Saturday, March 28, 2009

Early Broadcasting in the Bay Area, Pt. 2

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

At first, radio broadcasting stations operated with an experimental amateur license, and with call signs such as 6XAJ. They could operate over a wide range of frequencies. However, new Department of Commerce regulations went into effect on December 1, 1921, which required all non-government broadcasting stations to obtain a “Limited Commercial” license. These new licenses came with new three- or four-letter call signs; thus 6XAJ became KZM. This new license also required all stations to broadcast on the single authorized frequency of 360 meters (833 kHz). Because the stations could not operate simultaneously on this channel without causing interference to each other, the owners of the stations met and agreed upon a time-sharing schedule. Each station would have exclusive use of the frequency for several hours each day. (The F.R.C. finally ended the sharing of this one frequency and assigned stations individual frequencies on May 15, 1923.)

To a listener of that time, radio was a new discovery. Again, programs didn't matter. It was the sheer enjoyment of listening to voices and music being pulled out of the air with a home-built crystal set. Within the course of two years, radio went from a means of point-to-point communications for commercial purposes, plus the activities of a small group of radio "hams", to everybody's hobby, and wire antennas stretched across the back yards of more and more households. Young boys found radio particularly exciting, and children across the country were winding wire around oatmeal boxes to build their own crystal radios. The San Francisco Examiner noted the sudden rise in radio's popularity when it reported in 1922, "Radio, the virulent malady which has swept the East, is rapidly spreading to the coast. Once bitten by the germ, there is no cure for the delighted victim."

Radio programs during this period consisted almost entirely of phonograph records, with only occasional news reports, crop reports or live music programs. Programs did not have the polished, produced sound of later years. For example, KUO, the Examiner station, announced its programs, "Hello; hello; this is the San Francisco Examiner's radio broadcasting station, KUO -- K - U - O. Receivers will kindly give us a check. Thank you, thank you."


Post a Comment

<< Home