by John Schneider, Arcadia Publishing
Book Review by Craig MacDonald
Most people don't know that the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose Bay Area was a key national radio broadcasting center during the first several decades of commercial radio.
"In 1909, it was home to the very beginnings of the art & science of broadcasting, when Charles 'Doc' Herrold began sending out weekly voice & music programs from his radio school in San Jose," writes Historian John Schneider in "Bay Area Radio," a book he created with the California Historical Radio Society & its Bay Area Radio Museum. "In 1926, big broadcasting came to San Francisco when the new NBC established its West Coast headquarters on Sutter Street."
"Over the next 20 years, other networks set up their own production centers with thousands of actors, musicians, announcers and engineers, creating important programs that were heard on the West Coast & nationwide. During World War II, San Francisco became the main collection center for Pacific war news & bulletins."
In its early days, radio was as important as the Internet today. With no TV, everyone relied on it for news, entertainment, exercise & shopping. KFRC had "Tonight's Best Buys," which ran on 20 West Coast stations. "Your bargains and the things you want to sell were broadcast free," Schneider writes.
Hale's Department Store started KPO for education, entertainment and store publicity in 1922. The San Francisco Chronicle became a partner. The station even had an Exercise Program with instructor Hugh Dobbs. He also hosted a show that had a Wishing Well Ceremony. He told listeners "to place their hand over their heart & send out a wish to someone who was sick or in trouble."
The same year KPO started, the Mercantile Trust Company became the first bank to open a radio station—KFDB—broadcast agriculture reports, stock market news and daily concerts from its headquarters on Telegraph Hill.
More than $60 million in radio advertising sales were recorded in 1922. In 1925, the federal government opened up the AM Radio Band, allowing more stations to get on board.
There were a lot of country western programs, like "Foreman Bill" Mackintosh's popular show—KYA's Rhythm Rodeo, Western Farm Home on KROW, Sagebrush Serenade on KPO and Dude Martin on KGO. There were even foreign language broadcasts in Portuguese and Spanish. Meredith Wilson of "Music Man" fame, was musical director of KFRC, before becoming NBC's West Coast Music Director in 1932. Bands & famous singers performed on the Bay Area's radio stations, as did gospel groups and preachers.
Religious broadcasts like the "Hour of Prayer" were on KTAB. It originated from the 10th Ave. Baptist Church in Oakland. The most popular program to originate in San Francisco for NBC was Carleton Morse's "One Man's Family."
In the 1920s, Wanda Wilson Church pioneered radio drama & produced more dramatic shows that anyone in California. In 1942, Ruth Anderson of KFRC became San Francisco's first female reporter. After the war, the disc jockey was the new King of Radio. Frank Cope reportedly was the world's first bona fide disc jockey & the most popular music program host for 25 years. His Alarm Klok Klub on KJBS was "must listen to radio."
San Jose had the world's first broadcasting station in the Garden City Bank Building (1909). Charles Herrold conceived the idea of broadcasting to the public and founded a voice radio station—using the call sign FN—that played weekly phonograph concerts. It would evolve into KQW (1921), then KCBS (the Bay Area's all-news radio station, now located in San Francisco).
Today's largest Bay Area City (SJ), had several major stations, such as KSJO, KLOK, KXRX and KEEN, which had Comedian Red Skelton at its grand opening.
This monumental book not only features many personalities but presents a comprehensive collection of vintage photos, showing transmitters, studios, control rooms & more which document the technical aspects of the who, why, how and what of Bay Area Radio & its significance to California, the nation & the world!
(The reviewer grew up enjoying Bay Area Radio and was a good friend of Chet Casselman, legendary news director of KSFO. He once wrote popular comedy entertainment scripts for Chet, who broadcast them "live," in person, at major corporate conferences, i.e., AT&T.)