Inc., Washington, D.C.
[16] San Francisco Call and Post, 8/22/27, page 8
Interview between author and Arman Humburg, veteran KFRC engineer. San Francisco, California, October 9, 1970.
Untitled KFRC history summary. Unpublished; from KFRC's historical files.


Post a Comment

<< Home