The celebrated San Francisco-based KFRC was born in late September of 1924, when Harrison Holliway, the son of San Francisco newspaperman (Captain W. C. “Cap”: Holliway), was taking a break from his studies at Stanford University working at a radio shop called Radio Art Corporation on Sutter Street and Powell in downtown San Francisco.
That summer, a Western Electric salesman called on the store owners (Jim Threlkeld and Thomas Catton), and planted the seed for them to start a new radio station, expedited (of course) with a new Western Electric transmitter. They promptly did a spinoff, Radio Art Studios, to establish the new venture. Well, the bottom line is that young Mr. Holliway couldn’t say no to being appointed the Station Manager. So he and fellow RAC employees Alan Cormack and Harold Peery, drew up plans for building the new Radio Arts Studio station.
The first KFRC site was a reworked room on the second floor of the Whitcomb Hotel in San Francisco’s Civic Center area. The “studio” was quite austere with a single microphone, a piano, and a couple of stuffed chairs and shaded lamps. The transmitter was a fancy new 50-watt Western Electric unit operating on 1120kHz housed in a shack up on the roof top between two old ship’s masts supporting the antenna up about 100-feet.
KFRC’s first broadcast was on September 24, 1924 and started at 8pm and lasted until 12pm. Local dignitaries and a dance band were on hand for the maiden broadcast.
A big surprise was that the station had an unexceptionally strong signal on the East Coast, Hawaii, Alaska and even New Zealand! And the Western Electric engineers couldn’t explain why -- the inconclusive conjecture was that KFRC had a virtually “perfect ground.”
Over the next few years, financial pressures forced Radios Arts Studios to relinquish KFRC which was subsequently acquired by the City of Paris department stores. The City Of Paris then moved the studios to various venues including Union Square, and then to the Sherman-Clay building. COP’s capital infusion resulted in an immediate programing improvement by signing first-class musical talent that quickly became programing regulars.
Shown below is KFRC's second transmitter, a Western Electric, Model 6B. It's first assigned frequency was 660 kc, with 1kw output, and was classified as a Class B station. This transmitter first aired on June 6, 1927. Two years later, it was reassigned to 610 kc. It could be heard on the Atlantic Coast, Hawaii and as far away as New Zealand. Western Electric engineers could never determine the effectiveness of the signal.
KFRC's slogan was, "Keep Forever Radiating Cheer." Research indicates the call "KFRC" stood for, "Known For Radio Clearness."
This transmitter was in service from 1927 to 1935 when it was replaced with a newer Western Electric 1KW transmitter. During that time, KFRC was owned by the Don Lee Broadcasting System, which owned several other California AM radio stations.
To the right is the tube complement in the Western Electric 6B Power Amplifier Unit. From left to right: 242C, 212E (2), and the 328A water-cooled final amplifier which runs 1000 watts.
This is the Western Electric Model 8A Speech Input bay. It contained the mic preamp, line-level amp, and monitor amplifier units. This unit was fed by the double-button carbon microphones and amplified the signal to a level suitable for driving the transmitter
Shown above (left) is a sample of the tubes in the Speech Input bay, a 205-D "Tennis Ball" triode.
Above (right) is a picture illustrating the Western Electric double-button carbon microphone that was used with the 8A speech input bay. Given the rapid growth of the broadcast industry during the roaring 20’ies, Western Electric migrated much of their early speech input equipment from their telephone system products. The graphic above was used in their early equipment brochures as a reminder of this heritage.
The panel containing the clock is part of the World’s first Primary Frequency Standard built by General Radio in 1928. The precision clock is driven by a vacuum tube amplifier that receives a 1000Hz tone and drives three equally-spaced electro magnets around a gear-like wheel that is geared down to drive the clock motor. The 1000Hz tone is derived from a precision 50kHz crystal oscillator that is, in turn, divided down to 1000Hz and distributed throughout the building through an audio distribution amplifier. This enabled all the clocks in the building to be precisely synchronized. This was critical for announcing the time and for taking hourly meter readings.
Content and photographs courtesy of K6GLH and the K6GLH collection.