Northern California Radio Group Gets Classic Radio Station
BY MIKE ADAMS
Our congratulations to CHRS on the acquisition of the 1937 KRE building with its almost limitless possibilities for radio-related activities. According to the following good-news report, the deal is for ten years, and we sincerely hope that plans go well beyond that time. (Editor)
The California Historical Radio Society (CHRS) has a new, almost rent-free home in classic radio station KRE, AM 1400, in Berkeley, across the Bay from San Francisco. This is very exciting because we may be the only regional radio history organization with such a radio-themed place of our own. It is the ultimate radio restoration project.
In my two decades of up-close involvement in radio history organizations and collector clubs (SCARS, Perham, CHRS), the one wish that we all had was that we could have a building for a headquarters -- offices, museum space, even a parking lot for the flea markets. What regional radio organization hasn't wanted a building, preferably rent-free, as a meeting space, a place to display radio devices in a museum format, a library and other educational endeavors? Instead, most groups have been "virtual," meeting in parking lots and restaurants, and on the Web.
As lovers of antique radio, we did not want to follow the lead of the big museums and spend all our time and efforts on fund-raising to create an expensive "attraction" needed to compete for the attention of museum-going families. Such a venture would mean that a regional radio club would have to forego a collection, restoration and history mission for one of community advancement and development. Most of those in our hobby would rather stand in front of their open car trunks and talk to fellow hobbyists about radios than collect money from gift shops and I-MAX theaters. Trust me, I have been through this before.
Figure 1. The KRE facility as it appeared in 1950, the period designated for its restoration.
But CHRS has been given a building, an abandoned radio station to restore. After a year of negotiation, we have just signed an agreement to take over the 1937 KRE building. We plan to restore it to its 1950 appearance, as shown in Figure 1. We will use it for Society headquarters and a Bay Area radio museum. Needless to say, we need plenty of help from the radio history community. We need ideas, labor, and money. Actually, we need lots of money.
Figure 2. A publicity still showing Wolfman Jack in the 1973 George Lucas movie American Graffiti filmed in part at KRE.
We are a mature organization. CHRS was chartered 30 years ago as a nonprofit radio history organization, our original goal, the study, collection and preservation of old radio technology. Although we are Bay Area-based, we were "virtual" -- on the Web, in a newsletter, with an address, but with meetings, flea markets and displays. CHRS was a major contributor to the very fine old radio exhibit at the San Francisco Airport several years back. Our president is Steve Kushman of KGOTV, Channel 7, in San Francisco.
KRE-1400 AM, licensed in 1922 and in its current location since 1937, followed the path of low power AM stations in the 1970s. It made format changes to try to hang onto a dwindling audience, and to meet the challenge of FM, deregulation, ownership changes, and the fact that many of these stations were worth more as real estate than broadcast properties.
KRE was different. Built on landfill in the Berkeley wetlands, its location is perfect for AM transmission; however, as it became surrounded by freeways in an industrial neighborhood, the site became undesirable as a location for the studios, sales and promotion offices of its FM sister, KBLX. While KRE/KBLX moved to San Francisco, two rooms in the rear of the building remain "on the air" -- the transmitter site for KRE (now KVTO) and KFRC-AM, an oldies and baseball powerhouse in San Francisco.
Figure 3. Inner City Broadcasting Company (ICBC) President Harvey Stone, left, turns over KRE, graffiti and all, to California Historical Radio Society (CHRS) President Steve Kushman.
Figure 4. This group of volunteers has high hopes that the newly painted building will remain clear of graffiti, the artistic output of neighborhood kids.
KRE did have its fifteen minutes of fame in the 1973 George Lucas film American Graffiti. The parking lot, front exterior door and the combo studio were the locations for the Wolfman Jack sequences. Figure 2 shows a publicity still from the movie.
We approached the owners of KRE/KBLX, Inner City, with a proposal to restore and occupy the studios and offices and dedicate them to Bay Area radio history. Attorneys worked out a 10-year lease agreement: KBX General Manager Harvey Stone and CHRS President Steve Kushman, shown in Figure 3, were on hand for the lease signing.
CHRS will not pay rent, but we are responsible for insurance, repairs, security, and the nontransmitter part of the utility bills. Because some of our members are local broadcast engineers, Inner City trusts us to coexist with and respect the KFRC/KVTO technical facility. Visitors can look through the old studio window and take transmitter readings every half hour if they feel nostalgic.
Figure 5. Two faithful volunteers on the job.
But now comes the difficult part, the restoration, and this is going to take some time. We have already replaced all the broken upper windows. As the photographs show, the building is a graffiti magnet, and while the state has continued to repair the fence, neighborhood kids seem to like this formerly abandoned location as a giant art studio. We will be installing security devices, and a group of volunteers have recently painted the exterior with a temporary coat of white, as shown in Figure 4. The painting goes on in Figure 5, but, keeping the exterior clean will be a challenge.
We hope to have enough events and traffic to solve some of these problems. We hope to see fans of old radio happily picnicking on the banks of our lake after touring our radio station/museum. That inviting possibility is evident in the view of the lake with the KRE building and tower in the background in Figure 6.
We have received a large amount of donated old broadcast equipment, even transmitters. We were also just given the extensive Jim Maxwell (W6CF) library -- of all things, radio and electronics. We have already held a well-attended swap meet in our parking lot.
Figure 6. A view of the lake on the property with the KRE building and tower in the background.
Alas, we are not a wealthy or well-connected organization, and for 30 years, we've needed only member dues to pay for site rental and newsletter printing and mailing. Now we must quickly shift gears and find supporters who can donate carpet, windows, and interior detail. We need carpenters and other restoration artists who can gradually bring KRE back to the way it looked in 1950. Because of our membership, we do have the support of local broadcasters and broadcast engineers, some of whom are radio collectors.
We invite you to visit our Website www.CaliforniaHistoricalRadio.com for more details -- the proposal, the lease signing event, a history of KRE, and many photos of the ongoing cleanup, painting and restoration of KRE.
(Mike Adams, 112 Crescent Ct. Scotts Valley, CA 95066)
Mike Adams is the chair of the Department of Television, Radio, Film and Theatre at San Jose State University, and the advisor to its KSJS-90.5 FM. He is also the Chairman of the Board of the California Historical Radio Society.
The California Historical Radio Society (CHRS) publishes "The Journal" quarterly, "20 Years of CHRS" and "Hints and Kinks" free with membership. Dues are $20. There are 13 events per year. For more information: Box 31659, San Francisco, CA 94131; CHRS Hotline: (415) 821-9800; President Steve Kushman, 4233 25th St., San Francisco, CA 94114. www.californiahistoricalradio.com