Early Santa Ana Radio Stations
by Jim Hilliker
(Jim researches the early days of radio and was nice enough to offer this article on Santa Ana stations to us. If you have anything to add to the Santa Ana story, please contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org)
KFAW - Santa Ana
Santa Ana Register-Radio Den Radiophone
Licensed July 1922
First broadcast August 21, 1922
Last broadcast ??
Deleted November 28, 1925
This was Orange County's first radio station and the only one located between Los Angeles and San Diego at the time. It was licensed to W. B. Ashford and Howard T. White. They owned a radio store called the Radio Den in the old Grand Central Market in Santa Ana. Mr. White was listed as the technician of this 10 watt station. Broadcasts were made from an upstairs studio at the Santa Ana Register newspaper, then at 3rd and Sycamore Streets.
You may ask yourself, how could a 10-watt radio station be heard very far?
In the early days of radio, the average radio station was built to transmit only between 10 and 100 watts of power, which could cover the average size city fairly well. At that time, radio engineers didn't believe they needed much more power, though 500-1,000 watt stations gradually appeared between the end of 1922 and 1924. Transmitter power of 500 watts was considered high power then, with 5,000 watts quite high by 1927. KFI radio in Los Angeles was at this power level until 1931, when they increased power to the current 50,000 watt level.
But the low power of 10 watts could still cover the area of a town the size of Santa Ana then, and get out much further at night when radio waves "skipped" over longer distances. If you would like to hear what a 10-watt radio station sounded like, the reader can tune an AM car radio to either 530-AM or 1610, where Cal-Trans today operates several 10-watt Traffic Information Stations or T.I.S. stations. The city of Anaheim was also operating an AM station on 1500-AM that was 10 watts in the Disneyland area.
These will give you an idea how strong KFAW was in 1922-1925.
KFAW was first licensed in July 1922, and debuted on August 21, 1922. The August 18, 1922 story in the Register said KFAW would operate on the wavelength of 360 meters, but would start using 340 meters at first, to avoid interference with Los Angeles broadcasting stations. Its normal schedule was daily, except Sunday from 400-430 p.m., plus 8-9 p.m. on one or two weeknights. The newspaper reported that the broadcasting station cost about $2,500 and was be installed in the Register building by the Radio Den. It was estimated that there were 1500 radio sets in Orange County at that time.
The Register newspaper arranged all the programs for KFAW's broadcasts. The afternoon broadcasts featured the latest news and sports reports, while nights brought concerts by local singers and musicians, with gaps filled by records played on an Edison phonograph loaned for that purpose by Carl G. Strock, a Santa Ana music store. The piano that was heard on the KFAW concerts was also furnished by the Strock Music Company, which was a way for them to get some advertising. Later, various jazz bands touring the area played over KFAW, such as Grigsby's famed Californians in October of 1923.
The station was a favorite with early radio enthusiasts and the Register ran stories during KFAW's first few weeks on the air about the station's broadcasts, where the signal was heard around Southern California, and what locals thought of the station. Orange County historian Jim Sleeper says that after KFAW was on a while, people tried to pronounce the call letters as "Guffaw", after Major Hoople, a comic strip character of the era.
Sometime in 1923, a distance record was set when KFAW was picked up by a "peanut tube" radio in Boston. Later, a story in the Santa Ana Daily Register gave details of KFAW radio receiving a reception report letter from a listener named Charles H. Reade of South Hero, Vermont. He heard KFAW’s program of October 22, 1923 and listed details of what he heard. This report, according to the newspaper story, marked KFAW’s greatest accomplishment in long-distance broadcasting!
In early 1924, KFAW used the slogan "We use the key to sign-off with"; which probably meant that the call letters and location of the station were sent out over the air in Morse code at the end of their broadcasts. By the fall of 1924, the station had moved out of the Register building, and was broadcasting from The Radio Den store at 115 North Broadway in Santa Ana.
The Fall 1924 Citizen's Radio Callbook said KFAW had adopted this contrived slogan for Southern California: Kept From Awful Winters!
According to Orange County historian Jim Sleeper, The Register investigated increasing the station's power to 500 watts, but the newspaper owners found the cost, $25,000, to be prohibitive. Thus, KFAW remained a 10-watt station and moved to the Radio Den until its demise in late 1925.
A story in the Register from October 25, 1924 gave a brief history of KFAW up until that time. The strange thing is, the story says KFAW had been off the air since June of 1924! But the paper was still running KFAW program schedules between June and October!
Apparently, when KFAW started, W. B. Ashford and his then business partner Howard White, first conceived the idea of a radio station in 1922. But the Department of Commerce radio inspector for the 6th District, which included California, Col. J.F. Dillon, told them they needed to employ a commercial operator. So, Ashford and White got the services of Dr. J. E Waters of West Orange, who was first in charge of KFAW in August 1922. White then passed his government exam and became a second operator of KFAW.
In June of 1923, Col. Dillon inspected the Santa Ana station and changed the wavelength to 280 meters or 1070 kilocycles, still at 10 watts.
White and Ashford were the first announcers on KFAW. Later, A.V. Napier, a local industrial realtor held the job of announcer. Then, KFAW listeners heard the voice of W. H. Hanley, business manager of the Register, until June of 1924.
The article states that KFAW's signal had been heard in Manitoba, Canada, Havana, Cuba; Honolulu, Hawaii; and the east coast of the United States.
The story goes on to say that new Western Electric transmitting apparatus was being installed on the top of the Grand Central Market building and a padded studio was being built. Plans called for KFAW to resume broadcasting in 3 weeks from October 25, 1924.
I checked later issues of the Register and there were no program schedules listed for KFAW or stories on the station. But radio magazines in early 1925 show that the station had been broadcasting. Department of Commerce records show the station was moved again from 1070 to 1400 kilocycles in February of 1925.
I have not been able to determine in my research whether or not KFAW was an active broadcaster in its final months on the air. But, it was an important station in the history of then-rural and agricultural Orange County and in the radio history of Southern California. KFAW's license was deleted by the Department of Commerce November 28, 1925
If anyone can find later newspaper articles on broadcasts made by KFAW-Santa Ana after October of 1924, please pass them on to me or give me the dates of the newspaper articles. You can reach me by email at: email@example.com.
KWTC: This is Orange County's oldest continuously operating radio station. It was started in October 1926 by Santa Ana eye doctor John Wesley Hancock, a ham radio operator who got interested in broadcasting. The studios were in his home at 1101 N. Ross Street. Two 80-foot redwood towers held KWTC's longwire transmitting antenna at the corner of Ross Street and Halesworth. I understand that if one knows where to look, a concrete foundation for one of the towers can still be found. An apartment building is on the site of the Hancock House today, so the foundation for the KWTC antenna towers may be long gone.
The call letters were chosen by Hancock to stand for "Kum West To California." A story in the Santa Ana Register on Nov. 6, 1926 stated that KWTC would be on the air on November 15th. But there were delays due to technical problems. After much testing of the equipment, the December 8, 1926 Santa Ana Register reported that KWTC's first broadcast would be on the night of 12/10/26 at 8 P.M. The program was hosted by the Santa Ana Realty Board, which planned to give a box of oranges for Christmas to the real estate board that reported reception of KWTC from the greatest distance.
A bit later, Doc Hancock signed an advertising deal with an Orange County breakfast cereal company, the California Fig-Nuts Company, which had a factory in Orange, California. Fig-Nuts was a combination of roasted figs, walnuts, raisins and whole wheat. The plan was to sell "Fig-Nuts" by mail order to out-of-state listeners. This is how KWTC earned another slogan and became known for a time as "The Date Station". Hancock put KWTC on mainly at night, when the signal could get out for hundreds and even thousands of miles and the station slogan, "Kum West To California", would be heard by the most people. He also had a car with a specially equipped radio and antenna tour the midwest. Each night it would pull into a different town. The engineer would tune into KWTC and the locals would gather around the loudspeakers to hear the programs from California and the Fig-Nuts commercials, which brought a lot of attention to Santa Ana. Orange County historian Jim Sleeper told the L.A. Times in 1981 he didn't know what happened to Fig-Nuts.
That type of promotion used by KWTC is an example of how popular the DX craze of pulling in distant stations by radio listeners was at that time. Dr. Hancock sent out "Ekko" stamps to those who mailed in a proof of reception card or letter for hearing KWTC. The stamp was then placed in the listener's scrapbook, which was also made by the Ekko Company.
By 1927, KWTC had studios moved from the living room to above Hancock's garage. A remote phone line was installed to bring in musical programs from the Santa Ana High School auditorium. Also known as the "Garden of Eden Station", KWTC had a children's program with the Dreamland Lady, a dinner hour program of popular recordings and Dr. Hancock's weekly talk on eye hygiene. His advertising rates on KWTC were $25 a month for a daily business announcement of 50 words. A one-hour program from 7-10 PM was $15. If special talent was needed, rates were negotiable.
It should be noted that many early radio station transmitters were not stable enough to stay on frequency. Historian Jim Sleeper says in the early part of 1927, KWTC quite often wandered off its frequency of 850 kilocycles and interfered with KNX-890. Of course, that didn't make KNX or its listeners very happy. KWTC was finally moved to 1350 kHz on 6/15/27. Hancock lost interest in radio within a year. He sold the option on KWTC on 4/17/28 to Reverend Gross Alexander of Pasadena for $500. The station was to have a religious format, but the option later expired. The Pacific Western Broadcasting Foundation, with J. S. Stevens as principal stockholder took control of KWTC. But their plans for KWTC in 1929 fell through (see KPWF below).
KWTC was then sold to the Santa Ana Register at 3rd and Sycamore Streets. The call letters were changed by the Federal Radio Commission to KREG, on 9/29/29 in honor of the new owner. The KREG call letters were first heard on the station on January 3, 1930, with a special dedication program. A 4-wire transmitting antenna was on the roof of the Register Building with the studio and operating room on the top floor. The transmitter power of the station, at 1500 on the radio dial was 100 watts. An announcer at KREG, Wallace Wiggins, did an oral history interview with California State University-Fullerton in 1974. Wiggins came to KREG in 1931. He had worked for KHJ in 1925 as an office boy, when Uncle John Daggett was station manager and the top radio announcer in Los Angeles. He also had worked part-time at KGFJ as operator-announcer and continuity writer. Wiggins said that KREG had poor equipment at this time. It had been bought from Major Lawrence Mott in Avalon, who had just shut down his station, KFWO. Wiggins also felt that the transmitting antenna was inefficient, thus resulting in a poor signal to the Santa Ana area. Another announcer at KREG, Cy Palmer, who doubled as station engineer, told the L.A. Times' Richard Buffam in a 1981 column, that KREG had broadcast many dance remotes from the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, the Aragon-Trianon and Blackhawk in Chicago and the Biltmore in Los Angeles. KREG and later KVOE also used a transcription service for its shows, along with live studio programs and had an excellent library of popular dance band recordings.
Wallace Wiggins and new owner Ernest L. Spencer formed "Voice of the Orange Empire, Inc." in 1932, though the call letters didn't change to KVOE until 12/27/35. Wiggins says KREG was subsidized at first by the Register, until they started selling commercial time to advertisers. During the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, KREG tied-in with KFOX radio to report news of the disaster. A lot of damage from the quake was also experienced in Santa Ana. After the call change to KVOE, (first used on the air January 1, 1936), the station moved to its present studio/transmitter site at 3101 West 5th Street, just west of the Santa Ana River, in 1936. A new transmitter was installed along with its first single mast (tower) transmitting antenna. It was a 150-foot high tubular steel pipe, held up by three guy-wires. The studio was large enough to have a piano and broadcast live musical programs. In 1936, the station also presented a weekly Orange County history program, written and researched by the WPA Historical Research Project. That's the same year KVOE joined the Don Lee-Mutual Network from KHJ, along with KFXM in San Bernardino. Heavy winter rains in 1937 caused the Santa Ana to overflow its banks. The flood took KVOE off the air for three days, because of major damage to the studio and transmitter building.
In 1942, a U.S. Marine pilot from a nearby base flew too low and hit KVOE's tower, destroying it and knocking the station off the air. The pilot was injured but survived. KVOE got a new 250-watt transmitter in 1940 and was 1,000 watts with a directional antenna in 1946. The pattern was aimed away from a nearby FCC monitoring station in Santa Ana; a situation which ended around 1980 when the monitoring station was dismantled and was turned into a park. KVOE later originated several Mutual Network remotes for the Stan Kenton band from the Rendezvous Ballroom at Balboa/Newport Beach, CA. KVOE became the focus of national attention for a while in 1948. The Mutual Broadcasting System carried KVOE's broadcast of a sensational murder trial from the Orange County Courthouse. Beulah Louise Overell and Bud Gollum were accused of blowing up her socialite parents aboard their Newport Beach yacht in order to get the inheritance. The judge allowed only the "hometown" radio station to broadcast the trial, and KVOE's microphones sent the trial over all U.S. networks and overseas. (The two defendants were eventually acquitted).
Call letters were changed once again from KVOE to KWIZ on July 1, 1954. One reason for the call change then was the popularity of quiz shows on radio at that time, and KWIZ carried its share of quiz programs for a while. So, the call letters were also pronounced as "Quiz Radio".
Ernest L. Spencer sold KWIZ in 1965 to the Davis Broadcasting Company, which also owned KLOK 1170 in San Jose. For several years, both stations had one of the first "oldies but goodies" formats in the mid and late 60s. KWIZ started airing the rock and roll oldies in 1965. By this time, KWIZ's power was 5,000 watts day and 1,000 night with a three tower array. By 1984, night power was boosted to 5,000-watts. To modernize the transmitter site, the three older antenna towers were dismantled and four new towers went up in their place.
KWIZ struggled to keep its own identity at 1480 on the AM dial, as the broadcasting business was changing and people tuned to FM for music. The station stayed with an adult-contemporary music format into the early-80s, but later, management decided to simulcast KWIZ-FM on 96.7. This lasted until roughly October of 1988. KWIZ-AM split from the FM with a new Spanish format as "Radio Exitos". This format continued for several years on KWIZ, from the same studio/transmitter site built for KVOE in 1936. The Spanish format gradually focused on what's known as romantica music, but in early 1997, changed format to brokered ethnic, where various ethnic language programs buy time on the station. After 44 years as KWIZ, the station owners decided to change the call letters on 1480-AM to KVNR. The new format, which continues today, is Vietnamese programming.
Early Santa Ana stations and what some of their call letters meant:
KWTC-October 1926 (First air date, December 10, 1926) Letters come from” Kum West To California”
KREG January 3, 1930 Letters come from The REGister newspaper
KVOE January 1, 1936 Letters come from Voice of the Orange Empire
KWIZ July 1, 1954
KVNR Since 1998? Letters come from VietNamese Radio