Copyright 1997 by John F. Schneider,
The period of the 1930s and 40s has been appropriately called "Radio's
Golden Age." During these years, the nation was entertained and
informed by a host of live coast-to-coast network broadcasts. Radio
historians have correctly identified the importance of New York,
Hollywood and Chicago as network production centers during these
years. However, little has been said about the role played by San
The decade from 1927 to 1937 can easily be termed San Francisco
radio's "Golden Decade". It was during that ten-year span that San
Francisco was a major origination point for many nation-wide network
broadcasts, and that both NBC and CBS maintained production centers
THE NBC "ORANGE" NETWORK:
Early network broadcasting activities in the United States emanated from
stations in New York City, and primarily served only the northeastern states.
AT&T operated the first active network in the country from its flagship
station WEAF, beginning in January of 1923. The first coast-to-coast
broadcast took place in 1924, with KPO in San Francisco representing the
western terminus of the effort. The most far-reaching of these early
activities was on March 4, 1925, when AT&T arranged the broadcast
of the Calvin Coolidge inauguration to a nationwide hookup of 22 stations.
(The early network broadcasts to the West Coast were temporary, however,
with connections made over ordinary voice-grade phone lines.)
The RCA Corporation also operated a more limited network operation in 1923
from its station WJZ. The broadcasts were transmitted over Western Union
telegraph lines, which proved inferior to AT&T's telephone network. (AT&T
maintained for itself the exclusive right to network operations over
telephone lines, and would not lease its lines for this purpose to any
In 1926, an agreement was reached between AT&T and RCA which would have a
far-reaching effect on the business of broadcasting. This agreement resulted in
AT&T's withdrawal from the broadcast business, and the sale of its
stations and network operations to RCA. Also included in this document was
an agreement by AT&T to lease its phone lines to RCA for network broadcasting
purposes. RCA formed a new corporation on September 9, 1926, known as the
National Broadcasting Company. The new company was owned by RCA,
as well as two of its parent companies, Westinghouse and General Electric.
NBC's first broadcast on the WEAF network took place November 15, 1926.
On January 1, less than two months later, a second NBC network was
inaugurated, originating from WJZ. To distinguish between the two separate
telephone-line networks, AT&T technicians used red designators at their
jack panels for the original network's connections, and blue designators
for the newcomer. The names of these two networks were casually derived
from these colored cables, so that the WEAF group became known as the Red
Network, while the WJZ group was called the Blue Network.
In the beginning, NBC was "National" in name only, as its programs
reached only as far west as Denver. In its first years, NBC was
unable to set up a coast-to-coast hookup. AT&T had not yet installed
broadcast quality telephone lines across the Rocky Mountains. To
alleviate this problem, the NBC Board of Directors voted on December
3, 1926, to establish a third NBC network: the Pacific Coast "Orange
Network". They assembled a full duplicate of the New York program
staff in San Francisco, and the Orange Network began originating
programs for seven Pacific Coast stations: KPO and KGO in the San
Francisco Bay Area, KFI Los Angeles, KFOA Seattle (later the affiliation
changed to KOMO), KGW Portland, and KHQ Spokane. The seven stations were
connected by 1,709 miles of telephone lines.
The inaugural program for the NBC Orange Network was held April 5,
1927, less than five months after the first NBC broadcast in New York.
The program originated from temporary studios in the Colonial Ballroom
of the St. Francis Hotel, as permanent studios in the new Hunter-Dolin
Building were not yet ready for occupancy. The program opened with an
address by Henry M. Robinson, the Pacific Coast member of the NBC
Advisory Board and president of the First National Bank of Los
Angeles. Robinson spoke from the studios of KFI in Los Angeles. The
program was then turned over to San Francisco for the broadcasts of
music by Alfred Hertz and the San Francisco Symphony, and by Max
Dolin, the newly-appointed West Coast music director, conducting the
National Broadcasting Opera Company.
On April 11, the network began regular broadcasting with the program
"Eight Neapolitan Nights", sponsored by the Shell Oil Company. The
initial network schedule was 8 to 9 p.m. Monday and Saturday, and 9 to
10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, giving the network a total of six
hours of programs weekly. (At first the networks operated only in
the evenings because circuits could not be spared from the standard
telephone service during the busy daylight hours.)
The Orange Network recreated the same programs heard in the east on
the Red Network. At the conclusion of a program in New York, all of
the program continuity, including the scripts and musical scores,
would be shipped to San Francisco by Railroad Express, where it would
be rehearsed for performance exactly a week later. Thus, the San
Francisco cast was producing such well-known early network shows as
"The RCA Hour", "The Wrigley Program", "The Standard Symphony Hour",
"The Eveready Light Opera Program", "The Firestone Hour" and many
more. At the conclusion of each program the announcer would say,
"This program came to you from the San Francisco studios of the
Pacific Coast Network of the National Broadcasting Company." This
would be followed by the traditional NBC chimes. The chimes were a
part of all NBC programs from the very beginning; however, they were
considerably longer and more involved than the later three-note chime.
Because they were so long and clumsy, they were shortened to the well-
known G-E-C progression heard today. It is said that the notes G-E-C
stood for the "General Electric Company", a melodic tribute to one of
the network's major parent corporations. The original NBC chimes were
struck by hand, but they were replaced in the mid-30's with
electronically-produced, perfect-pitch chimes.
Shortly after the Orange Network's inaugural broadcast in 1927, the
staff moved into its permanent headquarters in the new Hunter-Dolin
Building, at 111 Sutter Street. The NBC studios occupied the entire
22nd floor, while the network offices were located on the second
floor. The studio complex included three completely-equipped studios
and an elaborate new pipe organ. It was in these studios that most of
San Francisco's "Golden Decade" programs would originate. The entire
NBC complex was decorated in a Spanish motif; one of its more unusual
features was a glass-enclosed mezzanine, decorated to resemble a
Spanish patio. It was designed so that a small audience could watch
the programs while they were being broadcast. Some of the heaviest
users of the booth were the sponsors of the programs, and this
experience sparked the establishment of sponsors' booths in network
studios across the nation.
To staff its new network in San Francisco, NBC drew primarily from the
existing area radio stations. KGO and KPO (now KNBR), the NBC
affiliates, were hardest hit, and as the network schedule was expanded
this process continued. One of the most popular KPO personalities to
make the move was Hugh Barrett Dobbs, who moved his "Ship of Joy"
program to the network, where it became the "Shell Ship of Joy",
sponsored by the oil company of the same name. Another person to make
the move was Proctor A. "Buddy" Sugg, who came to NBC from KPO as a
technician and gradually moved up the ladder until he became the
nationwide executive vice president of NBC.
During the first few years of operation, program announcements were
made by actors, musicians, or generally whomever was available.
However, as the staff continued to grow, the first full-time staff
announcer was hired. He was also borrowed from a local station, and
Bill Andrews moved from KLX in Oakland to NBC in 1928. Other
announcers followed: Jack Keough came from KPO; Jennings Pierce was
recruited from KGO; Cecil Underwood was imported from affiliate KHQ
in Spokane. Many others were gradually added until there were
seventeen at the height of the operation. Andrews became chief
announcer in 1933.
The entire NBC-Pacific operation was headed by Don E. Gilman, vice
president in charge of the Western Division. Gilman had been
recruited from a local advertising firm to manage the operation in
1927. Prior to that time, he had been one of the best-known
advertising men in the West, and had been president of the Pacific
Advertising Clubs Association.
Initially, although the network provided several hours of programming
to its affiliates, it otherwise had little impact over the day-to-day
operations of the stations. KGO was operated by the General Electric
Company, and KPO by Hale Brothers Department Store together with the
San Francisco Chronicle. This changed in 1932, when NBC leased the
licenses and facilities of both stations (they were later purchased
outright). When this happened, the program staffs of KGO, KPO and NBC
were combined into one collective staff of over 250 persons. This
included complete orchestras, vocalists and other musicians (there
were five pipe organists alone), and a complete dramatic stock
company. The entire operation was consolidated under one roof at 111
Sutter Street. It was there that all programming originated for the
network, which then averaged about fifteen hours a week, as well as
local programs for KGO and KPO. As a result, these stations lost
their independent identities, except for their separate transmitter
facilities. (KGO operated at 7,500 watts from a General Electric
factory in East Oakland. KPO transmitted from the roof of the Hale
Brothers Department Store with 5,000 watts until 1933, when a new
50,000 watt facility was constructed on the bay shore at Belmont.)
EARLY NETWORK PROGRAMS
The old KPO studio at the department store continued to be used for
just one NBC program, "The Woman's Magazine of the Air", with host
Jolly Ben Walker. This was a morning home economics show popular in
the West for many years. Reportedly, the first bona fide singing
commercial -- that is, one sung for the sole purpose of praising a
product -- was heard on this program. The commercial was for
Caswell's National Crest Coffee, and, according to Bill Andrews, "went
something like this":
Coffees and coffees have invaded the West,
but of all of the brands, you'll find Caswell's the best.
For good taste and flavor,
you'll find it in favor.
If you know your coffees,
buy National Crest.
Some of the other programs that originated from 111 Sutter Street
during these years were "Don Amaizo, the Golden Violinist", who played
for the American Maize Company (the musician who performed for West
Coast audiences was Music Director Max Dolin); "Memory Lane"; "Rudy
Seiger's Shell Symphony", broadcast by remote from the Fairmont Hotel;
"Dr. Lawrence Cross"; and the "Bridge to Dreamland", originated by
Paul Carson and consisting of organ music by Carson intermixed with
poetry written by his wife.
Throughout all of these programs, even though the performers went
unseen by their radio audiences, NBC required formal dress. This
meant that actors and announcers wore black ties, actresses wore
formal gowns, and musicians wore uniform smocks, with the conductor in
tie and tails. This was done for appearance, in the event that the
sponsor or some other important person should drop in unannounced.
NBC GOES 'TRANSCONTINENTAL'
Until September of 1928, there was still no such thing as a weekly
"coast-to-coast" network program. Even then, the connection between
Denver and Salt Lake City was a temporary one made by placing a long
distance telephone call. Eleven sponsors reached the Pacific Coast
with their programs using this method for a few months. AT&T finally
completed the last link in the broadcast quality telephone network in
December of that year. The first program to use the new service was
"The General Motors Party" on Christmas Eve, 1928. Regular
programming began shortly thereafter, and western listeners could now
enjoy the original eastern productions for the first time. NBC now
boasted a nationwide network of 58 stations, with the potential to
reach 82.7% of all U.S. receivers.
With the inauguration of the new transcontinental service, the process
of duplicating the programs of the eastern networks in San Francisco
was discontinued. Because only one circuit had been installed,
however, the Red and Blue networks could not be fed simultaneously.
Instead, a selection of the best programs from both networks was fed
to San Francisco, where they were relayed to the western affiliate
stations. Thus, the Orange Network continued to exist, although in
Even though the duplication of programs was no longer needed, the
Western Division staff was not dissolved. It continued to produce
additional programs for western consumption only, which were used to
augment the eastern schedule. In addition, the trans-continental line
would occasionally be reversed, and programs produced in San Francisco
would for the first time be fed eastward to the rest of the nation.
The first nationwide broadcast from the West Coast had been the Rose
Bowl Game from Pasadena on New Year's Day, 1927, with Graham McNamee
at the microphone. But, this had been accomplished on a temporary
hookup over normal phone lines. The first regular coast-to-coast
broadcast from the West over high-quality lines took place in April of
1930, with the broadcast of the "Del Monte Program" sponsored by the
California Packing Company. Other programs quickly followed. Soon
the San Francisco staff was bigger than ever, simultaneously producing
programs for local broadcast over KGO and KPO, for the Western hook-
up, and for nation-wide consumption. All of these production
activities were further complicated by the time difference between the
East and West Coasts. This meant that a program for broadcast in the
East at 7 p.m. would have to be performed in San Francisco at four,
and then repeated three hours later for western audiences. Thus, it
was not uncommon to have all three San Francisco studios in use at
once: one producing a program for the East Coast, another for the
West Coast, while a third was producing for one of the local
NATIONAL PROGRAMS ORIGINATE IN SAN FRANCISCO
Several programs produced in San Francisco within the next few years
quickly gained nationwide popularity. Programs such as "Death Valley
Days", "The Demi-Tasse Revue", Sam Dickson's "Hawthorne House" and
many others became nationally known. Dickson was one of
San Francisco's best-known radio writers. He got his start there in
the twenties at KYA, writing shows that featured the station manager
and the switchboard operator as principal characters. In 1929,
Dickson conducted a survey for the Commonwealth Club about radio
advertising. Broadcast advertising had not yet come into its own, and
there were many who voiced objections to radio being put to such a
use. Dickson's survey was revolutionary, in that it discovered 90% of
the city's radio listeners did not object to commercials, providing
they were in good taste; and, virtually all of them actually said they
patronized the few advertisers that were then on the air. The results
of Dickson's survey were indeed revolutionary, but they also prompted
a revolution he didn't expect -- he was blacklisted by every station
Sam Dickson fought the blacklisting as best he could. He was still
doing some writing for KYA, and managed to do some writing for NBC
under an assumed name. By the time NBC discovered his true identity,
however, his work had become admired to the point where he was allowed
to remain as a staff writer. He wrote scripts for many programs in
the ensuing years, including two popular series, "Hawthorne House" and
"Winning of the West", as well as police stories and biblical stories
for children. He continued with NBC as one of its most prominent
writers up into the sixties, and in later years was the author of "The
California Story", a series heard on KNBC (formerly KPO, now KNBR) for
a quarter century.
Several other San Francisco programs were nationally known. One was
"Carefree Carnival", sponsored by the Signal Oil Company. This was a
program of western music and skits broadcast from the stage of the
Marines' Memorial Theater beginning in 1934. It was hosted by home-
spun Charlie Marshall and featured Meredith Willson's Orchestra. The
most famous program to ever originate in San Francisco, however, was
"One Man's Family". This program was a national favorite on radio and
television for 27 years, and was always among the ten most popular
programs in the nation. Its author, Carleton E. Morse, was the
biggest figure in San Francisco radio at the time.
CARLETON E. MORSE
Morse was a "California transplant", born in Louisiana June 4, 1901,
and relocated to California at the age of 16. Morse led a farm life as
a child, and was the first of six children born to George and Ora Morse
in Jennings, Louisiana. At the age of five, he and his family moved
to a fruit ranch outside of Talent, Oregon, a town which Morse described
as "a little wide place in the road". He lived on this ranch until 1917,
when his father became the superintendent of a rice mill in Sacramento.
"When we left the ranch," he later wrote, "I determined that never in my
life again would I return to ranch life ... I would starve to death
on a city street."
After graduating from high school in Sacramento, Morse came to the Bay
Area to attend the University of California at Berkeley. After two and
a half years there, he decided that college was not for him and he
returned to Sacramento, where he went to work as a reporter for the
Sacramento Union. A year and a half later, in 1922, he went to the
San Francisco Chronicle. The following three years saw him move in quick
succession to the San Francisco Illustrated Daily Herald, Seattle Times,
Vancouver Columbian and the Portland Oregonian, before returning to San
Francisco in 1928. It was there, while working at the San Francisco
Bulletin, that he met a fellow staff member named Patricia Pattison
De Ball. They were married September 23, 1928.
In 1929, the Bulletin was absorbed into the San Francisco Call to become
part of the Hearst empire, and Carleton Morse was out of a job. He didn't
know it at the time, but he had just ended his newspaper career.
A strange fascination with radio broadcasting had come about in the last
year for Morse, and his face was frequently seen in the NBC window at
111 Sutter Street. He began casually taking notes on how he thought the
NBC programs could be improved. And, when he was released from the Bulletin,
Morse applied for a job with NBC. He later told of how he was hired:
They had a show coming in from New York -- it was called
"The House of Myths", dramatizations of Greek classics.
They said, "We can't do these -- they're terrible. Can you
take them and rewrite them, or dramatize some myths that we
could produce?" So, they sent me home and I conceived the
idea of doing the myths in modern vernacular with a heavy
... tongue-in-cheek innuendo on the sex life of the Gods ...
As he readied his script for NBC, Morse received a job offer from the
Seattle Times. Faced with a crossroads decision, he decided the new
medium of radio would be much more exciting, so he quickly polished his
work and returned to the NBC offices, script in hand. Ten minutes later
he was hired, just two weeks before the stock market crash of 1929.
Morse found writing for NBC most rewarding. In a later radio interview,
During those days, the thing that was so very pleasant was that
there were no standards of writing. You were turned loose to
think of something and do it. And out of this maelstrom of
confusion came many of the shows that later developed into
Coast and National shows. It was a wonderful time. It was a
new era in a new medium and everybody has his opportunity.
He started out by continuing with the "House of Myths". The program
got very good listener response on the Coast, although it drew little
reaction in the East, where it was also performed for a while. When
that series ended, he dabbled in several other ideas, all without any
significant listener response. However, he received marked response
when he tried his hand at mysteries. Several popular mystery series
followed: "The Witch of Endor", "The City of the Dead", "Captain
Post: Crime Specialist", "The Game Called Murder", "Dead Men Prowl",
and others. Especially well liked were a series of four programs
based upon the files of the San Francisco Police Department,
"Chinatown Squad", "Barbary Coast Nights", "Killed in Action" and
"To the Best of Their Ability". San Francisco Police Chief William J.
Quinn worked closely with Morse in the writing of these episodes, and
narrated all four series.
ONE MAN'S FAMILY
By 1932, Carleton E. Morse was the biggest name in radio drama on the
Coast. But, he had tired of the continual diet of murder and violence.
As an antidote to this, he began working on a series he called "One Man's
Family". Morse was appalled by what appeared to be a coming deterioration
of the family life style in America. He later told an interviewer:
After the First World War, there was a beginning of a
deterioration of the family, of parent-child relationships.
I had been brought up with very strict, conventional home
life, and it rather appalled me to see what was going on.
He decided to write a series giving "a down-to-earth, honest picture of
family life". Further influenced by John Galsworthy's "Forsythe Saga",
he began working on pilot scripts for "One Man's Family".
"One Man's Family" told the story of the Barbour family, an affluent, moral
family residing in the Sea Cliff district of San Francisco. This
series did not fit into any previously-used program formulas -- it was
unlike anything that had been done on radio up to that time. It
simply told the story of everyday life in a model family. Morse hoped
it would become popular because the public would identify closely with
He took four pilot scripts to the production manager of the San Francisco
network operation, who soon came to Morse with them and said, "It's quite
apparent that you're written out. This would never go, and I suggest --
why don't you resign from NBC?" Morse was taken aback by this comment,
but he felt a personal grudge against him might be the real issue, instead
of the quality of his scripts. So, he took them to Don Gilman, head of
the West Coast operation. Gilman read the scripts, liked them, and
approved them for production over the objections of the production manager.
"One Man's Family" was on its way.
The program made its debut on Friday, April 29, 1932. It was carried
from 9:30 to 10:00 p.m. on just three stations, in San Francisco, Los
Angeles and Seattle. However, after the first few episodes, the other
West Coast stations requested that the program be opened to the entire
Western listeners responded to the program almost immediately, and
their response was overwhelming. "One Man's Family" quickly became
one of the most listened-to programs on the coast. However, the story
concept was new, and companies were reluctant to sponsor it. After
almost a year as an unsponsored feature, an announcement was made at
the end of an episode that NBC was considering dropping the program,
and that audience response was being solicited. The thousands of
letters that swamped the mail room overwhelmed everyone, especially
Morse. In a final, desperate attempt to woo a sponsor, the Sales
Manager hired a suite of rooms in one of San Francisco's posh hotels
and scattered the many letters over the floors, furniture, and every
other horizontal surface. After wining and dining officials of the
Wesson Oil Company in the hotel dining room, he took them up to the
suite, where he showed them the scene and invited them to read just
one letter. Needless to say, they bought the series; Wesson Oil and
Snowdrift became the sponsors of "One Man's Family" January 18,
Soon after, on May 17 of that year, the program became one of the
first San Francisco programs to be piped through the trans-continental
line to the East, where it was heard nationwide for the first time.
Wesson Oil sponsored the Western production, while the version heard
in the East was sustaining, or unsponsored. Separate scripts had to
be utilized for nearly eight months, until eastern audiences could
catch up with the story line and the two productions could be
The nucleus of the cast, the four main characters, were portrayed
by the same actors for the entire 27 years the program was heard on
radio. They were: Father Henry Barbour, played by J. Anthony Smythe;
Mother Fannie Barbour, played by Minetta Ellen; Paul Barbour, who
was played by Mike Raffetto; and Hazel, portrayed by Bernice Berwin.
Other characters were the twins, Clifford and Claudia, played by Barton
Yarborough and Kathleen Wilson, and Jack, who was played by Page Gilman
(son of Western Division head Don Gilman). All of these actors had
been hand picked by Morse at the start of the program. In fact, each
charactcer had been created specifically with the actor in mind,
encompassing his own personality traits so that, as Morse put it,
they could really "get into their own parts".
Morse wrote all of the scripts himself at first, and insisted on directing
each of the productions as well. After the first several years, Mike
Raffetto frequently substituted for him, directing and writing while he
was away. In later years, Harlan Ware wrote many of the scripts.
On a typical day, Morse would leave his rambling home in the Skylonda
district of the San Francisco Peninsula, and be in his office hard at
work by 5 AM. He preferred to do his writing at this time, when there was
no one around to bother him. By the time the rest of the NBC staff
arrived, he had already finished his daily script and would turn to the
task of directing, producing and casting for the program. Morse claimed
that he could do his writing only in seclusion. He said he would go into
an almost trance-like state, to the point where he would actually
experience the situation in his mind, and the words would just flow onto
the typewriter pages automatically. He said, "I would just sort of lose
consciousness until I finished." If anyone would interrupt him in the
middle of this process, he would usually have to scrap all that he had
written and start again from scratch, as he found it impossible to
pick up the thread of his thoughts. After he finished his script, he
would hand it in, unread, to be typed, and would have completely
forgotten what he had written until he received it at his director's chair.
He would make any necessary revisions at that time.
The production of the program was complicated by the partial sponsorship
problem. In 1934, the program was being performed three times: Fridays
from 7:30 to 8:00 PM for the Mountain and Central time zones; 8:15 to
8:45, sponsored by Wesson Oil for the Pacific Coast; and again the next
day at 5:30 for Eastern listeners. This complicated things to the extent
that the West Coast Manager Don Gilman began looking for a full-time,
nationwide sponsor. He found it in Kentucky Winners Cigarettes. The
program was moved to Wednesday nights, and Kentucky Winners began sponsoring
"One Man's Family" November 21, 1934.
The short sponsorship of Kentucky Winners is a good example of public
morals in the thirties, and of the power of the broadcast audience. Joan
Buchanan wrote in a "Radio Life" article:
The minute the (first) commercial was over, long distance phone
calls and wires began to pour in, protesting the use of such a
product in connection with a wholesome, family program.
The public outcry was so great that the sponsor cancelled after only ten
weeks on the air. The program was moved again, this time to Sunday
nights, and went nearly two months without a sponsor. Finally, in March
of 1935, Standard Brands, Inc., began a fourteen year sponsorship of the
program, and during the remainder of radio's golden years, "One Man's
Family" would be synonymous with Royal Gelatin Desserts and Tender Leaf Tea.
It was about this time that Morse began tiring of the repetitiveness of
"One Man's Family". Just as he had grown weary of continual murder-and-
violence stories, he now tired of the sugar and syrup of his latest program.
He needed to begin another series that counteracted this effect, and so
"I Love a Mystery" was born. "I Love a Mystery" was a childrens' adventure
series, featuring the trio of adventurers Jack, Doc and Reggie. It was a
national favorite for nearly two decades, and was an NBC feature until
network radio's declining years.
NBC took two major steps in 1936 that had a profound effect on Pacific
Coast radio. The first was the opening of a second Pacific Coast
network. Now, for the first time, the entire compliment of programs
from both NBC networks could be heard on a nationwide basis. The
original NBC "Orange Network", with the exception of KGO, became the
Pacific Coast Red Network. KGO, along with KECA Los Angeles, KFSD San
Diego, KEX Portland, KJR Seattle, and KGA Spokane formed the new
Western Blue Network. (The latter three stations had been a part of
the "Gold Network" from 1931 to 1933, after the demise of the Seattle-
based American Broadcasting Company, the first of several networks to
use that name. The Gold Network was discontinued by NBC in 1933 to
save line costs.) The West Coast Blue Network was inaugurated with
the broadcast of the Rose Bowl Game from Pasadena on New Year's Day,
The second major event of 1936 -- the one that ultimately proved to be
fatal for San Francisco's position as a broadcast center -- was the
breaking of ground for NBC's new Hollywood studios. This was in
response to the American public's increasing desire for West Coast
programs. The success of "One Man's Family" and other early coast
offerings played a part in this process. But more important was the
public's desire to hear their favorite Hollywood movie stars on the
radio. Rudy Vallee apparently started the trend in the early
thirties. While in Hollywood for the making of a motion picture, he
broadcast his weekly program from California and introduced his
audience to film star guests. This trend advanced rapidly, and there
were no less than 20 network programs released from Hollywood over NBC
and CBS during the 1934/35 season.
In the first years of the network, it had been necessary for Hollywood
stars to travel to San Francisco to make a broadcast, a requirement
that severely limited the frequency of their appearance. This had
been necessary because AT&T's broadcast lines fed from San Francisco
to Los Angeles, and not the other way around. Programs were fed
nationwide from city to city on a serial hookup, and Los Angeles was
the end of the line. In order for programs to be fed nationally from
Los Angeles, they would have to be fed eastward by a separate circuit
to Chicago, where they could connect into the network. When Eddie
Cantor moved his "Chase and Sanborn Program" to Hollywood in 1932,
this aspect added $2,100 per week in line charges to the program's
The limitations of the AT&T network began to be overcome in 1936,
under pressure of the network's desire to satisfy the public's taste
for Hollywood programming. The new circuit that was constructed to
bring the Blue Network to the coast in 1936 terminated in Los Angeles
instead of San Francisco. Further, AT&T had incorporated a new system
called the "quick reversible" circuit. Under this arrangement, the
operation of a single key would reverse the direction of every
amplifier in the line between Los Angeles and Chicago, so that the
same line that formerly fed westward could now move programs from west
to east. The circuit could be completely reversed in less than 15
seconds, well within the time of a station break. Thus in 1936 it
became economical to produce national programs in Hollywood on a wide
scale for the first time. Big Hollywood names like Al Jolson, Bob
Hope and Clark Gable were regularly heard on NBC after that year.
The new NBC Hollywood studios officially opened for business October
17, 1938. Sprawling over a 4-1/2 acre tract at Sunset and Vine,
the $2 million facility became the new Western Division headquarters
for the network. The West Coast executive offices that had been
divided between San Francisco and Los Angeles were consolidated in a
new three story executive building. There were eight studios,
including four auditoriums that seated 350 persons each, the largest
ever constructed for radio.
The opening of the Hollywood studios and improvements to the AT&T
leased line system marked the beginning of a gradual exodus that, over
a five-year period, saw virtually all of San Francisco's network
programming move to Hollywood. By 1942, only a skeleton crew remained
to program the local stations. One of the first programs to leave was
San Francisco's beloved "One Man's Family". Production of this
program was transferred to Hollywood in August of 1937, even before
the new studios had been completely finished. The first program from
Los Angeles aired October 8.
(The program's author, Carleton E. Morse greeted the move with great
displeasure, and he kept San Francisco as the locale of the program
after the move. This bothered some Los Angeles area residents. Morse
received a letter from the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce
which deplored the fact that such a popular Los Angeles production had
its locale as San Francisco. They politely invited the Barbour family
to move to Southern California. But Morse declined, and the Barbours
continued to live in San Francisco until the series finally closed
For a while, NBC intended to operate equal personnel and artist staffs
in both cities. To that end, NBC began to draw up plans for an
elaborate new studio building in San Francisco to replace the outmoded
facility at 111 Sutter Street and match the opulence of the new
Hollywood facility. This was NBC's "Radio City", which drew national
acclaim for both its architectural and broadcast features. And it was
built by mistake.
Plans were drawn up and bids taken in 1940 for the construction of an
ultra-modern four-story studio complex at Taylor and O'Farrell
Streets. Meanwhile, NBC apparently changed its mind and decided to
move all the remaining operations to Hollywood. According to one
story, the ground breaking was set to begin when the West Coast vice
president received a telegram from New York. It said a decision had
been made to phase out the San Francisco operation, and that the new
building must not be built. But, it was too late; the event, once
set into motion, could not be reversed. The vice president himself
officiated at the ground breaking ceremony that day, the telegram in
The million dollar facility was formally dedicated April 26, 1942.18
It was an impressive edifice, four stories of pink, windowless walls
with layers of glass brick outlining each floor. Over the marquee, at
the main entrance to the building, was a three-story mosaic mural
designed by C. J. Fitzgerald which depicted different facets of the
radio industry. Inside, facilities included a 41-by-72 foot main
studio, two 24-by-44 secondary studios, and four smaller studios. In
addition, a parking garage occupied practically the entire first
floor. One of the smaller studios, Studio G, was equipped with a
false fireplace, fur rugs and comfortable furniture. It was reserved
for V.I.P. guests exclusively, and Harry Truman, General Sarnoff and H.V. Kaltenborn were just a few of those who eventually used it.
Another feature of NBC's radio palace was a roof garden where Sam
Dickson, Dave Drummond, James Day and other staff writers would
produce scripts in their swimsuits and work on their suntans at the
The building was a magnificent tribute to the state of the art. It
was also San Francisco's last great fling as a radio center, for less
than a year after its completion the southward exodus had ended, and
most of the facility stood unused except for an occasional network
sustaining feature. In the ensuing years much of the building was
leased as office space, and the entire radio operation consisted of a
disc jockey playing records in a third floor booth. KGO was moved to
Golden Gate Avenue in the early 1950's, and KPO, by then known as
KNBR, moved out in 1967. That was the year the building was sold to
Kaiser Broadcasting Company, and it became the new home of KBHK
Television. At last, it finally began to see extensive usage for the
purpose for which it was built.
 Interviews by author with Bill Andrews, former NBC announcer; San
Francisco, 10/13/70, 11/2/70, 4/1/71.
 Archer, Gleason L., Big Business and Radio (American Book-Stratford
Press, Inc., 1939).
 Broadcast Weekly Magazine, 8/24/29, page 6.
 San Francisco Chronicle, 4/1/27.
 Shurick, E.P.J., First Quarter Century of American Broadcasting
(Midland Publishing Company, 1946), page 163.
 Ibid., page 416.
 Manuscript: "Special to Radio Guide", by Louise Landis, Feature
Editor, NBC, 111 Sutter Street, San Francisco, May 16, 1934; from
KGO's history file.
 Spaulding, John W., "1928: Radio Becomes a Mass Advertising Medium",
Journal of Broadcasting, Vol. VIII, No. 1 (Winter 1963-64), page 31-
 "Scoop", San Francisco Press Club, 1970.
 Sheppard, Walter, "One Man's Family -- A History and Analysis",
unpublished doctoral dissertation, the University of Wisconsin, 1967;
supplied by Carlton Morse.
 Broadcasting Magazine, 1/1/36.
 Broadcasting Magazine, 11/1/31, 4/1/33.
 Press Release, "NBC Inaugurates Second Nationwide Network", 1936;
from KGO's history file.
 Higby, Mary Jane, Tune In Tomorrow, (Cowles Education Corporation,
1966), page 22.
 de Mare, George, "And Now We Take You To -- !", Western Electric
Oscillator, December, 1945, page 10.
 Broadcasting Magazine, 11/1/38.
 Broadcasting Magazine, 1/1/37.
 Radio City souvenir dedication brochure, 4/25/42.
 Roller, Albert F.,"San Francisco's Radio City", Architectural Record
Magazine, November 1942.
 San Francisco Examiner, 12/6/67.
© Copyright 1997 John F. Schneider. All rights reserved.
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