KALW is a public radio station based in San Francisco, California. Its FM radio broadcast signal is broadcast over the immediate San Francisco Bay Area at 91.7 MHz, and is webcast with live streaming audio.
KALW's license is held by the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). The station is an independently operated National Public Radio affiliate, carrying content from NPR, American Public Media, Public Radio International and the BBC World Service. In addition, KALW produces its own local news, music and interview shows, including the live weekday call-in program, Your Call, the evening news magazine, Crosscurrents, and the weekly two-hour live variety program, West Coast Live!, broadcast each Saturday morning. As KALW is affiliated with the San Francisco Unified School District, it also carries broadcasts of the monthly SFUSD Board meetings and daily listings of school lunch menus, with said menus occasionally read by celebrities who have come to the station for interview shows. The KALW studios are located at Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School off Mansell Avenue in the City.
KALW is the oldest FM station west of the Mississippi, having launched as an experimental station for a demonstration exhibit by owner General Electric at San Francisco's world's fair at Treasure Island in 1939–40. The license was transferred to the SFUSD at the close of the fair. KALW originally operated on 42.1 MHz in the old FM band, which was reassigned to police and fire departments after World War II.
KALW's original transmitter was a modified GE medical diathermy machine. While the original transmitter had not been used since the switch to the modern FM band in the late 1940s, it was still located at John O'Connell Technical High School until the school was demolished in the mid-1990s. The station's current transmitter tower is on Twin Peaks.
KALW was instrumental in helping KQED television sign on the air in 1954 as one of the first Non-commercial educational television stations in the country, by providing technical training, studio space, and engineering advice to the KQED founding staff.
KALW provided Chinese language simulcasts of KGO-TV newscasts in the 1970s, before local Asian language newscasts became established.
During the 1970s and 80s KALW also aired live coverage of SFUSD sporting events, the last such regular live coverage of high school sports in San Francisco broadcasting.
In 1997 a group of full and part-time KALW employees filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission to deny the renewal of KALW’s broadcast license, alleging that station management had covered up violations of hiring rules and had lied about required record keeping. The case was inactive for several years and according to KALW's website the group that filed the petition, known as Golden Gate Public Radio, went defunct.
In July 2004, the FCC resurrected the case. While it issued only a warning to KALW about employment practices, more significantly, the FCC decided that allegations of lying were supported by sufficient evidence to warrant hearings. The hearings concluded in June 2005.
FCC Chief Administrative Law Judge Richard Sippel ruled in April 2006 to grant a two-year license renewal for KALW while reducing a fine for public file violations from $300,000 to just $10,000. In its defense to the FCC, KALW management showed evidence of its meritorious service to the community. The school district also argued for a hardship case, saying it was incapable of paying the $10,000 fine. (For instance, local school programs for children had recently been cut from the district's budget.) The judge disagreed with that assertion, however, and the SFUSD was given two years to pay the fine.
In late October 2006, KALW suffered an antenna malfunction. The station continued to broadcast at only three percent of normal power, causing many listeners to think the station had ceased broadcasting, although the audio stream was still available via the website. KQED allowed KALW the use of their backup transmitter on San Bruno Mountain during the repair process.
On November 2, 2006, station general manager Matt Martin posted an update on the station's website explaining the problem where he went on to express his appreciation to those who assisted with technical support from fellow public broadcaster KQED-FM.