Copyright John F. Schneider, 1997 Seattle, Washington
The city of San Francisco had several stations that were among the finest in
the nation during broadcasting's early years. Bay Area listeners could choose
from a variety of fine programs, but one station they tuned to most frequently
To tell the story of KFRC's first years is to tell the story of its Manager and
Chief Announcer, Harrison Holliway. He was born November 3, 1900, the first son
of a veteran San Francisco newspaperman, Captain W. C. "Cap" Holliway.
Cap Holliway was well-known in San Francisco, and at one time had been the
youngest newspaper editor in the state. He had since worked on news staffs at
the Examiner, Call and Chronicle, and had been President of the San Francisco
Young Harrison's first interest in radio appeared at the age of eleven, when
he built a carborundum crystal receiver and first listened in on the airwaves.
By 1920, he was operating his own amateur station, 6BN, and was very active in
local ham circles. He was President of the Lowell High School Radio Club, and an
officer in the San Francisco Radio Club. In 1920, he set a world amateur record
for distance in voice transmission when he communicated with another ham in
Vancouver, over 1,800 miles away. This brought him considerable local publicity.
For a time, Harrison was on the air every day with 6BN, broadcasting record
programs "for the sheer pleasure of it". He also worked as a part-time
newspaper reporter, covering high school sporting news for the San Francisco
The following fall saw Harrison Holliway enter Stanford University. He spent
the next few years majoring in law during the winter months, and operating radio
equipment on a trans-Pacific steamer during the summer. He took a leave of
absence from Stanford in 1922, and, along with friend Harold Shaw, installed and
operated KSL, the Emporium Department Store station. When that venture folded
after less than a year, he went back to Stanford.
THE DEBUT OF KFRC:
The summer of 1924 found Holliway working at a radio shop called the Radio
Art Corporation, on Sutter Street at Powell. That was the same summer that a
Western Electric salesman called on the owners of the store, Jim Threlkeld and
Thomas Catton, and sold them on the idea of starting a new radio station (and of
course, buying a Western Electric transmitter). And so, KFRC was born. Holliway
couldn't resist the offer of the job of Station Manager, and never returned to
Stanford. He and two other store employees, Harold Peery and Alan Cormack, began
drawing up their plans for the station.
KFRC's first home was the Whitcomb Hotel in the Civic Center area. The studio
was a converted hotel room on the second floor -- a single room hung with
"monk's cloth", decorated with a few shaded lamps, and with a lone
microphone and a piano. The transmitter was located in a shack on the roof of
the hotel, and an L-type antenna was suspended between two 100-foot ships'
masts. KFRC's assigned frequency was 1120 kc. The transmitter itself was a fifty
watt unit, the latest Western Electric design. The only other one like it was in
St. Louis, where it was said to "pound into New York like a local. The
relatively low-powered transmitter was said to be preferred by the station
engineers because it would cause less interference and yet deliver almost equal
signal strength because of its superior circuit design.
KFRC became the official station of the "San Francisco Bulletin",
which supplied it with a news service and a radio column in exchange for the
broadcast publicity. The station's on-air trademark was a fire siren, chosen
because it had also been used by station KDN before it left the air, and when it
had been associated with the Bulletin.
KFRC's inaugural broadcast took place September 24, 1924, from 8:00 PM until
midnight. The program opened with speeches by local dignitaries, and was
followed by a concert and dance program by the Whitcomb Hotel concert, symphony
and dance orchestras.
Almost immediately, it was noticed that KFRC had an exceptionally strong
signal -- much stronger than had been anticipated from only fifty watts. It was
heard in all the distant places being reached by only the strongest stations:
along the Atlantic Seacoast, in Alaska and Hawaii, and even New Zealand. This
had San Francisco's best engineers dumbfounded. No one could understand why the
signal was so powerful, and it was announced that "the KFRC managers ...
are as astonished as anybody." A group of Western Electric engineers was
called in to study the situation, and after several months could still not agree
on an answer, except that perhaps the Whitcomb Hotel was located on an
essentially "perfect" electrical ground.
KFRC's first year of radio activity was nothing exceptional. The station's
owners, Catton and Threlkeld, had formed the Radio Art Studios as a subsidiary
of the radio store, and it was entirely financed by the retail operation.
Budgets were modest, and so were the programs. Perhaps the only noteworthy
regular program heard at this time was a variety program hosted by Tom Catton
and called the "Tom Cats".
Holliway, who in the first year of KFRC was Manager, announcer, janitor and
mail clerk all rolled into one, later recalled some famous personalities of the
time whom he interviewed during the early years. They included baseball great
Roger Hornsby, and actors William S. Hart, John Barrymore and Douglas Fairbanks,
Jr. Speaking of the French-Canadian heavyweight boxer Jack Renault, Holliway
Renault came to the studios with his manager, the well-known Leo P. Flynn. He
spoke very broken English, and at the same time developed a bad case of mike
fright. Flynn did the French-Canadian dialect to perfection, so I introduced
him as Renault. He made a fine speech, and no one ever knew that it wasn't
Renault whom they heard.
THE CITY OF PARIS YEARS:
It was less than a year later that Radio Art Studios was forced to
relinquish KFRC for financial reasons. The station was transferred to the City
of Paris department store on April 15, 1925, and the facilities were moved to
the store on Union Square, where a studio had been constructed at street level,
so passers-by could observe the operations through a large window. A year later
they were moved again, this time to the eighth floor of the Sherman- Clay
With the addition of City of Paris financial backing, KFRC's programs
improved immediately. Frank Moss, a nationally-known pianist, was hired as the
Musical Director and given the budget needed to round up first-class talent for
a number of new programs. Several musical groups became KFRC regulars, most
notably the Lorelei Mixed Quartet and soprano Flora Howell Bruner. KFRC was
broadcasting almost exclusively serious music.
Another popular name associated with KFRC was Harry "Mac" McClintock,
who hosted a daily children's program called "Mac and his Gang". Mac's
homespun manners and cowboy ballads quickly became popular among the Bay Area's
young crowd. His prior life best exemplified the kind of person he was: he had
left his home in Tennessee as a boy and joined the circus. After fighting in the
Spanish-American War, he headed for the Klondike and the Alaska gold rush. He
had also worked as a railroad brakeman and as a miner in Idaho, Wyoming and
Nevada. From these experiences he drew upon a wealth of Western songs and
stories that made him a favorite with adults as well as children, and his style
was often compared to that of Will Rogers. Among the many other feathers in his
wester cap, Mac wrote and popularized the song "Big Rock Candy
Mountain". His comic western band, Mac and his Haywire Orchestry, was
frequently heard on KFRC's variety programs.
THE DON LEE ERA:
Perhaps it may be considered to be the re-birth of KFRC (it certainly marked
a future of bigger and better things) when Don Lee, the California distributor
for the Cadillac Motor Car Company, purchased the station in 1926. Lee had
amassed a considerable fortune in his twenty years in the automobile business,
and radio was to be an exciting and elaborate new venture for him. On an evening
broadcast heard November 15, 1926, officials of the City of Paris formally
turned over the station to Don Lee, and the audience was told of his plans for a
great station to broadcast from new and elaborate studios he planned to build in
the Cadillac building. He had a personal habit of doing everything in grand
style, and this was to be his hallmark for the twenty five years he would own
Temporary studios were soon built and installed in the Don Lee Building at 1000
Van Ness Avenue. The transmitter remained in its original location atop the
Whitcomb Hotel, but plans were under way for an elaborate new studio complex and
a 1,000 watt transmitter.
The new studios were completed and dedicated in a 28-hour marathon broadcast
held July 6, 1927. The station was located on the mezzanine floor of the
building, at the end of a large and ostentatious staircase leading up from the
showroom floor. Two large studios had been decorated in a spanish motif, and
they were said to be so acoustically perfect that a full orchestra could be on
the air in one studio while a second group rehearsed in the adjoining one. The
thousand-watt Western Electric transmitter on the top floor of the building fed
a powerful new voice to the new antenna, strung between steel towers on the
roof. As a higher power, Class "B" station, KFRC was authorized to
move to the preferred frequency of 660 kc. (two years later, the station again
moved, this time to its permanent home at 610 kc.) On its new frequency, KFRC
was required to reduce its power to 500 watts after sunset.
(This 1,000 watt Western Electric transmitter is in the possession of the
radio museum operated by the Perham Foundation in San Jose. The museum is
temporarily closed, but plans are under way to reopen again at a new location.)
The old 50-watt KFRC transmitter saw use for a while as a short-wave relay of
KFRC's AM programs. Harrison Holliway and Harold Peery rebuilt the unit to
operate on 108 meters, and the station received the experimental call sign 6XD.
Originally, their plan had been to use the new station to transmit details of
the Dole fliers in their trans-Pacific flight from Oakland that year, a plan
later abandoned. But the station was operated for a while and heard as far away
as Juneau, Alaska. 
The following year (November 14, 1927), Don Lee bought KHJ in Los Angeles
from the Los Angeles Times. The station was relocated to the Don Lee Cadillac
Building at Seventh and Bixel Streets in that city, where a new radio facility
was built,stocked with all the finest new equipment. There were three elaborate
studios including a full pipe organ.
Being the owner of two of the Coast's most prestigious radio stations, Don
Lee wasted no time in connecting the two stations by telephone line to establish
the Don Lee Broadcasting System. Lee spared no expense to make his two stations
among the finest in the nation, as a 1929 article from Broadcast Weekly attests:
Both KHJ and KFRC have large complete staffs of artists, singers and
entertainers, with each station having its own Don Lee Symphony Orchestra,
dance band and organ, plus all of the musical instruments that can be used
successful in broadcasting. It is no idle boast that either KHJ or KFRC could
operate continuously without going outside their own staffs for talent, and
yet give a variety with an appeal to every type of audience.
In 1929, the nation's second network, the Columbia Broadcasting System,
still had no affiliates west of the Rockies, and this was making it difficult
for the network to compete with its larger rival, NBC. CBS president William S.
Paley was in need of West Coast affiliates, and he needed them fast. Thus it was
that Paley travelled to Los Angeles that summer to convince Don Lee to sign a
CBS affiliate agreement. Paley was a busy man, and he was frustrated by Lee's
casual, time-consuming ways of doing business. Lee insisted that Paley spend a
week with him on his yacht "The Invader" before any business could be
discussed. After two lengthy sailings during which Lee had plenty of opportunity
to evaluate Paley's moral fiber in the relaxed, informal atmosphere at sea, Lee
agreed to sign an affiliate agreement which Paley was to dictate without any
negotiation whatsoever. The agreement was signed on July 16, 1929, and the Don
Lee stations became the vanguard of the CBS West Coast invasion. 
In Paley's statement to the press announcing the new venture, he said:
I know the new connection of the Columbia System on the Pacific Coast will
react as a mutual benefit to the listeners in that territory and ourselves.
These Pacific Coast stations have not been chosen to join the Columbia System
on hearsay evidence, or on cold statistics alone. I personally toured the
Coast during June and July of this year, and was convinced that through years
of service to a faithful radio audience, the stations chosen are outstanding.
It is with great pleasure that I am able to announce that they will be our
western brothers in the world's largest regular radio network.
Don Lee's companion announcement stated:
With the growth of public interest in radio, we believe the affiliation of
these stations with the Columbia Broadcasting System will be welcomed by radio
fans not only on the Pacific Coast, but throughout the United States as well.
It will enable us to listen to the finest programs from the East, and will
permit the Easterners to get the best of western programs.
The new chain began operations January 1, 1930, and was called the Don
Lee-Columbia Network. Two more stations, KGB in San Diego and KDB, Santa
Barbara, were purchased by Don Lee and became a part of the network. Also, Lee
had been feeding programs to the McClatchy Newspaper station KMJ in Fresno since
1928, and that station became a CBS affiliate, along with the other McClatchy
stations (KFBK Sacramento, KWG Stockton, and KERN Bakersfield). Additionally,
four Pacific Northwest stations called the "Columbia Northwest Unit"
were added (KOIN, Portland, KOL, Seattle, KVI, Tacoma, and KFPY Spokane).
KFRC and KHJ originated numerous programs for the West Coast network. CBS
programs were heard in the early dinner hours, and the Don Lee programs were fed
after 8:00 when the eastern programs ceased. For these later evening
broadcasts, KFRC and KHJ alternated evenings in feeding their programs to the
network. Additionally, several of the San Francisco and Los Angeles programs
were broadcast nationally by CBS. Many of the most popular KFRC programs became
network offerings in this way.
Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of KFRC and the Don Lee System during
this period is the large number of people they graduated to national stardom. In
1929, Lee hired an unknown flutist to be KFRC's Music Director. The young man
was a musical prodigy, having played with John Phillip Sousa's band at age 16,
and he had been the lead flutist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at
twenty. Now, he was to get a chance to conduct the Don Lee Studio Orchestra in
San Francisco. To Meredith Willson, "The Music Man", radio would be
the springboard to big and better things.
Jack Benny's announcer Don Wilson also began his radio career at KFRC as a
member of the "Piggly-Wiggly Trio". Manager Harrison Holliway was
impressed with Wilson's voice, and asked him if he wanted to try his hand at
announcing. He only snickered and mumbled something to the effect that he wasn't
going to become a "cream puff". Ralph Edwards and Art Van Horn were
also announcers; so was Mark Goodson, who had a knack for quiz shows. He had
several on the Don Lee Network, such as "The Quiz of Two Cities" and
"Pop the Balloon" before he left for New York and teamed up with Bill
Todman. Art Linkletter was a staff member in KFRC's later years, and hosted a
series of programs from the San Francisco Treasure Island World's Fair in 1939,
as did announcer Mel Venter. Bea Benederet was San Francisco's famous lady
announcer. Harold Peary and Morey Amsterdam both began their radio acting
careers at 1000 Van Ness Avenue, and Juanita Tennyson and Merv Griffin were
popular staff vocalists; John Nesbitt began his "Passing Parade" at
KFRC. The list is endless ....
One of the most successful performers to come out of KFRC was Al Pearce. Al, a
native of San Jose, had always been a born entertainer, having first stepped
before the microphone in 1916. The occasion was the Panama Pacific International
Exhibition in San Francisco, where radio pioneer Doc Herrold was operating an
experimental radio broadcasting station (later to become KQW). As Al once told a
In 1916 I sang on KQW. We were trying to demonstrate that radio could be heard
overseas. I sang "Hello Hawaii, How Are Yuh?" (In those days, we
pronounced Hawaii, "Huh-why-yuh".) The only thing that picked us up
was the U.S.S. Sherman, fifty miles off shore!
His guitar and songs had been strictly a hobby until the mid 1920's, when
his real estate business suddenly failed. A KFRC executive saw he and his
brother Cal performing a vaudeville sketch at a real estate convention, and they
were immediately hired. Their program on KFRC, "The Happy Go Lucky
Hour", first debuted in 1929.
Alice Blue, KFRC staff organist, wrote of her recollections of Al Pearce's
The Gang was developed from a small program of three KFRC staffers, who had no
idea what they had spawned -- Norman Neilsen, Monroe Upton and I. Norman sang
ballads, Monroe emceed and I played the piano -- preceding Edna Fischer. We
had a daily program -- no name -- in 1929 when we were all pretty much on our
own without the regulations that came later. The small program grew and grew.
Fan mail poured in and still we didn't really realize what we had. One day, Al
Pearce walked in and said 'This is it.' He had an eye and an ear for show
business. Soon our threesome had a cast that later included the original trio
out. One time many years later I sat next to Al at a dinner and he drank a
toast to the lost trio who started the ball rolling. It rolled far under Al's
"The Happy Go Lucky Hour" was a vaudeville-style variety show,
featuring music and comedy skits with a cast of regular entertainers. There was
singer Tommy Harris, Upton, who played the character "Lord
Bilgewater", Harry "Mac" McClintock, Hazel Warner, Edna O'Keefe,
Marjorie Lane Truesdale, Tony Romano, Abe Bloom, Cecil Wright and a host of
Al's most popular character was the bashful door-to-door salesman Elmer
Blurt, whose knock on the door was always followed by the familiar line,
"There's nobody to home today, I hope, I hope, I hope". Another was
Miss Tizzie Lish, known for her bad recipes and good gags.
The popular program graduated from a West Coast offering to nationwide on
CBS. It moved to NBC in 1933 and became "Al Pearce and His Gang", a
network staple until 1947. (Brother Cal never made the move to the networks, and
returned to his previous career of real estate.)
BLUE MONDAY JAMBOREE:
At KFRC, in addition to their own program, the Pearce Brothers were heard as
regulars on another program, "The Blue Monday Jamboree". This was the
most popular West Coast program ever to come out of KFRC, if never as great a
sensation nationally as Al Pearce. The Jambouree was Manager Harrison Holliway's
own creation. It was a studio musical and comedy extravaganza first heard
January 10, 1927. The program began as a fifteen minute feature heard Monday
evenings at 8:00. Public acclaim was so sudden and overwhelming that by February
7, less than a month later, it had been expanded to two hours.
Here's how the Oakland Post-Enquirer described the "Blue Monday
The weekly frolic attracts more listeners probably than any other local
program. Now an institution, the Jamboree each week parades the import
personalities of the station before the microphone for two hours. The
important factor that makes the Jamboree attractive is its spontaneity.
Listeners never know what is coming next, and the surprise element adds
Another newspaper, the Los Angeles Inside Facts, added:
It's a treat to watch the Jamboreeadors in action -- Frank Moss wearing his
hat; stars standing behind a roped section waiting their turn to perform;
Simpy Fitts playing a tune with a knife and fork on a plate borrowed from a
nearby restaurant; Harrison Holliway wondering what Schnitzel or Eddie Holden,
the Japanese, is going to ask him next; the Pearce Brothers, ever ready with
an idea; Charles Bulotti, singing for the fun of it, leading a burlesque opera
group; and some sixty or seventy people seated in the studio already crowded
by a large orchestra, Mac's Gang and the artists.
The studio itself is packed way out to the sidewalks on a Monday night, when
an invited list of guests attend for a first-hand glimpse of their favorite
entertainer, and are surprised to learn that Al Pearce, who sings
"Barnacle Bill" in a high register, is a six footer; that Cotton
Bond is not colored but white, and that Frank Watanabe is not a Japanese
houseboy, but just Eddie Holden under another name.
The program was one of the first variety shows -- a vaudeville production on the
radio. During most of its existence, it claimed the vast majority of Bay Area
radio dials. When KFRC was joined with KHJ, it was one of the first programs
from San Francisco to be heard in Los Angeles, and its following in that city
quickly equalled its northern counterpart. On June 7, 1930, the program made its
debut on the entire Don Lee-Columbia Network, and by the end of the year, was
being heard nationally on CBS. In California, the names Blue Monday Jamboree and
Golden State Milk, the regional sponsor, became synonymous.
Holliway told a reporter in 1929 how the program was produced:
Preparation for this program starts Tuesday morning, nearly a week before it
will be presented. The staff begins to talk things over, making suggestions
for comedy and discussing available music. They are searching for something
out of the ordinary.
The Jamboree was literally Holliway's own program. He had devised the
original concept, and wrote, directed and emceed the program, as well as playing
frequent bit parts. Throughout his tenure at KFRC, the program remained his pet
They must provide episodes for Pedro, Frank Watanabe, Silas Solomon,
Professor Hamburg and Simpy Fitts, all characters who participate on the
broadcast. Suggestions and ideas come from all sides; a few do the actual
assembling. In the matter of music, it is much the same. If it isn't a new
number, the arranging department provides a new arrangement for it. Those in
charge see to it that individual numbers fit into the program as a whole.
Finally, the entire program -- announcements, "gags", musical
numbers and continuity -- is typewritten and rehearsed. Nothing is done
"ad lib". As a consequence, the listener hears a program which goes
off smoothly, works up properly to climaxes, and has proper music to fit the
One of the regulars on the Jamboree was a comedy team called Murray and
Harris: Murray Bolen and Harris Brown. Bolen, later an executive with a Los
Angeles advertising agency, told of his experiences with the program:
As to Murray and Harris at KFRC -- we got there in 1929, and left seven years
later after riding through a wonderful time for radio. Harris Brown and I had
been to prep school together, went different ways through college, and met
again six years later by accident. I was an announcer at KFI (1928) and Harris
came into the station to perform in another musical act. He was astounded at
our chance meeting, and influenced me to join him as a partner and leave the
announcing biz. We rehearsed up an act and went on the road (vaudeville) and
to KJR, Seattle, for a year. That went broke, and we came south to San
Francisco via Orpheum vaudeville. There we re-met a friend, Meredith Willson,
musical director, and he helped get Harrison Holliway to put us on KFRC's
Jamboree and the Happy Go Lucky Hour. In 1929, we were a real great success,
and radio was a big thing. We "personally appeared" all over the
West, and generally whooped it up, along with the whole gang up there.
Personal appearances for the Jamboree were frequent. Not unusual was the
week of May 31, 1929, when the entire troupe played 23 performances to audiences
at the Pantages Theater in San Francisco.
Another popular follow-up to the "Blue Monday Jamboree", called the
"Midnight Jamboree Revue", was a vaudeville variety program heard
weekly from midnight to 2 AM. It was broadcast with the express purpose of
reaching listeners in distant cities. The program was heard beginning May 7,
Still another interesting KFRC program was "The Lady of the Clouds"
with Yvonne Peterson. On this program, Miss Peterson sang and played her ukulele
from the passenger seat of an airplane as it flew over the city. A short-wave
transmitter was used to relay the signal to the ground where it was
re-broadcast. The show was first heard in 1928, but was short-lived.
COMPETITION WITH EARL C. ANTHONY:
One of the prevailing attitudes at all of the Don Lee stations was the fierce
sense of competition between Don Lee and Earl C. Anthony. Like Lee, Anthony was
the Packard distributor with locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles. And, he
also invested in radio with his two Los Angeles stations, KFI and KECA. Of
course, the feeling of competition wasn't as fierce in San Francisco as it was
at KHJ, but it was still very much a factor. The most glaring reminder of
Anthony's competition was his auto dealership, located almost directly across
the street from the Don Lee Building, in an empressive edifice with marble
columns. The competition was so intense that, because KFRC's antenna was atop
the Don Lee Building, Anthony had to have one on top of HIS building! Thus, a
giant radio antenna was constructed, and the letters "KFI" mounted on
the towers. Of course, there was no station attached to the antenna, but it was
a fine antenna.
Paul C. Smith, later a broadcast arts instructor at the California State
University at San Francisco, told an interesting anecdote in connection with the
dummy antenna. In his early teens he had become fascinated by radio, and had
just finished a tour of the KFRC facility when he spotted the Anthony towers. He
crossed the street to the showroom and asked to see the radio station that was
attached to the towers. The salesman on the floor smiled and said, "I'll
show you what's attached to those towers". He led Smith up the grand
mezzanine staircase and to the back of the building. He showed Smith into an
office where a wire protruded from the wall and led to the back of a little
Remler Scotty radio. "But the sign says KFI", Smith protested.
"Right", said the salesman, "and it picks up KFI really
(The KFRC antenna was dismantled in 1958, when the transmitter was moved to
Islais Creek. But, the KFI towers stayed until 1972. It was ironic that the last
of the scores of old-style T-type antennas once scattered about San Francisco
was the only one never actually used for broadcasting.)
THE MUTUAL-DON LEE NETWORK:
Don Lee died suddenly of heart failure on August 30, 1934, at the age of 53,
and Lee's son Tommy became president of the network. This presaged a series
of events which completely restructured network broadcasting on the West Coast
over the next three years. CBS was apparently becoming increasingly dissatisfied
with the structure of its western network. The affiliation between CBS and Don
Lee, which had been a convenient mechanism for Paley to add affiliates quickly
in 1929, was becoming a source of friction as CBS sought more and more control
over its affiliates and programming. Apparently this friction even preceded
Lee's death. In any event, it came to a head March 19, 1936, when CBS
consummated its purchase of KNX in Los Angeles for $1.25 million. This was the
highest price ever paid for a radio station to that time. The acquisition of KNX
gave CBS a 50 KW clear channel network-owned facility in an increasingly
important market. As mentioned previously, Hollywood-originated programs were
becoming highly sought after by the radio public, and KNX would become the
springboard for a major CBS West Coast program origination effort. (The
network's new studios, Columbia Square in Hollywood, were officially dedicated
April 30, 1938.)
Of course, the acquisition of KNX by CBS completely destroyed any remaining
relationship with the Don Lee network. The purchase meant that KNX would replace
KHJ as the CBS affiliate in Los Angeles. KNX had been sharing a number of
programs with KSFO in San Francisco, so it was natural as well for the CBS
affiliation in the northern city to transfer from KFRC to KSFO. In fact, CBS
soon announced it had leased KSFO with a later option to purchase the station
outright. (When that deal later fell through, CBS instead purchased KQW in
San Jose, which became KCBS.) The entire structure of the Don Lee Network
quickly collapsed. The McClatchy stations lost no time in joining with Hearst
stations KYA San Francisco and KEHE Los Angeles to form the short-lived
California Radio System. The Northwest station group opted to remained with
As luck would have it, that same year a fledgling eastern network called the
"Quality Station Group" had changed its name to the "Mutual
Broadcasting System" and was rapidly seeking westward expansion. Tommy Lee
contacted Mutual and lost no time in signing an agreement, and the Mutual-Don
Lee Network was born. This was how Mutual became the fourth coast-to-coast
network, and it also marked the beginning of a new West Coast chain that would
continue operation into the fifties. The switch from CBS to Mutual was scheduled
for December 29, 1936, the date which marked the expiration of the CBS/Don Lee
contract. (In fact, for the last three months of the contract the CBS West Coast
programs were produced at KNX and fed to KHJ for transmission to the
network. The stations on the new Mutual network were the four Don Lee-owned
stations, plus KFXM San Bernardino, KDON Monterey, KXO El Centro, KPMC
Bakersfield, KVOE Santa Ana, and KGDM Stockton. Also joining the network via
shortwave hookup were KGMB Honolulu and KHBC Hilo. (A number of Pacific
Northwest stations were added the following year.)
CHANGES AT KFRC:
These upheavals had a major impact on KFRC as a radio production center. The
CBS network feeds from the East had reached the West Coast at San Francisco, and
branched north and south from there. This had made KFRC the key CBS West Coast
station. But the new Mutual hookup reached the coast in Los Angeles, and KHJ
became the key station. In the shake-up that followed these changes, most KFRC
performers were either moved to KHJ or departed for other stations or networks.
One of those greatly upset by the restructuring was Harrison Holliway, as
Murray Bolen related:
H. H. did not necessarily approve of the deal, and felt it a down-grade. But
not only that, it meant that the "key" station of the West would be
KHJ in Los Angeles, no longer KFRC ... and he would no longer be number one.
Also, his biggest pet program, "The Blue Monday Jamboree", was
ordered to L. A. for origination and became "The Shell Chateau"
(with Al Jolson). So, everything was kind of blowing up, and in 1935 he was
offered the top of NBC's biggest station, KFI, and he took it. It all made
good sense to move. He was ready for the "big time", and that was
starting in L.A. He simply grew more and more, and brought KFI to the peak of
popularity with programming and management.
Earl Anthony, ever the rival of the Don Lee organization, had seen a chance
to steal away one of its most valuable people, and he took advantage of it.
Holliway became nationally known at KFI for some revolutionary management
concepts. He continued there until 1942, when he died suddenly at the age of 42.
Holliway's replacement at KFRC was Tom Brenneman, a KFRC performer. He was
soon superceded by Fred Pabst, a big wheel in the Don Lee heirarchy. Pabst
guided the station with stern reins into the fifties, and then made a name for
himself in local television.
Following the shake-up at KFRC, and under the guidance of Fred Pabst, a new
KFRC appeared. During the late 30's and 40's, it remained among San Francisco's
very favorites. Meredith Willson had moved to NBC, and he was replaced by Claude
Sweeton. His nightly orchestral broadcasts became a San Francisco tradition, as
did the nightly broadcasts of Anson Weeks' Orchestra from the Peacock Court of
the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Tommy Harris, a 14-year- old vocalist who had appeared
on the old 'Happy Go Lucky Hour', was another KFRC favorite. He and Joaquin
Garay were regulars on "Feminine Fancies". (Harris later moved to NBC,
as so many from KFRC had done before him, and for many years operated his own
night club, 'Tommy's Joynt', on Van Ness Avenue.)
Another KFRC favorite during this period was the "Hodge Podge Lodge"
with Bob Bence. Still later years saw the lasting popularity of Jack Kirkwood's
"Breakfast Club", which continued into the fifties as one of San
Francisco's best offerings.
RKO-General acquired KFRC from the Don Lee organization in 1949. It operated
as a personality-based middle of the road music station into the mid 1960's,
without great success.
In the mid 1960's, KFRC changed to a Top 40 rock'n'roll format, and quickly
became the dominant station in the region with that format through the 1970's,
featuring the tight, carefully programmed sound developed by RKO-General's star
programmer, Bill Drake.
With the decline of the Top 40 format by the end of the 70's, KFRC's
programming was changed to feature a 1940's big band nostalgia format, known as
"Magic 61". In the 1990's, KFRC continued with a nostalgia format, but
this time serving the next generation, and playing the rock hits of the 1960's
and 70's, recreating the successful Bill Drake years.
Interview between author and Alan Cormack, former KFRC Chief Engineer.
San Anselmo, California, December 1, 1970.
San Francisco Bulletin, Sept. 23, 1924
San Francisco Call, September 15, 1926
San Francisco Call and Post, July 6, 1927; August 20, 1927
San Francisco Chronicle, April 24, 1957; June 3, 1961; June 12, 1961
 Douglas, George H., The Early Days of Broadcasting, (McFarland & Co.,
Inc., 1987), page 140.
 Broadcast Weekly Magazine, 8/24/29, page 18.
 Paper, Lewis J., Empire: William S. Paley & the Making of CBS, (St.
Martin's Press, New York, 1987), page 35.
 1935 Broadcasting Yearbook, Broadcasting Publications, Inc.,
 "KFRC, KHJ To Join CBS", Broadcast Weekly Magazine, 8/24/29, page 18.
 Various clippings from the scrapbook of Harrison Holliway, former
KFRC manager; unpublished; loaned to the author by Holliway's former
associate, Murray Bolen.
 Letter to author by Murray Bolen, Hollywood, California, 4/14/71.
 KFRC Press Release, dated 10/14/70.
 Broadcasting Magazine, 9/15/34
 Broadcasting Magazine, 4/1/36
 Broadcasting Magazine, 5/1/38
 Broadcasting Magazine, 6/1/36
 Told to author by Art Gilmore, former CBS announcer, 6/2/90.
 Broadcasting Magazine, 12/15/36
 1938 Broadcasting Yearbook, Broadcasting Publications, Inc.,
 San Francisco Call and Post, 8/22/27, page 8
Interview between author and Arman Humburg, veteran KFRC
engineer. San Francisco, California, October 9, 1970.
Untitled KFRC history summary. Unpublished; from KFRC's
The Federal Radio Commission Station List, as authorized on 11/11/28.
From resarch by Barry Mishkind, 1993-94.
© Copyright 1997 John F. Schneider. All rights reserved.
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