Remembering KFIO

By Keith Trantow

 

 


   
 
"From out of the West, a fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty 'Hi Yo, Silver:'  The Lone Ranger rides again!"   Listeners to KFIO Spokane heard that dramatic introduction, accompanied by Rossini's William Tell Overture, to one of radio's most popular programs three evenings a week.   The Lone Ranger was among a wide variety of Mutual-Don Lee network productions broadcast by KFIO during the years I worked there.
 
       Alternating with The Lone Ranger on other evenings was The Cisco Kid:  "Here's adventure!  Here's romance!  Here's the famous Robin Hood of the West."
  
       From the mid-1940s to 1950, KFIO offered a remarkable variety of programs, including many produced in the station's own studios.  For example, every weekday morning at 9 o'clock, strains of Liszt's Liebestraume introduced The Vagabond Poet with Rex King.   This was followed by a quarter-hour of classical music .

        During baseball season, KFIO broadcast games of the Spokane Indians with "Red" (a part-time sports announcer).   Although to listeners it sounded as if "Red" were right in the ball park, in actuality he was in the KFIO announce booth, "recreating" the games from only the sketchiest of data provided by the Western Union sports wire.  For example, the wire copy might read, "S 1," meaning "Strike one."   Then there would be nothing on the wire until, perhaps, "S 2," followed a few minutes later with, possibly, "B 1 H O," meaning, "Ball one, high and outside."    

         Working with only the sparse Western Union data, "Red" would play sound effects of crowd noises, tap the edge of his desk with a wooden ruler to replicate a "hit," play a recording of crowds cheering for the "hit," and in the meantime deliver a running commentary to fill up the time.   He might say, for example, "My goodness.  Coach Bramfield is coming onto the field; looks as if he's having a few words with Pitcher Manning . . . "   Another time, "Red" might exclaim, "Oh, oh, oh; look at that!   A dog's running along the third base line!   Well, that's one for the record books!"
       
   
KFIO subscribed to the United Press radio wire, a 24-hours-a-day news service written specifically for radio stations, and delivered by a clattering Teletype machine, a sturdy stalwart device resembling a large electric typewriter.   Copy was typed -- all capital letters -- in purple ink onto continuous-feed yellow paper.
     
    The UP radio wire provided well-written and well-edited news scripts, timed for 15-minute, five-minute and one-minute broadcasts.    In addition, it included a number of ready-to-be-read scripts for "feature" programs, such as Under the Capital Dome, which described Washington, D.C., legislative news and Congressional "back room" stories.

       Whenever important news "broke," a loud bell on the Teletype machine would ring; two "dings" for a "bulletin," and five "dings"for a "flash," to signify "urgent."
 

   
    KFIO
staff members "pulled" news copy from the UP Teletype, prepared and read "live" newscasts in the morning, at noon, and in the evening.   
         
    In addition,
KFIO listeners heard well-known Mutual newscasters, including Gabriel Heatter, whose typical opening line was,"Ah, there's good news tonight."   Fulton Lewis, Jr., who founded the Radio Correspondents' Association in Washington, D.C., was the chief news commentator for Mutual, and broadcast a fifteen-minute program weekdays.

       
    Every weekday afternoon, recordings made by "Spokane's Own Bing Crosby" were broadcast.   The program's theme song was Crosby's classic, Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day.
       
    Every weekday evening,  
KFIO aired 30 minutes of Music You Want When You Want It, featuring RCA Victor Red Seal classical recordings.   The opening theme was Air on the G String from Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 1 in D. 
       
    Quite another type of music was aired Saturday afternoons. 
KFIO went on the air in 1922, and ever since then had been accumulating records.   In the record room, there were row upon row of recordings, floor to ceiling -- most probably many thousands of them.   Because of their original composition, early records sometimes were referred to as "wax."   That is how The Old Wax Rack got its name, a program featuring the radio station's extensive heirloom collection of Brunswick, Blue Note, Decca, Columbia, Blue Bird, RCA, Paramount, Edison, Rex and Phonogram (among dozens of other labels) 78-rpm records.
       
    A weekday quarter-hour program,
KFIO Swap Shop, invited listeners to send in post cards, listing items they would like to sell or trade.  It always was interesting to see the plethora of listeners' offerings, ranging from antique vehicles to dinnerware, and from bird cages to typewriters.   The names of some listeners became rather familiar to us; we speculated those people must be operating well-stocked second-hand stores, and were utilizing Swap Show for free advertising.
       
                            KFIO in the Mid- to Late 1940s

Offices and studios:  Third Floor, Fidelity Ziegler Building, northeast corner of Riverside and Howard
Antenna tower:  Atop the Sherwood Building; ground system consisted of heavy copper wires radiating out 360 degrees from the tower's base (like spokes in a wheel), including extending over and across Riverside.
Frequency:  1230 kHz
Power:  250 W fulltime
Operating hours:  6:00 a.m. to Midnight
Transmitter:  RCA Model 250K
Control board:  RCA Model 76B
Turntables:  RCA three-speed
Control board microphone:   Shure M55 (?)
Studio microphones:  RCA D44 (?) ribbon
Modulation monitor:  General Radio
Network affiliation:  Mutual-Don Lee
Transcription library:  RCA Thesaurus
Naval Observatory Time:  via Western Union
Licensee:  Spokane Radio, Inc.
Owner-president:  Arthur L. Smith
General manager:  Richard G. ("Dick") McBroom
Chief engineer:  Edward Antosyn
Amanuensis to Messrs. Smith and McBroom:  Ida Knight
Traffic and logs:   Chloe (her first name may be incorrect) Hart
Combination operators:  Harold Louis ("Frosty") Fowler, John Puckett, John ("Jack") Daniels and myself  (because I attended school, I worked weekends, evenings and vacation relief schedules)                                 [NOTE: There are two or  three others whose names I do not remember, but who "Frosty" most probably instantly will recall]
Part-time:  Rex King (The Vagabond Poet) and "Red" (baseball announcer)

                                   Physical Arrangement

          KFIO occupied the entire third floor of a three story building on Howard, immediately adjacent to the north side of the Fidelity-Ziegler Building, and entered from the Fidelity-Ziegler Building third floor, which was about two or three feet higher than that of the adjoining building.   Hence, a non-slip ramp led from the Fidelity-Ziegler Building down to the KFIO offices and studios.
       
     At the foot of the ramp was a small reception area on the right, and Ms. Hart's desk on the left.   Straight ahead, large windows showed the control board, turntables and, of course, the combo operator at work.  Beyond the control board was a window showing the "announce booth"or "production studio."   To the left of Ms. Hart's desk was the main (large) studio, which overlooked Howard.   A Baldwin
Acrosonic baby grand piano in the studio had been personally autographed by Jose Iturbi, a well-known 1930s-1940s concert pianist.  
         
   
    To the right of the control board, a door opened to the transmitter room and record library.
       
   
    A hallway leading to the right from the reception area passed the United Press radio wire Teletype room, restrooms, and entered into an office shared by Mr.
McBroom and Ms. Knight.   To the left of Ms. Knight's desk, a door led into Mr. Smith's office.  
         
    Looking out large windows in the
McBroom-Knight office, one had a clear view of the Sherwood Building, and the KFIO antenna tower.   As dusk approached, combo operators who worked the evening shift were required to carefully observe the tower, making  sure all the bright red aircraft warning lights were lit.   If not, Eddie Antosyn immediately was to be called, so that he could arrange for replacement lights.