Happy 80th KTNQ LA
After VD for 30 years, 1020-AM Turns 80 Speaking Spanish?
by Jim Hilliker
(June 15, 2005) The license for KTNQ, 1020-AM in Los Angeles, is 80 years old this week. KTNQ is the 9th oldest continuously operating radio station in the Los Angeles market. It has survived numerous ownership and personnel changes over the decades and has been known by 4 sets of call letters.
For more than half of this AM station’s years on the air, it was limited to daytime-only operation with a few nighttime hours, until 1976. On this occasion, I thought it would be interesting to lookback at some of the history of this heritage station.
EARLY YEARS OF BROADCASTING IN SAN PEDRO
This story starts in the community of San Pedro at the McWhinnie Electric Company at 1825 South Pacific Avenue. The San Pedro Daily Pilot reported on March 30, 1925 that brothers William J. and Charles I. McWhinnie (referred to as Bill and Charlie in some newspaper stories) have received authority from the Department of Commerce to erect a radio broadcasting station in San Pedro. The story says the station will be known as KFVD, San Pedro, California. The owners planned to complete work on the station within two months. KFVD was assigned to broadcast on a 205-meter wavelength or 1460 kilocycles using a 100-watt transmitter.
Stories appeared often in the local paper, following the progress of installing KFVD. The estimated cost of getting the station on the air was $31,000. When the first over-the-air tests were made on June 12, telephone calls came in from Catalina Island and many other points in Southern California. Callers reported that messages heard over KFVD were clear and distinct.
Meanwhile, the McWhinnies held tryouts for three hours that day, as they looked for suitable talent from San Pedro and nearby areas to be broadcast over KFVD. The KFVD studios were also open to the public for inspection from 1 to 10 p.m. on Friday, as preparations were underway for KFVD’s first official broadcast Saturday night.
The next day, the Daily Pilot reported that close to 2,000 people visited the radio station at the McWhinnie Electric Company and more than 1,500 of them signed the station’s register. They were able to see KFVD’s 9 by 16 foot reception room and 16 by 26 foot studio, decorated in accordion-pleated blue velour, typical of 1920s radio studios. The unique big glass window, sound-proof walls, and control and transmitter room held the public’s interest. Col. J.F. Dillon, head inspector in California for the U.S. Department of Commerce Radio Division said KFVD was one of the finest equipped stations in the country.
FIRST OFFICIAL BROADCAST
Finally, it was time to go on the air. The inaugural and dedicatory program of KFVD took place Saturday night June 13, 1925 and lasted from 8 p.m. until 3 a.m. Sunday morning. The announcer and MC for KFVD’s first broadcast was Los Angeles announcer Freeman Lang, described in the newspaper stories as “right hand man and understudy of the famous Uncle John Daggett of KHJ.” Lang had one career as a radio station engineer for various stations and in 1927, he would found the station which evolved into 710/KMPC. Lang also had become a glib radio announcer and would often be heard over the next few years hosting broadcasts of movie premieres and other big events on L.A. radio. In the early 1930s, Freeman Lang ran a busy recording studio in Hollywood, which produced many early syndicated radio shows of the Depression years and early radio commericals.
The opening night broadcast for KFVD was an invitational affair, with 40 heads of civic organizations, public officials and the press on hand. The program included speeches and congratulatory messages, welcoming San Pedro’s new radio station to the airwaves. Music and entertainment was provided by local talent and well known radio artists from all over the Southland. Two days later, on Monday, the McWhinnie Electric Company was still busy with the many letters, telegrams and phone calls received from points throughout the Southwest, reporting on the quality of KFVD’s signal and the program itself.
By now, the McWhinnies had chosen R.M.C. Dobson, commander of Knights Templar in San Pedro as station manager. It was also announced that KFVD would be on the air only 3 nights a week on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 8 to 11 p.m. A Sunday remote broadcast from the First Presbyterian Church was also aired on KFVD. By September of 1925, KFVD’s station manager was R. Lyle Griffith who had come from KFWB. A nightly broadcast from 6 to 6:30 p.m. only for the daily news, sports and weather was soon added, but the longer 3-hour broadcasts of music and other entertainment continued only on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday nights.
In those pre-commercial days of radio, owners worried about how to pay for the station’s operating costs. One of the big costs KFVD had in 1925 was for the remote phone line to broadcast the Sunday morning and evening services from the First Presbyterian Church. The McWhinnie Brothers made a suggestion that KFVD listeners and business people in San Pedro and vicinity make financial contributions to help pay for this service. The Citizen’s Sunday Broadcasting Fund was set up for this purpose. They mailed out 500 circular letters to prominent citizens asking for contributions to help maintain the Sunday program services broadcast from the church. Support in the community for KFVD was also promised by the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber decided to sponsor monthly programs on KFVD to publicize San Pedro on the airwaves.
A FEW EARLY KFVD MEMORIES
Mr. Steve Stombeck told the San Pedro Bay Historical Society in 1993 that he remembered KFVD in 1925-’26 being inside a two-story building, with the four-wire transmitting antenna on the roof, strung between two 80-foot towers. The McWhinnies were selling early radio equipment for people who wanted to build their own sets to listen to KFVD and other stations. Like other similar companies that got into radio in the early and mid-1920s, the station was seen as a way to promote their business.
Mrs. Betty McWhinnie Patez was the daughter of one of the original KFVD owners. She told the historical society in 1993 that she was 6-years-old when the station started. She recalled that her mother was a musician who often played the piano over KFVD to fill time when there was nothing else to broadcast. (Indeed, in KFVD newspaper listings in 1925, Mrs. Fay McWhinnie was often listed as one of the KFVD accompanists).
Telling the listening audience about current events quickly became a part of KFVD’s programming. The station soon became associated with the San Pedro Daily Pilot newspaper. The paper allowed the station to broadcast news and sports items from its wire services. The paper also promoted the radio station by listing KFVD programs each day. Other programming consisted mainly of San Pedro area musical talent. One of the earliest featured KFVD personalities was Miss Rowena Commons, who was given the title “Our Radio Girl.” She was signed to be on KFVD for 10 weeks to perform jazz songs with ukulele accompaniment and play piano. A one-act play presented by San Pedro High School students was also heard one evening. In September of 1925, KFVD and the Daily Pilot not only were broadcasting local and world news, baseball scores and weather. The station also gave radio fans a “blow-by-blow” description of a boxing match from Yankee Stadium in New York, via wire service reports.
A NEW RADIO HOME IN VENICE
During its first 14 months on the air, there wasn’t much variation in the KFVD schedule. Then, on August 9, 1926, it was suddenly announced in the paper that the McWhinnie Electric Company was moving KFVD from San Pedro to the Venice Ballroom at the oceanfront amusement park in Venice. The electrical and radio supply store would remain in San Pedro. One unconfirmed story was that the station moved because it was causing interference to Navy ship radios nearby. But the newspaper story gave no reason for the move, other than a chance for KFVD to grow and expand its listening audience. The station was off the air from August 9th until at least August 21st, until the new broadcast set-up in Venice was completed. W.H. White was to be retained as KFVD station manager.
After the move to Venice, KFVD’s station slogan became “The Voice by the Sea”. Also, the last two letters in its call sign were said to stand for “Venice Dance”, since people came to the Venice Ballroom to dance to the latest jazz bands, which were heard live over KFVD. Following KFVD’s lead, another station, Kierulff and Ravenscroft Company’s KNRC (now KABC-790) soon moved from Los Angeles to the municipal auditorium at Ocean Park, Santa Monica. By January of 1927, along with W.H. White as KFVD manager, Leo T. Cleary was the main announcer on the station and the Technician (fancy word for chief engineer) was O.B. Mills, who left soon after to work at new station KMIC in Inglewood. The Venice Ballroom Orchestra was heard every night from 10 to midnight on KFVD; Melba Lyon, the KFVD girl and many other singers, musicians and comedians were featured nightly. On Friday’s at midnight, Frolic at the Ship Café was broadcast featuring Dave Snell and his Wonder Orchestra. The expected Children’s Hour program popular on local radio then was heard on KFVD from 4 to 5 p.m. most days.
THE FEDERAL RADIO COMMISSION STEPS IN
By late-1926, there was no government regulation of broadcasting, due to several court decisions. Because of this, many stations chose to raise their transmitter power or changed their frequency in order to be heard more clearly over the increasing interference from other stations. KFVD boosted its power from 100 to 500 watts by January 1927. This did not last too long, however. Congress finally passed a law on February 23, 1927 giving the government strict control over radio, such as who gets a license for a radio station, and what frequencies and transmitter powers are assigned to broadcasting stations.
The new Federal Radio Commission decided to move KFVD from 1460 to 1440-AM on June 15, 1927, and lowered its power from 500 to 250 watts. KFVD was also forced to share time on 1440 with KGFJ in Los Angeles. This was part of the FRC’s first attempt to reorganize the broadcast band.
A WOMAN IS BRIEFLY IN CHARGE
For the week of June 20 to June 26, 1927, KFVD’s station manager and announcer was Mary Elizabeth Carter. Little is known about her, but she was likely one of the earliest women in Los Angeles radio to be heard on the air and be given the title of station manager at the same time.
A short item in the December 1, 1927 issue of the Los Angeles Times announced that Carter was leaving KFVD, but no reason for her departure was given. Her real name was Mrs. C.C. Carter but she used the name “Mary Elizabeth” Carter on the air. The story said Carter had been the only woman radio station announcer and manager on the Pacific Coast for the past year.
Regular features heard from the Venice Ballroom on KFVD in the early summer of 1927 included Cush Branch and his Orchestra, the Melody Makers Orchestra, the KFVD String Quartet, the KFVD Harmony Trio, Tommy Jacobs and his Ship Café Orchestra. Even Harry Von Zell was featured as a singer, with his partner, on KFVD one night. He started earlier in 1927 on KMIC-Inglewood as an announcer/singer earlier in the year, and would later venture to KGB-San Diego, back to KMTR in Hollywood and on to become a national network radio announcer for many years.
MORE DIAL CHANGES AND ANOTHER STUDIO MOVE
The FRC continued to look for ways to ease the overcrowding of stations on the Broadcast Band (AM), which occurred just before its formation. Having stations share or divide airtime on one frequency was seen as one solution. In February of 1928, the FRC moved KFVD from 1440 to 1390 kilocycles and have the station share time with KGER-Long Beach.
After one year and nine months in Venice, the McWhinnie Electric Co. decided to move KFVD’s studio and transmitter again. This move from Venice to Culver City took place in May of 1928. The new station address in that city was 4163 Minerva Avenue. Six months later, on November 11, 1928, KFVD was reassigned to broadcast on 700 kilocycles. This was part of the FRC’s major nationwide adjustment of the broadcast band that established clear, regional, and local channels for the first time. About this time, a newspaper story reported that KFVD had been sold. The November 25, 1928 edition of the Los Angeles Times said KFVD had been purchased by Pathe Studios, and they were planning to build new radio studios with frontage on both Washington Blvd. and Ince Blvd. But, according to FCC records, this sale never took place.
In April of 1929, KFVD was again shifted from 700 to 710 on the dial. Finally, on November 15, 1929, there was one more FRC order, which put KFVD at 1000 on the radio dial as a 250-watt limited time station. This meant the station was on the air mainly during daytime hours, but was able to go on the air for a few hours at night, when the dominant station on 1000-AM, WHO-Des Moines, Iowa was off the air. KFVD stayed at this dial position for the next 11 years.
ORIGINAL OWNERS SELL KFVD; STATION GOES “HOLLYWOOD”
Earlier that year, in February of 1929, the McWhinnies got out of broadcasting ownership and sold KFVD to the Auburn-Fuller Company. This company was owned by E.L. Cord, who was famous for making and selling Cord and Auburn automobiles. The radio station was still in Culver City, but now was located inside the Hal Roach Motion Picture lot on Washington Blvd. In March, Cord changed the station license to read that KFVD was owned by the Los Angeles Broadcasting Company, a subsidiary of the Auburn-Fuller Company. This was the location of the Hal Roach Motion Picture Company, famous for the Little Rascals comedy films and the movies of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. There were at least two publicity photos of Laurel and Hardy taken in connection with the radio station. Both are in a 1987 book “Laurel and Hardy-The Magic Behind the Movies” by Randy Skretvedt. One photo shows Laurel and Hardy inside the broadcast studio next to an old carbon microphone, with the call letters posted in the background, with a turntable nearby. The other picture shows Stan and Ollie posing with “The Happy-Go-Lucky Trio”, with the KFVD calls on the band’s bass drum. This small musical group played during a breakfast-time show every morning on KFVD. Laurel and Hardy were listening to their program one morning, when one particular tune caught their attention. The instrumental was played at the top of the hour, and Stan Laurel said it sounded like a musical coo coo clock. The comedy team liked this piece of music very much, so they went to the KFVD studio and got the band to record it. The same tune was then used as the theme music for every Laurel and Hardy film, beginning in March 1930! The bandleader, T. Marvin Hatley, also became musical director for the Hal Roach Studios when they went to “talkies” that year.
This change from silent to sound movies also brought a new problem to KFVD. The audio from the station transmitter was causing the programs going out over the air to be picked up and recorded on the movie soundtrack, as the movies were being filmed. The same thing happened to KFWB at the Warner Bros. lot. KFWB solved the problem by moving their station away from the movie studio. KFVD brought in two-dozen engineers from RCA just out of college, but they were baffled at first by this new problem for radio. However, after some intense investigation as to why the station sound got onto the movie soundtrack, they must’ve found a solution.
When E.L. Cord’s Auburn Fuller Company moved KFVD to the Hal Roach movie studio in February of 1928, the station manager was John W. Swallow. Jerry Purcell and Paul Myers were the announcers and M.S. Adams was Chief Technician. The station was listed as on the air only during daytime hours, until 4:30 or 5 p.m. The daily 7 a.m. program at that time featured Len Nash and His Country Boys. At 1:30 p.m., listeners heard Hal Roach Comedy Gossip and at 3 p.m., there was the Auburn Hour with George Redman and his orchestra. By October of 1929, the morning show on KFVD featured Hal Roach’s “Happy-Go-Lucky Trio” daily at 7 a.m. They apparently started on KFVD sometime between February and October of 1929. The KFVD schedule was a bit longer at this time, with some night hours. The station signed off at 5 or 6 p.m., and was back on the air from 8:30 to 11 p.m. or later. The Happy-Go-Lucky Trio was also heard on KFVD every evening at 8:30. The Hal Roach Comedy Gossip and Auburn Concert Orchestra programs were still on the station schedule. Announcer Al Weinert replaced Jerry Purcell.
By May and June of 1930, KFVD added a third announcer, Berton Bennett. A Spanish program began their broadcast day at 6 a.m. each morning, while the Hal Roach Happy-Go-Lucky Trio continued their wake-up show at 7 a.m. 6 days a week, but they did not broadcast an evening show. Organ recitals, popular music recordings and various talks filled out the KFVD schedule at this time.
KFVD’s studios remained at the Hal Roach lot in Culver City for about 2 more years. During the last few months there, a young girl singer named Frances Gumm performed with her two older sisters on KFVD from the Hal Roach Studio on January 31, 1931 during an afternoon program. The Gumm Sisters had been making the rounds of other Los Angeles radio stations and vaudeville theaters in search of fame. Frances later hit the big time after changing her name to Judy Garland.
CORD MOVES KFVD IN WITH KFAC
In April of 1931, E.L. Cord bought station KTBI and changed the call letters to KFAC. On April 12, 1932 the KFVD studios moved from the Roach movie lot in Culver City to Los Angeles. The combined KFAC and KFVD facilities moved into the Penthouse of Cord’s car dealership at 645 South Mariposa at Wilshire Blvd. One of the KFAC/KFVD staff announcers in 1932 was the late Frank Nelson, who later became a featured character actor on Jack Benny and many other radio and TV programs. He usually played a sales clerk in a store or a restaurant waiter, whose trademark was giving sarcastic answers to questions, and greeting a customer with a long, punctuated “Yeeeeessssss!” On the I Love Lucy tv show, Nelson was cast a few times as the host of TV quiz programs. Nelson was also instrumental in forming the AFRA/AFTRA unions.
It may be hard to believe now, but KFVD’s 250-watt signal was heard by the DX hobbyists in various parts of the nation overnight in the 1930s. A letter to the RADEX [Radio Index] magazine from Montreal, Quebec Canada stated that KFVD from Culver City was one if his best “catches” heard on his 11-tube Westinghouse radio. The signal was also reported as skipping out to distant radio listeners in places like Chicago, Philadelphia and New Jersey during it late-night hours of broadcasting. In the December 1, 1934 RADEX magazine, a DXer from Hastings, New Zealand said he received a verification card for a reception report to KFVD from October of 1933! Another letter to RADEX reporting reception of KFVD-Culver City came from a radio hobbyist in Atlanta, Georgia.
CORD GETS RID OF KFVD
In 1935, KFVD was on from 6:30 a.m. until sunset, then back on the air from 10 p.m. until midnight after WHO signed-off. KFVD raised its power from 250 to 1,000 watts on October 7, 1936. About this time, E.L. Cord decided to sell the daytimer to Frank Burke, who became KFVD’s president and station manager. The licensee was listed as Standard Broadcast Co., with owners J. Frank Burke, Sr., Mabel S. Burke, J. Frank Burke, Jr. and Betty Jane Burke, joint tenants. Burke moved the station to 338 S. Western Ave. in Los Angeles, where the studio and offices remained for many years. The transmitter was remained in Culver City. KFVD’s on-air slogan at this time was “Center of the Dial”, for its 1000 kilocycle position on people’s radios. A 1938 KFVD schedule shows it was on at 6 a.m. every day until sunset, then on again from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m., while WHO was off.
As an independent station without a radio network, KFVD had to come up with its own program ideas to give itself an identity to attract listeners. By the late-30s and into the early ’40s, KFVD had several programs focusing on political events in Southern California. The station also gave free airtime often to liberal causes. Also at this time between 1935 and 1940, country/folk singer Woody Guthrie was a featured performer on KFVD with various shows. This lasted until he and owner Burke had a falling out over politics. Several Web sites on the internet give more details about Woody Guthrie’s years at KFVD.
The 1938 Radio Annual listed C.E. Watts as KFVD’s sales manager and Jack Smithson as chief engineer. The listing said KFVD will not accept any liquor or beer accounts. Some KFVD programs heard during 1937 that were hits with their listeners were featured in the 1938 Radio Annual. These included “Editor of the Air,” “Starlight Revue,” “Man on the Street,” and “Poetry Club.”
Many stations started having disc jockeys play records of pop music, jazz or rhythm and blues during times they did not have a sponsored program or transcription program to air. At KFVD, they went a step further by having a dj named Hank the Nite Watchman play jazz records late at night in the ’40s; a trend which occurred at other small big city stations about that time. Another dj/announcer in the late-1930s and ’40s on KFVD was known as “Jack the Bellboy.”
ONE MORE MOVE UP THE DIAL AND MORE POWER
On March 29, 1941, KFVD shifted its dial position from 1000 to 1020-AM as part of the North American Regional Broadcast Agreement. This expanded the Broadcast Band from 1500 to 1600 kilocycles and allowed the band to begin at 540 instead of 550. On October 31, 1945 KFVD was granted permission to increase its power from 1,000 to 5,000 watts. Along with the power increase, the FCC also granted KFVD permission to change its transmitting site from the longtime Culver City location. The new transmitter and tower were built in Lynwood on Cortland Street next to the Los Angeles River bank.
During World War II, program schedules for KFVD show that longtime western singer/performer Stuart Hamblen was heard Monday through Saturday at 8 a.m. in 1941 and 1943. Hamblen, who had been heard on just about every Los Angeles station since 1929, did a similar music program over KFWB at 5 p.m. during these years. Otherwise, the 1941 and ’43 KFVD listings show that besides news, there was a lot of block programming. This included various recorded music shows, such as Music Revue, Moods in Music, Hawaiian Music, etc.
From the late-40s and into the ’50s, KFVD became a station in L.A. to hear rhythm and blues records. One dj on KFVD who specialized in playing this music then was Hunter Hancock (Let’s Go Huntin’ With Hunter). He later moved to KFOX, back to KFVD/KPOP and then to KGFJ and was quite popular.
KFVD BECOMES KPOP AFTER 30 YEARS
Times were changing by the mid-50s and America was not so innocent. On August 1, 1955, KFVD changed call letters to KPOP. One book on Top 40 radio history said the change was made because of too many jokes about KFVD being “the only station in town where you can get the time, temperature, and a social disease!” One disc jockey who’d been in L.A. since 1950 and came to KPOP in 1955 was Art Laboe. He started doing his record show live from Scrivner’s drive-in restaurant in Hollywood and later a new Scrivner’s at Western and Imperial. As rock and roll became more popular in the mid-to-late-1950s, Laboe’s show became the most popular in Los Angeles. At one point, his Hooper rating showed a huge 33% of all radios on at that time tuned into KPOP. Top singers of the day such as Ricky Nelson dropped by to be on Laboe’s show, which helped draw radio listeners and people to the drive-in restaurant to watch the broadcast each day. Laboe later helped KRTH (FM) become the city’s first big oldies station in the early-’70s and later was a featured personality on KRLA-1110. Another popular dj/air personality playing the new music on KPOP-1020 during this time was Earl McDaniel.
THE KGBS YEARS
Another change was made at 1020 on the AM dial when new owners (Storer Broadcasting) changed the KPOP calls to KGBS (for George B. Storer) on June 29, 1960. KGBS also boosted power significantly, from 5,000 to 50,000 watts, though the station was still licensed to broadcast only from 6 a.m. to sunset. A second antenna tower was built in Lynwood and the two-tower directional pattern kept the signal away from KDKA in Pennsylvania. In the ’60s and ’70s, KGBS also went on the air for one night a week. This was on Sunday night from 9 p.m. till 2 a.m. Monday morning, when KDKA in Pittsburgh on 1020 went off the air for its weekly maintenance schedule. It was one of those odd things in L.A. radio for this station that went off the air at sunset, to come back on Sunday nights for 5 hours! In 1969, KGBS was granted a pre-sunrise power level of 500 watts, but the station never used it because they thought it was too much trouble and not enough benefit for them to go on the air with such a low power level before sunrise.
An easy listening/beautiful music format was heard over KGBS around 1963-’64.
KGBS-1020 programmed a country music format starting in 1965. The station changed to Top 40 on October 7, 1968 and switched to talk radio in March of 1974. KGBS went back to Country music October 14, 1974. (Bob Morgan says KGBS went country simulcast on AM and FM with very little fanfare in August of ’74 with an all-female DJ staff, except for him 6-noon).
I’m getting out of order here, but I recall that KGBS gained some popularity in the early 1970s with top personalities such as Hudson & Landry doing the morning-drive show, Bill Ballance with his “Feminine Forum” Show into the early afternoon, and Dave Hull, known as the ‘Hullabalooer’ with a wild and crazy afternoon-drive show. But, KGBS still had a problem. Its signal disappeared at sunset every afternoon or early evening. At sign-off time, the station advised listeners to tune to KGBS/fm (97.1). Even with this handicap KGBS listeners were still loyal. Hudson & Landry gained even greater fame through their comedy records such as Ajax Liquor Store.
FINALLY 1020-AM GOES 24 HOURS
By the mid-70s, KGBS had seen its popularity rise and fall. New owners applied to the FCC for the station to broadcast full-time 24 hours a day with 50,000 watts. This became a reality in 1976 when the transmitter was taken down in Lynwood on Cortland Ave. A new, complicated five-tower directional antenna array was constructed in City of Industry just outside Los Angeles. On September 27, 1976, the FCC approved a call change for KGBS to became KTNQ, or “The New Ten-Q”, with an intense Top 40 rock format for AM radio. (Apparently the new call letters were not used on the air until December 26, 1976). Former KHJ Boss Jock The Real Don Steele was one of several djs who were part of the Ten-Q sound which lasted from 1976 until ’79.
The owners were about to change the format again to Country music and applied to the FCC for a call change to KKAM. But, the new call was never used. Instead, KTNQ was sold to the owners of KLVE-107.5/fm and 1020-AM changed to Spanish programming at noon on July 30, 1979. KTNQ continues to broadcast in Spanish to this day, owned by Hispanic Broadcasting. KTNQ-1020 is the Spanish-language home of Los Angeles Angels American League baseball games in Southern California.
From its humble beginning in 1925 as a 100-watt station in San Pedro to the 50,000-watt giant of today, this is the story of a station that has served the Los Angeles area in many ways over the years. Happy 80th anniversary, 1020-AM Los Angeles.
Jim Hilliker is a radio historian and former broadcaster. He has written a number of articles on the history of broadcasting in Los Angeles. He currently lives in Monterey, California.