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California Historical Radio Society’s Radio Day by the Bay Attracts Radio Fans to KRE

Radio Day by the Bay 2012 at KRE (Photo: J. Waits)

Radio Day by the Bay 2012 at KRE (Photo: J. Waits)

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the California Historical Radio Society‘s annual Radio Day by the Bay at historic radio station KRE in Berkeley.

Having never been to KRE, I was excited to explore not only the station, but also the exhibits curated by the CHRS and the Bay Area Radio Museum and Hall of Fame.

This year’s event attracted nearly 350 people and raised more than $25,000 for the CHRS. One attendee told me that it was a larger crowd than in a typical year and I’m not surprised considering CHRS’s active fundraising efforts, which are focused on raising money in order to buy the KRE building.

Although one can easily spot the broadcast towers adjacent to KRE (which beam KEAR 610 AM and KVTO 1400 AM to the Bay Area) from the nearby highway 80; getting to the station is a bit of a challenge. It’s located in its own little oasis between the train tracks and the freeway, in a sliver of space bordering a pond and marsh-like area close to the San Francisco Bay. The KRE building is a gorgeous white and blue art deco gem that to me resembled a majestic ship.

KRE tower and building viewed from the back (Photo: J. Waits)

KRE tower and building viewed from the back (Photo: J. Waits)

While I was drawn to the event because of an interest in seeing KRE, it took me several hours before I actually set foot inside. I was easily distracted by the outdoor attractions, which included a vintage radio auction (there were 190 items on display), the equipment flea market, the live re-enactment of an old-time radio drama (Fibber McGee and Molly) featuring cast members from local radio stations, and the live demonstration of Morse code by some amateur radio veterans.

Interspersed between all of the activities there were also opportunities to learn more about the history of KRE and about the history of Bay Area radio. Mike Adams, author of the new book Lee de Forest: King of Radio, Television, and Film, and John F. Schneider, author of the recently released Bay Area Radio, were on hand to sign copies of their books and chat with attendees. Schneider also addressed the crowd, providing an overview of the history of KRE.

According to Schneider, when KRE launched in 1922, it was only the 10th broadcast license in California. This year the descendent of KRE (KVTO) celebrates the 90th anniversary of the station. Schneider pointed out that only 60 radio stations in the United States have made it to 90 years.

Historic Studio at KRE (Photo: J. Waits)

Historic Studio at KRE (Photo: J. Waits)

Schneider explained that over the years, KRE has been located in a number of places. Initially it broadcast from the Claremont Hotel for 2 hours a week. By the late 1920s it was primarily a church station. It was purchased by Chapel of the Chimes and the station moved several times.

In 1938, KRE started to broadcast full-time from its current location on Ashby Street in Berkeley. The station was sold in 1963 to Wright Broadcasting, then sold to Horizon Communications, and eventually sold to Inner City Broadcasting (which also owned KBLX). Schneider said that the studios moved out of the building in the 1990s, leaving the former KRE an empty transmitter building. Around 9 years ago CHRS began leasing the building.

Today, the former KRE houses exhibits for the CHRS, as well as the Bay Area Radio Museum and Hall of Fame. The building is full of vintage radios, radio equipment, radio books, a repair shop, a studio, as well as transmitter equipment for the two AM stations that broadcast from the adjacent tower. During the live radio drama one could actually hear the faint sounds of religious music as audio from KEAR 610 AM (Harold Camping’s Family Radio) leaked into the outdoor speakers.

Display of Historic Radio Artifacts at CHRS (Photo: J. Waits)

Display of Historic Radio Artifacts at CHRS (Photo: J. Waits)

The event was also exciting for anyone obsessed with Bay Area radio and television personalities. A number were in attendance, including Cheryl Jennings, Stan Bunger, Renee Richardson and Michael Capozzola.

Even more thrilling for me was the announcement that former KRE General Manager Alice Potter would be inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame as recognition for her achievements as a radio pioneer. She was apparently the first woman in the San Francisco Bay Area to hold a management position in radio. On October 6, all of the new inductees will be honored at a celebratory lunch in Berkeley.

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