There are many claims to being "first" in the world of broadcasting. I have heard reports that an experimenter in the 1860's broadcast voice across a mile or two on his farm. The wireless operators in the early part of the century, before Doc Herrold, broadcast some voice (and music)communications that were picked up by radio operators. KCBS bases its claim on the fact that Doc Herrold was the first to broadcast on a regular schedule. He is also credited with using the term "Broadcast", likening it to the way seed is scattered by farmers at planting time. Doc Herrold used his station as a advertisement for his College of Engineering and Wireless. His station was on the air playing music and reading news every night. Great way to sell yourself and radio receivers.
Because of this, KCBS can trace its history all the way back to January 1,1909. It was on that date in San Jose, California, that Dr. Charles Herrold opened the Herrold College of Engineering and Wireless. The school was located in the Garden City Bank Building and Doc Herrold constructed a "carpet aerial" that stretched between four buildings and used over 11,500 feet of wire. In 1909 Herrold first started transmitting voice over this aerial using a one inch spark coil and a carbon microphone connected to a storage battery. The transmitter put out about 15 watts and was heard 20 miles away. In the beginning there were no call letters, so the station simply referred to itself as "This is San Jose
calling". Later, Doc Herrold changed from a spark gap transmitter to what he called his "arc-phone". The problem with the arc-phone was that in order to put any audio on it, it would burn up the microphones he was using. Herrold got around this inconvenience by wiring four or five microphones in series and water cooling them!
In 1912 the "Wireless Act of 1912" required stations to have call letters and Herrold was assigned the call FN1909.Other call letters used by the station were, 6XF, 6XG, and SJN.
Because of the popularity of Herrolds broadcasts with radio experimenters, he began broadcasting more entertainment programs. Regular programs included news read from the local newspapers and playing phonograph records. In fact, Herrolds wife, Sybil was probably the first woman disc jockey. On her regular program, the "Little Ham Club", she would play records from the local record store and run giveaway contests.
In 1921 Herrold received a new license. The call letters were changed to KQW and Herrold built a new transmitter using tubes, known as the "bulb-phone". This transmitter was originally powered by tapping into the street car power lines outside of the school. Herrold had financial problems with the new station and in 1925, he sold the station to the First Baptist Church of San Jose. Fred Hart became the new General Manager for the station and the station was operated as a service to central California farmers. In 1934, the station was sold to Ralph Burton and Charles McCarthy. The power was raised to 1000 watts and in 1935 the power was raised again to 5000 watts.
In 1942, KQW started its association with CBS. After CBS was unsuccessful in purchasing their then affiliate KSFO, CBS changed their affiliation to KQW. The main studios were then moved to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.
During World War Two, KQW was the origination point for hundreds of network news programs and handled all shortwave transmissions for the Pacific Area. In fact, it was the CBS news staff, based at the station, which intercepted the Japanese Domei News Agency code message that Emperor Hirohito would surrender.
In the 40's and 50's the studios were a parade of talent, including two resident staff orchestras. Guest stars on variety and interview programs were frequent, and it was a rare week when the station didn't feature someone of the caliber of Bing Crosby, Jack Benny, Adlai Stevenson or Senator Richard Nixon.
In 1949, KQW changed its call letters to KCBS and in 1951 the transmitter site was moved to Novato, California. The frequency was changed from 1010 to the present day dial position of 740. The power was also increased from 5000 watts to 50,000 watts using a four tower directional array.
In the 1950's the programming was a mix of CBS Network and disc jockey programs. In the early 1960's KCBS became the first All-Talk station in San Francisco. 1968 saw the start of all news programming. In 1971, KCBS moved out of the Palace Hotel and into new studios in the new Embarcadero Center buildings. The new studios were specifically tailored for the all news format. In the mid 70's the format drifted to a combination of news during a.m. and p.m. drive times and talk shows filling out the rest of the time. KCBS stayed this way until November of 1990, when KCBS dropped all of the talk shows and sports events and went to the present all news format.
Information for this history was culled from many sources and is by no means complete. KCBS has a long history and it would take many pages to present all of the information and list all of the names of the early radio pioneers who helped build this station. You can find some photos in the Historical Photos section of the tour.
I would like to thank Jane Riley, Executive Assistant to the Vice President and General Manager at KCBS for letting me rummage through the KCBS historical files and actually take some items home to be scanned and included in these pages. If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Charles Herrold or radio in the San Francisco Bay Area in the early years, please check out the following sites....