Radio Waves: 9/20/19

KNX celebrates 99 years

It took reader Dave Grudt to remind me via a Facebook post or two, but last week was a big week in the life of KNX (1070 AM): the station celebrated 99 years of service to Southern California.

It was way back in on September 10, 1920 that Fred Christian, an electrical engineer, first broadcast on his experimental station 6ADZ. This was the area’s first radio station, though others would be on the air soon after.

The station’s first studio was in Christian’s home, and the first transmitter was a mere five watts. With little man-made interference, though, that five watts was able to be heard quite far. Initial programming was recorded music played using records borrowed from neighborhood record shops in exchange for on-air mentions — the first commercials, you might say.

When the KNX call letters were assigned by the FCC a year later, the station moved into studios in downtown Los Angeles, inside the California Theater. By this time there were 23 local stations in town including KNX, and they all shared the same frequency, broadcasting at assigned days and times during the week.

Power increased through the years and frequencies changed as well as the new radio industry matured (it was not until 1941 that KNX was found at 1070 AM); by 1935 the station was broadcasting from studios on Sunset Boulevard with 50,000 watts, the power it transmits today.

In September of 1938, KNX began transmitting its programming from a new site located on a five acre vacant lot at 190th and Hawthorne in Torrance, near where the current tower still sits. That first transmitter building has since been demolished to make way for a car dealership, and the transmitter location moved a short distance East on 190th.  

On September 8th of 1965, the station celebrated its 45th birthday with an on-air celebration; just one week later on the evening of September 15, it was knocked off the air for 24 hours when vandals used a hacksaw to cut through a turnbuckle on a support cable and caused the entire 500-foot broadcast tower to crash to the ground. This happened during Michael Jackson’s talk show at about 10:40 p.m. 

The vandals were never caught and a reason for the vandalism was never determined, but according to newspaper reports at the time, footprints and a portion of a broken hacksaw blade were found at the scene and at least one witness saw two people leaving the scene.

With the help of the KNX engineering staff led by chief engineer Ted Denton and workers from Southern California Edison, the station was back on the air the next day from a temporary 10,000 watt transmitter. The downed tower was replaced soon after first with one that was used previously by another station, and another in 1966 when the permanent replacement was built. Both towers stand still today, though being non-directional, the station only uses one at a time, the older as a backup.

KNX broadcasts a “clear channel” at 1070 AM, meaning that there are no other stations in the Western half of the United States. This clear channel status and the maximum AM power allowed by the FCC gives KNX a huge coverage area. Indeed, you can hear KNX throughout much of California during the day and much of the United States at night. The signal is so strong that Torrance locals who live close ton the site used to complain about hearing the station on their telephones, and I recall riding in my friend Mark’s parents’ car on the San Diego Freeway near the tower and having KNX bleed through many other local stations.

Programming has changed over the years but has always been top-quality. Being owned by the Columbia Broadcasting System since 1936, KNX was obviously the local outlet for popular CBS programs and stars, including Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, and more. Bob Crane hosted mornings from from 1957 to 1965, and other future television stars such as Ralph Story could be found on KNX as well. The news format (or close variants) has been in place since the Spring of 1968.

Currently owned by Entercom, KNX continues to be one of Southern California’s most popular radio stations.