Friday, March 27, 2009

Early Broadcasting in the Bay Area, Pt. 1

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

Early Broadcasting in the San Francisco Bay Area: Stations that Didn’t Survive, 1920-25
John F. Schneider
Seattle, Washington Copyright 1997

Radio broadcasting as an experimental concept had an early start in the San Francisco Bay area with the activities of Doc Herrold in San Jose. Herrold's station which started broadcasting on a regular basis in 1912. This pioneer station eventually became KQW and later KCBS.Apart from Doc Herrold and a few other pioneer efforts, however, regular broadcasting to the public did not commence until 1920. That was the year that some of the first serious broadcast stations appeared in different parts of the country, including KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There was a gradual growth in the public’s interest in radio for the next two years, and then suddenly an explosion of interest in 1922. In that year, the number of radio broadcasters in the country grew from a few dozen to more than 450. The explosive and sudden growth of radio in 1922 has parallels today in the sudden growth of the internet beginning about 1995.

In that early gestation period between 1920 and 1922, San Francisco led the country in the number of broadcast stations. At a time when most major cities in the U.S. had only one or two radio stations, the San Francisco area had seven: 6XC (KZY), 6XG (KDN), 6XAJ (KZM), 6XAC (KLP), 6XAG (KJJ), 6XAM (KLS), and AG1.

However, it’s hard to pin down the number of stations precisely, because that number was constantly changing, due to the fledgling nature of the field. Small stations would come on the air for several months, operated on a shoestring budget by young experimenters and then would suddenly go off the air, to be replaced as quickly by other short- lived stations. These radio stations stood with a foot in the new world of broadcasting and another foot entrenched in the world of amateur radio. The purpose of the station was often experimental, or to promote the activities of the business that operated it. The advertising revenue that provided stability for radio in its later years had yet to develop, and so there was no income to financially sustain the stations' activities. (The first recognized on-air advertisement took place on WBAY in New York on August 28, 1922). Equipment failures were frequent, and the programming itself was of secondary importance - what was important was just being on the air.


Post a Comment

<< Home