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Airwaves: April 20, 2007

Happy Birthday

Two of the oldest radio stations in Los Angeles, let alone the country, celebrated birthdays this month: KFI (640 AM) and KHJ (930 AM).

KHJ went on the air for the first time on April 13, 1922, making it 85 years old this year. Located in what was once the Los Angeles Times building at 1st and Broadway -- the station was once owned by the Times, though at the very beginning they operated it through another owner via contract -- the station's studios were in a small room only slightly bigger than a typical bedroom in the tower of the building.

Power was only 50 watts, but that small amount could travel quite far in the uncrowded airwaves of 1922. The first broadcast consisted of the playing of The Star Spangled Banner, followed by a short speech from the late Harry Chandler, who was publisher of the Times at the time. Others who spoke in front of the microphone on that first broadcast included singers and a vaudeville headliner, Hal Skelly, who performed part of his act.

The call letters were supposed to have stood for Knowledge, Happiness and Judgment, though later the slogan became Kindness, Happiness and Joy. Truthfully, the calls probably stood for nothing more than a random set of letters as assigned by the early version of what would later become the Federal Communications Commission.

KFI began broadcasting on April 16, 1922, so it too is 85 years old. The broadcast was a special message for listeners on what was Easter Sunday. Unlike the history of KHJ, unfortunately, there is not much known about KFI's first broadcast.

KFI was started by Earle C. Anthony, who built the station's first transmitter -- also 50 watts -- himself. Anthony was a car dealer and distributor who sold Packards; the station and transmitter were both located on the roof of his dealership at 1000 Hope Street.

In 1927, the Times sold KHJ to Don Lee, who sold and distributed Cadillacs and La Salles. So not only were the two stations direct competitors, the owners were competitors with automobiles as well ... and that competitiveness became somewhat of a rivalry. For example, Lee also owned a station in San Francisco -- KFRC -- and Anthony, not to be outdone, built a mock transmitter across the street from KFRC and adorned it with the letters KFI.

Through the years, both KFI and KHJ would have their successes and lack of same, though KFI tended to be a bit more dominant in the early years while KHJ would dominate KFI and everyone else with the advent of Boss Radio in 1965. KFI ultimately outlasted KHJ as an English-language music station before moving to a successful talk format, while KHJ currently lives on playing Spanish-language music.

In this day and age of new tending to trumpet old, its nice to have something that harkens back to the early days of broadcasting. In this case we have two. Happy birthday, KHJ and KFI.


Speaking of KHJ, reader Michael Malouf, who reads the column online from Dallas, Texas, is looking for information on the Cavalcade of Stars in the Fabulous Forum back on December 23, 1977. Specifically, he's trying to find out which artists appeared at the event. If you happen to know, drop me a line and I'll forward it to Malouf.


WLW is in Cincinnati, Ohio. Why I said New York last week, I don't know. Thanks to all who wrote in to correct me.


Copyright © 2007 Richard Wagoner and Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

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