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SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA RADIO HISTORY
by Alex Cosper
The history of San Francisco radio is a complex matrix of over 50 frequencies dating back to the earliest days of radio. The Bay Area's oldest call letters since the early days of AM radio include KGO (launched by General Electric in 1924) and KFRC (launched in 1925 at the St. Francis Hotel). In December 1926 KYA entered the dial in a growing sea of call letters no longer recognizable to most Bay Area radio listeners. The following year KYA became one of the first stations of the ABC network, which was acquired by NBC in 1930 and then divested the following decade. Another early station in the market was 1921 licensee KPO, which became KNBC in 1947 and then KNBR in the early sixties. But the earliest station in the Bay Area actually pre-dated commercial radio. It was a 1909 wireless experiment by Doc Herrold in San Jose. The station was KQW, which can be argued was the first station ever to feature the human voice (versus Morse Code). Today that station is called KCBS.
The first FM in the market was KWBR (97.3) in the forties but today is known as "Alice" (KLLC). The first stereo FM in the market (and in the entire country) was KPEN (101.3), now known as "Star 101" (KIOI). It signed on in 1957 and went stereo four years later. Today it remains the most powerful signal in the market at 125,000 watts. Its original owner, Jim Gabbert, achieved many milestones in his career and pioneered some of the most important technology in the evolution of radio since that period. Today the Bay Area radio dial is so saturated with signals, there is literally no room left for the FCC to allocate new frequencies, according to Gabbert.
In 2005 Infinity Broadcasting split the KFRC AM/FM combo and sold the legendary 610 AM station to
Family Broadcasting for $35 million. One has to wonder who got the better deal, as KFRC AM covered most of Northern California and beyond, whereas the FM only covers the Bay. The new owners flipped the format to Family Radio Religion as a simulcast of KEAR (106.9 FM), which later in the year became Free FM, the market's first all talk commercial station on FM, under CBS Radio. The "Big 610" had been a Bay Area trendsetter in 1966 when it flipped from middle of the road to top 40/rock and roll and became a market leader for many years. In late 2005 KFRC shifted format from 50s/60s/70s oldies to 60s/70s/80s oldies.
KFRC last held the market crown in 1979.
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