KHJ and KFI turn 100
Two local radio stations celebrated birthdays in April, though you’d never know from listening. To my knowledge, neither mentioned a thing about it on the air, which is quite surprising as both are now centurions.
April 13, 1922 was the first broadcast day of KHJ (930 AM), a station launched by the Los Angeles Times newspaper. From 6:45 to 7:45, the station’s “dedicatory” program included the playing of The Star Spangled Banner, remarks from Times-Mirror General Manager Harry Chandler, soprano solos, “Ten Minutes of Fun,” news, a baritone solo, and “Bedtime Stories.”
While only 50 watts and broadcasting from the Times building at First and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles, the station was heard as far away as Montana … a testament to what can happen when the atmosphere and airwaves are uncrowded and unfilled with electrical interference.
KHJ increased power to 500 watts by 1924, in 1930 it increased to 5000 watts, the most it ever used and the power it still uses today. Early programming was noncommercial and intended more to help sell subscriptions to the newspaper; that ended when Cadillac dealer Don Lee bought the station in 1927
It was April 16, 1922 when KFI (640 AM) went on the air. According to radio historian Jim Hilliker, the first broadcast was an Easter Sunday service and music from 11 a.m. to 12 noon using a 50-watt transmitter on the roof of the Packard Motor Car building on Hope Street; station owner Earle C. Anthony owned the station and was not only a Packard dealer at the time, he was also the distributor for Packard throughout the entire state of California..
By 1927, KFI was already up to 5000 watts of broadcasting power, and by 1931 it became the first 50,000 watt clear channel (no other station on the same frequency) radio station in the Western United States, making it then and now one of the most powerful radio stations in the country.
KFI and KHJ shared the same frequency (750 AM) — as did many stations in the early days of broadcasting — until January of 1923, at which time KFI moved to its present home of 640 as part of the expansion of the broadcast band. KHJ moved a few times, eventually settling in at 930 in March of 1941.
While many think the call letters stand for something, such as Kindness, Happiness and Joy for KHJ; Farm Information for the FI in KFI, the letters were actually just random assignments; it wasn’t until later that station owners could request particular calls.
What I never knew until recently was the fact that early broadcasts from the stations didn’t necessarily mention the call letters at all. Indeed, advertisements and stories in the Times for KHJ’s first broadcast mention only “The Times radio station” or “The Times Radiophone.” Most stations were named by or for the owners rather than any call letter combination.
It is a shame that neither station is covering its own birthday. Regardless, let me wish them both a happy birthday, and many more.
April is a big month for KHJ in another way: it was in late April of 1965 that Boss Radio made its debut … the most imitated format ever.
The new high-energy fast-paced format — an evolution of top-40 programming from the brains of consultants Bill Drake and Gene Chanault, programmer Ron Jacobs, station manager Ken DeVaney, music director Betty Brenneman, and a relatively unknown but soon-to-be all-star cast of air personalities including Robert W. Morgan and “The Real” Don Steele — was supposed to debut on May 5th, but word got out and then competitor KFWB (980 AM) tried to steal some of the ideas, so the decision was made to make the switch early.
So, on April 27, 1965, KHJ launched a “sneak preview” of the new format, utilizing music bought at Wallach’s Music City utilizing the KRLA (1110 AM) hit list! The switch was made at 3 p.m. when Steele opened the microphone for the first time as a Boss Jock.
A surprising number of air checks exist from that era, though I have yet to find one of the Steele debut on the first day. Perhaps you have one … please send it my way. In the meantime, get over to MixCloud.com and YouTube.com and just search for “KHJ Sneak Preview.”
If you want to get a feel for the events leading up to the launch, you owe it to yourself to get a digital copy of KHJ Inside Boss Radio by Ron Jacobs (available at Amazon.Com), or head over to https://socalradiowaves.com/wp/20170505-2/ for a little taste.