KCBS, 740 AM, is an all-news radio station located in San Francisco, California, which serves as the West Coast flagship station for the CBS Radio Network. It is owned by the CBS Corporation's CBS Radio subsidiary, and shares its Battery Street studios with CBS owned-and-operated television station KPIX-TV (channel 5). The transmitter site is located in Novato. Its programming is simulcast on co-owned FM station KFRC-FM (106.9) plus that station's HD1 digital sub-channel.
KCBS received its first broadcasting station license, as KQW in San Jose, California, in early December 1921. However, the original licensee, Charles Herrold, had begun making audio radio transmissions in 1909, and KCBS has traditionally dated its founding to that year.
On January 1, 1909, Herrold opened the Herrold College of Wireless and Engineering, located in the Garden City Bank Building at 50 West San Fernando Street in San Jose. In order to promote the college, as well as provide practical experience for his students, a radio transmitter (then commonly known as "wireless telegraphy") with a large antenna was constructed atop the building. The earliest transmissions used spark-gap transmitters which could only transmit the dots-and-dashes of Morse code.
Herrold would be one of the first persons to develop a radio transmitter that could also be used for audio transmissions. After limited success with an approach that used "high-frequency" sparks, he later began using a version of an "arc-transmitter" originally developed by Valdemar Poulsen. Although his primary objective was to create a wireless telephone that could be commercialized for point-to-point use, beginning in July 1912 Herrold also began making regular weekly entertainment broadcasts, with the debut program featuring phonograph records supplied by the Wiley B. Allen company.
Radio communication was initially unregulated in the United States, and at first Herrold used a variety of self-assigned identifiers for his station, including FN and SJN, plus, for audio transmissions, "San Jose calling". The Radio Act of 1912 established the licensing of stations through the U.S. Commerce Department, and in late 1915 Herrold was issued an Experimental station license with the call sign 6XF. Although Herrold reported success in developing his system, his arc-transmitters were low-powered and would only work at wavelengths above 600 meters (frequencies below 500 kHz). The concurrent development of vacuum-tube technology, which did not have the same limitations, started making arc technology obsolete.
In April 1917, with the entrance of the United States into World War One, the U.S. government took control of the entire radio industry, and it became illegal for private citizens to possess a working radio receiver. In addition, all civilian radio stations were ordered to be dismantled, so for the duration of the conflict Herrold left the airwaves. This wartime government ban on civilian stations was lifted effective October 1, 1919, and in early 1921 Herrold was reissued an Experimental license, again with the call sign 6XF. (He had previously been issued a license for a portable transmitter, with the call sign 6XE.)
During the war impressive strides had been made in vacuum-tube transmitter and receiver design, and Herrold's arc-transmitters were no longer commercially competitive. In 1920 a number of radio stations in the San Francisco Bay area, employing vacuum-tube transmitters, began making regular entertainment broadcasts, most prominently the "California Theater" station, 6XC, set up by Lee de Forest, which began daily service around April 1920. After the war Herrold needed to become familiar with vacuum-tube equipment before he could return to the air. Although some of his co-workers later reported that he resumed regular broadcasts as early as 1919, the oldest documented report of his resumption of broadcasting, presumably over 6XF, dates to early May 1921, with the announcement that the school was inaugurating a Monday and Thursday night schedule consisting of records supplied by "J. A. Kerwin of 84 East Santa Clara street, dealer in phonographs".
As KQW (1921–1949)
Effective December 1, 1921, the Department of Commerce issued a regulation that stations making broadcasts intended for the general public now had to hold a Limited Commercial license specifying operation on a wavelength of 360 or 485 meters, and, on December 9, 1921, a broadcasting station authorization with the randomly assigned call letters of KQW was issued in Herrold's name. This license specified operation on the common "entertainment" wavelength of 360 meters (833 kHz), so KQW initially broadcast only during the hours assigned to it under a time-sharing agreement made with the other local broadcasting stations.
Classifying stations according to when they first received a broadcasting authorization under the provisions of the December 1, 1921 regulations, KCBS was tied for 6th in the state of California and 16th in the United States. Among surviving stations, it is the oldest in the San Francisco Bay Area, and tied for 2nd oldest in California, one day behind KWG in Stockton, and tied with KNX in Los Angeles.
Operation of KQW was financed by the sale of radio equipment by the Herrold Radio Laboratory, but by 1925 the costs had grown burdensome, and the station was transferred to the First Baptist Church of San Jose, with Herrold kept on as program director. In 1926, station manager James Hart bought KQW's license and facilities, eventually buying the station itself in 1930. KQW served as the San Jose affiliate of the Don Lee Broadcasting System from 1937 to 1941; during this time its owner was Julius Brunton & Sons, and the station's operations were co-located with KJBS at 1470 Pine Street in San Francisco. Until 1942, it operated as a service of the Pacific Agricultural Foundation to farmers in the Central Valley.
In 1927, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was created to take over the regulation of U.S. radio stations, and it began a series of frequency shifts to coordinate station assignments. Effective November 11, 1928, the FRC divided the AM band transmitting frequencies into three classifications — Local, Regional, and Clear Channel — and KQW's assignment, 1010 kHz, which it had been using since the previous year, was designated a regional frequency. By 1940 KQW had increased its daytime power to the maximum permitted for regional stations, 5,000 watts. In March, 1941, under the provisions of the North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement (NARBA), most U.S. radio stations were shifted to new dial positions, and in KQW's case this resulted in a move to 740 kHz.
Under the NARBA provisions 740 kHz was a Canadian Clear channel, with CBL (now CFZM) in Toronto, Ontario, the frequency's Class I-A (now Class A) primary station. KQW was classified as a Class II (now Class B) secondary station, however, the great distance between the two stations meant that, with the use of a directional antenna, KQW could apply for permission to increase its power up to 50,000 watts. In the early 1940s, the San Francisco Bay area affiliate for the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) radio network was KSFO (560 AM), which, because it operated on a regional frequency, was limited to a power of 5,000 watts. CBS wanted to have a station operating at a full 50,000 watts, and an agreement was initially made for KQW and KSFO to swap frequencies — KSFO to 740 and KQW to 560 — after which KSFO would upgrade to 50,000 watts. However, this plan fell through because CBS also wanted to own the Bay Area affiliate, and the owners of KSFO were not willing to sell. Due to this rebuff, in 1942 CBS transferred its affiliation from KSFO to KQW, with an option to eventually purchase KQW, which would remain on 740. The station staff moved to a CBS-owned studio located at the Palace Hotel, and KQW was now effectively a San Francisco station, but it continued to be licensed to San Jose, so an announcer was posted at the transmitter site to provide the required "KQW, San Jose" legal IDs.
The beginning of KCBS (1949–1995)
CBS exercised its option to buy KQW in 1949, at the same time changing the station's call letters to KCBS. In 1951, KCBS signed on for the first time from the four-tower 50,000 watt facility at Novato that had originally been intended for KSFO. KCBS's community of license was also officially changed from San Jose to San Francisco.
In 1968, KCBS became one of the first all-news stations in the country. However, it already had a long history in news dating back to World War II, when it was the center of CBS' newsgathering efforts in the Pacific Theater. In 1971, KCBS moved its studios to the 32nd floor of One Embarcadero Center.
Common ownership with KPIX (1995–present)
In 1995 the Westinghouse Electric Corporation bought CBS, bringing under common ownership the Bay Area's oldest radio station with its oldest television station, KPIX-TV, which Westinghouse had purchased from Associated Broadcasters in 1954. In May 2006, KCBS and KPIX-TV moved their news bureau in San Jose to the Fairmont Tower at 50 West San Fernando Street. This was, coincidentally, the location of Charles Herrold's original broadcasts, and although CBS management was unaware of San Fernando Street address' history when the move was planned, after being informed they recognized this at the bureau's opening celebration.
In mid-March 2005, KCBS, along with nearly all of the other all-news stations owned by Infinity Broadcasting (which renamed itself CBS Radio that fall), began streaming its audio over its website, reversing a long-standing Infinity Radio policy of not doing so. (New York City's WCBS began streaming its programming online the previous December). Local commercials which are heard on the radio signal are pre-empted on the Internet stream for a small selection of sponsored ads, and more often for public service announcements, station promos and repeats of pre-recorded CBS Radio Network feature segments already on the broadcast schedule (including Lloyd DeVries' stamp collecting segment, Dr. Emily Senay's "Healthwatch" and Neil Chayet's "Looking at the Law"); before the fall of 2008, outside sponsors purchased considerably more spots on the internet stream. In March 2010, KCBS and the other CBS Radio stations blocked Internet listeners outside the United States from accessing its live stream.
In 2007, KCBS added an HD Radio digital sub-channel, and began identifying as "KCBS and KCBS-HD". On October 27, 2008, the station began simulcasting its full schedule over co-owned KFRC-FM (106.9) and that station's HD1 digital sub-channel. (KFRC-FM's previous "classic hits" format was moved to sub-channel HD2.) The stations' microphone flag now displays "740" on two sides of the cube, and "106.9" on the other two, and in 2011 they adopted the joint branding of "KCBS All News 740 AM and 106.9 FM." (KFRC-FM did not change its call letters because the KCBS-FM call sign was already in use by a CBS owned station in Los Angeles on 93.1 FM).
In mid-September 2010, KCBS Radio's website was merged with that of KPIX and their sister radio properties in the San Francisco market under the "CBS San Francisco" banner.
KCBS's signal can be heard clearly as far north as Sacramento and Hopland and as far south as San Luis Obispo on most days. Under the right conditions, its daytime signal reaches as far north as Redding and as far south as Santa Maria. At night, with its 50,000 watts of power, the signal can be heard throughout California including Los Angeles and San Diego, and can cover several western states such as Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Utah. On rare occasions, its signal travels across the Pacific Ocean and is receivable by DXing in Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado and the northwestern portion of Mexico.
Content and personalities
KCBS is well known for a number of personalities. On weekday mornings, the morning anchor team talks with Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, former Oakland Raiders coach, and sportscaster John Madden. Morning team members Stan Bunger, Steve Bitker and Susan Leigh Taylor talk with Madden about a wide variety of topics, generally focusing on sports. The station also hosts special segments each weekday with CBS News technology analysts Larry Magid and Brian Cooley, and longtime food and wine editor Narsai David.
Similar to its sister stations such as WBBM and WCBS, KCBS airs CBS News updates. Other features include traffic and weather together on the 8s, sports updates at :15 and :45, and business news from Bloomberg ("Bloomberg Moneywatch") at :25 and :55 around the clock. KCBS Cover Story airs weekly as an extended look at a major issue in the news, while In Depth is a weekly long-form interview program. In addition, KCBS simulcasts 60 Minutes and Face The Nation, which is also standard practice at other CBS-owned all-news radio stations. KCBS also simulcasts a seven-minute block of the CBS Evening News live on weekdays, allowing listeners to hear the program's top stories two hours before the newscast airs on KPIX-TV.
Bob Price, a longtime business anchor and editor for KCBS who worked for over 20 years at the radio station, anchored from the Pacific Exchange (now the San Francisco floor of the New York Stock Exchange) until his retirement on November 5, 2009. Jason Brooks has served as anchor of business news segments since Price's retirement.
In 2011, Kim Wonderley became morning traffic anchor at the station. A KCBS direct mail piece claimed, "More people rely on her morning traffic reports on KCBS than on any other station." Patti Reising was a weekday afternoon news anchor in 2011.
Pioneer station status
One of the conditions of Herrold's sale of KQW in 1925 was that the new owners include, in the sign-on announcement, the following: "This is KQW, pioneer broadcasting station of the world, founded by Dr. Charles D. Herrold in San Jose in 1909".
Although there are contemporary reports confirming that Herrold was making experimental audio transmissions as early as 1909, the best evidence is that it wasn't until July 1912 when he began making regular broadcasts. These weekly programs are generally accepted as being the first regular entertainment broadcasts made by radio. More contentious is whether KCBS can be considered the oldest radio station in continuous service, due to the fact that, following the end of World War One, Herrold did not resume regular broadcasting until May 1921. (Other candidates for oldest U.S. radio station include 8MK / WWJ in Detroit, Michigan, which began regular broadcasts in August 1920; WOC in Davenport, Iowa, which traces its origin to station 9BY, which began regular broadcasts around September 1920; 9ZAF / KLZ in Denver, Colorado, with regular programs beginning in October 1920, and 8ZZ / KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which began operating on November 2, 1920.)
In 1945, stations WWJ and KDKA held competing 25th anniversary celebrations, both claiming to be the oldest "commercial radio station". Later that same year, KQW prepared and broadcast "The Story of KQW", in support of its own claim as the oldest radio station, predating by eleven years both WWJ and KDKA. This broadcast included a brief recorded statement by Herrold, made just before his 70th birthday.
In 2009 KCBS celebrated its 100th birthday, with a yearlong series of events throughout the Bay Area. Included was the public dedication of a plaque commemorating the "Centennial Celebration of the World's First Broadcasting Station". This plaque is located outside the lobby at 50 Fairmont Plaza in San Jose, where Herrold's original broadcasts took place. During the year, KCBS adopted the slogan "The World's First Broadcasting Station".