Editor’s Note: As a follow-up to Fred Krock’s three-part series on San Francisco Bay Area radio in the early 1950s, he shares his remembrances from touring radio stations while a student at Stanford. He reflects on what he saw during those visits and provides short updates on some of the featured stations. Coincidentally, Jennifer Waits has made a few of the same field trips in the 2000s. Take a look if you want to explore these stations further.
I entered Stanford in 1950. All freshmen were expected to have an extra-curricular activity. I did not. I was recruited by a KZSU staff member, so I made college radio my activity. I never intended to make broadcasting a career but that’s what happened. I spent my entire life working in engineering and announcing. Although I retired years ago, I still record voice overs for videos. If you would like to hear my work, take a listen to this video on You Tube.
After 1945, a number of colleges were teaching broadcasting. An electrical engineering professor at Stanford had worked for CBS earlier in his career and was familiar with radio studio technology. He was responsible for converting a large second floor classroom in Memorial Auditorium into a radio studio and control room. The carrier current broadcasting system on campus was built as a lab project by electrical engineering students. The RCA studio console at KZSU was built in 1947.
When I became interested in college radio, I tried to visit as many different college radio stations as possible while I was at Stanford. There weren’t a lot because many of the stations we know today came on the air long after that time period. My report follows. I have tried to update these reports to show what happened to these stations up to the present time.
Several major commercial radio stations were owned by schools or colleges in the 1950s. Two examples were: WWL, a 50,000 watt clear channel CBS affiliated station in New Orleans, announced itself on the air as “Loyola University of the South.” In 1989 it was sold to what eventually became Entercom Communications to help build the university’s endowment. 5,000 watt WNAD in Norman, Oklahoma, was owned by the University of Oklahoma until 1989. Today it is owned by Cumulus Media. It was the CBS affiliated radio station for Oklahoma City. Both stations went on the air in 1922 and originally were operated by the engineering school of their home university. Both became regular commercial radio stations, but by the 1950s they had few “educational” programs other than the minimum required by the FCC. The station that eventually became KCBS in San Francisco was put on the air in 1909 by a man (Doc Herrold) who opened a technical college in San Jose. However later, when stations were licensed by the government, that license was held by the person, not the college.
KALW, owned by the San Francisco Public School System, signed on the air in 1941. It is the current pioneer school radio station in the Bay Area. However, several early Bay Area commercial radio stations had been owned at one time by a school or church. KALW was initially operated out of Samuel Gompers Trade School and then at John O’ Connell High School, originally a trade school that taught a number of different disciplines. An unusual one was watch repair.
The O’Connell school building in San Francisco’s Mission District had been a Ford factory. As I remember, KALW was on the third floor. KALW had to buy a new transmitter in 1946 when the FCC changed the frequency on the FM broadcast band. Originally KALW had a transmitting antenna on top of the school building. Later the transmitter moved to Twin Peaks on land owned by the city after the FCC allowed remote control of broadcast transmitters.
By the 1950s the O’Connell school was turning out electronic technicians to supply a large demand. It bought some television equipment and began teaching television broadcast technicians. Many of the first technicians for early San Francisco TV stations were O’Connell graduates. When KQED signed on the air in San Francisco in 1954, it used television studio equipment at O’Connell school until it could build its own studio.
All San Francisco public schools could connect a FM receiver to the public address system in the school auditorium. Many schools also had FM receivers in classrooms. KALW was used by special programs for in-school listening.
I don’t remember any programs on KALW in the early 1950s that were produced for the general public. When no programs were being broadcast to schools, student electronic technicians acted as disc jockeys for recorded music programs. Since many didn’t care to be announcers, program quality suffered. However by the middle 1950s, KALW began broadcasting some programs from classrooms to show the public how classes were taught in San Francisco.
KALW moved out of the O’Connell school building that was torn down many years ago and now is part of the Philip and Sala Burton Academic High School on Mansell Avenue. Today KALW is an NPR-affiliated station and most of the staff is paid.
KCSM got its call letters in 1953. It broadcast from the San Mateo Junior College Baldwin campus in downtown San Mateo. The school name was changed to College of San Mateo by a vote of students in 1954. KCSM had an antenna on top of one of the school buildings. Signal coverage was poor. In 1963 the college moved to its new hilltop campus. Signal coverage for KCSM vastly improved.
College of San Mateo taught announcers as well as electronic technicians. It had some good quality RCA studio equipment. Program quality depended on which students were on the air at the time. Some were pretty good announcers who went on to work at Bay Area commercial stations. Much later KCSM became a public broadcasting station and uses mostly a paid staff with a jazz music format. It has some volunteer disc jockeys for a few programs.
KUOP was an FM radio station operated by the College of Pacific in Stockton. The college is a private non-sectarian school that was historically Methodist. KUOP operated with a 7 kilowatt ERP signal from a tower on the COP campus. It went on the air ca. 1947. It put a good signal into a large area around Stockton and could be received in some of the eastern Bay Area suburbs. As I remember KUOP used Collins equipment.
KUOP was a typical college radio station operated by students. But it also broadcast programs for the public. Because of the large coverage area of its signal, I understood that the faculty kept a very close ear on its programs. I built a huge receiving antenna on the roof a MemAud on the Stanford Campus to try to rebroadcast KUOP programs. I could hear KUOP occasionally but I was never able to receive it reliably.
In 2000, programming of KUOP was taken over by Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. Eventually Capital Public Radio bought KUOP. In 2016, it broadcasts from a hill top west of Stockton. As things go around, a student-operated college radio station, low power unlicensed KPAC transmits from the University of the Pacific campus today.
Cal State College Chico
A carrier current radio station operated on the campus of what was California State Teachers College in Chico. In 1952 a group from KZSU arranged to meet with the Chico station staff on a Saturday afternoon. The KZSU group included the station manager, program director, the program director’s girlfriend (also a staff member), and I as chief engineer. So we represented most of the KZSU supervisors. I owned the most reliable car of the group so I provided transportation. We met the Chico group at 1 PM. They gave us a tour of the campus and then played a lot of tapes in their studio of their programs. I don’t remember much about our tour except that tapes of Chico programs were not very good. I didn’t think their staff showed much talent. A byproduct of this trip was that the woman who was the KZSU station manager and I began a romantic relationship while we were in Chico that lasted until she graduated and moved away, but that’s another story.
KUT Austin, Texas
From 1922 until 1927, the University of Texas operated a station with call letters that eventually became KUT. To save money the university did not operate KUT after 1927. When I visited the campus in 1953 the university had large radio studios that would put to shame many major market radio stations. These studios were used for classes. In 1958 the university put KUT-FM on the air with an ERP of 4,100 watts. KUT-FM became a charter member of NPR. In 1982 power was increased to 100,000 watts from a 1600 foot tall tower and KUT-FM became a major mid-Texas broadcaster.
Cal State SF
Cal State SF had a campus on Buchanan Street in San Francisco before the Holloway Avenue campus opened in 1953. It had a radio studio with RCA equipment. The console was the same vintage as the one at KZSU but much larger with two output channels, 2 VU meters, and more inputs. It was used for classes. I understand a program was recorded every week about Cal State SF that was broadcast on one of the San Francisco commercial stations.
KUSC went on the air in 1946. It had good studios in a USC campus building. I did not see the studios until long after my KZSU days. KUSC was playing classical music in competition with Los Angeles commercial station KFAC that had by far more listeners until 1989 when it changed owners and music format.
City College of San Francisco had a small studio and control room. I believe it was used only for classes. The instructor was a very active freelance announcer in the Bay Area. His voice was heard on many different stations.
Other Local College Radio
Most college stations did not go on the air until long after my KZSU days. For example, KALX at UC Berkeley did not go on the air as an FM station until 1967 (although campus-only radio started there in 1962). KUSF was a campus-only station beginning in 1963 and was on FM from 1977 until 2011. Students still operate the online-only KUSF.org. KFJC, Foothill Junior College in Los Altos, went on the air in 1959. KVSC was a carrier current campus station at Santa Clara University in 1948. Much later it became KSCU on 103.3 with ERP of 30 watts from an antenna on a building. KSJS at San Jose State College went on air in 1963.
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