On Friday evening, May 29, 1925, a special radio program is broadcast long-distance over the radio airwaves by Seattle station KFOA to celebrate the grand opening of Everett's new Monte Cristo Hotel. The night's festivities include spirited speeches and live musical performances -- all considerably enhanced by the awareness (especially on the part of those listeners in surrounding towns who have access to radio receivers) that trail-blazing technological history is being made right before their very ears.
The Dawn of Radio
The fledgling realm of radio broadcasting was initially a non-commercial endeavor enjoyed mainly by amateur radio buffs who often built their sets from scratch or from kits. Later, in the early 1920s, a few pioneering radio stations in the Puget Sound region were founded as adjuncts to various businesses, churches, or schools -- often airing amateur musical performances, sermons, poetry readings, or after-the-fact spoken-word descriptions of sports events. Their "studios" were similarly modest affairs.
On September 5, 1921, the five-watt experimental station KFC, based in a shack on the roof of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer building at 6th Avenue and Pine Street, made its formal broadcast debut with manager/engineer (and ex-World War I radio man) Carl Haymond introducing a singing performance by Seattle baritone soloist Bob Nichols. Six months later, in March 1922, Vincent I. Kraft (1893-1971) founded what would go on to become Seattle's greatest station, KJR, in the garage of his parents' Ravenna-neighborhood home (6838 19th Avenue NE). That same month Louis Wasmer debuted station KHQ from the back room of his Excelsior Motorcycle and Bicycle Company shop at 301 E Pine Street.
A year later, on May 15, 1923, the Rhodes Department Store located in the Arcade Building at 2nd Avenue and Union Street was granted the call letters KDZE by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The station was situated on the store's second floor, where shoppers could watch the action. KDZE soon began producing income-generating advertising spots for various other businesses and the commercial business model began emerging locally.
KFOA on the Air
By 1924 Rhodes -- a store whose showrooms boasted a fine selection of radios that included assembled units as well as kits -- had moved next door to the recently expanded northern half of the Arcade Building. There the station was set up on the fourth floor, with broadcast towers constructed on the roof. It was recast as KFOA on March 10, 1924.
KFOA quickly became renowned for presenting the "first afternoon live music in Seattle," performed by an orchestra led by the station's music director" (Rundell, 440). The engineer was Paul Gail and the operator/announcer was Carl Haymond (formerly of station KFC). As was typical at the time, broadcast content was created in the studio, where Haymond (and/or any guests) could speak (or sing or perform on a musical instrument) into a rudimentary carbon-button microphone. But soon, as microphone technology steadily advanced, along came the possibility that one might be able to pick up audio content generated outside of the studio: a "remote broadcast."
That same year, 1924, was also when Haymond learned that the Knights Templar organization would be holding its national convention in Seattle -- and that it planned a parade of 2,000-fez-topped conventioneers, which would, by chance, be traveling right past Rhodes. "The parade was to be led by a celebrated group of aviators and their flying machines. Haymond figured he just had to get that on the air, but how? Finally he gathered up all the spare wire he could find, pieced it together into one long extension cord, and climbed onto the arcade roof with his microphone" (Richardson, 151).
Haymond later recalled: "[W]e had never done a remote broadcast of any kind or character, so I did not know how I was going to be able to cover that parade. We finally worked out a plan of long leads to a microphone from the transmitter and went out on the top of the Second Avenue marquee of the Arcade Building where the Rhodes Department Store was located. I arranged with the grand master of the Knights Templar parade so that every time a band reached Union and Second Avenue it would start playing. That way when they got in front of our store, where our microphone was, the band would be playing. I did a [verbal on-air] description of this parade, and I got untold letters and phone calls from [listeners] who seemed to enjoy the parade very much" (Rundell, 294-295).
Then, in 1925, KFOA was granted permission to increase in power from a 500-watt station to a 1,000-watt station, which dramatically increased its broadcast range. That same year The Seattle Times embraced the power of radio by sponsoring a series of entertainments over KFOA. On the evening of May 27, the newspaper produced two shows, "each with a special appeal to listeners." The first was organized by the Seattle Women's Club: a Pioneer Day program that featured "old-time songs and an address on the pioneer days of Seattle by [UW] Prof. Edmond Meany" [1862-1935] ("Everett Program ... "). That show was followed by performances of Scandinavian dance music by the Scandinavian Pleasure Club orchestra, featuring the accordion virtuoso Paul Carlson.
Two nights after the special Pioneer Day broadcasts came the events to mark the grand opening of the Monte Cristo Hotel at 1507 Wall Street in Everett. The original Monte Cristo Hotel was a wooden three-story building constructed in 1892 by the Everett Land Company. It was associated with the development of gold and silver mining operations in Snohomish County's Cascade Mountains town of Monte Cristo and plans to haul ore by railroad to a smelter in the Puget Sound port of Everett.
Now the new six-story brick Monte Cristo Hotel had all of Everett excited, and planners decided to pull out all the stops at its grand opening. Congratulatory speeches were to be followed by various entertainments, musical performances, and dancing -- all of which would be aired in a historic remote broadcast by a big Seattle radio station, KFOA. The event was co-sponsored by The Seattle Times, which asserted that the broadcast, from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., would "permit thousands of radio enthusiasts to listen in to the musical features attending the opening of the Monte Cristo Hotel" ("Everett's New Hotel ... ").
The Times hyped the event as "the first long distance remote control broadcast ever attempted in the Northwest," and insisted that everything was in good hands: "The extensive experience of KFOA engineers ... assures perfect transmission of the event" ("Everett Program ... "). But it is evident that there was still some lingering anxiety about the technology supporting the upcoming broadcast. On the day of the show one Times headline emphasized that "Success [is] Insured [sic]" while the accompanying article reported, "A test was made yesterday during The Times' 'Afternoon at Home' program when the station was connected with the long distance telephone line to Everett for two minutes, during which time the voice of the announcer, speaking in the hotel ballroom in Everett, thirty-two miles away, was clearly heard by listeners between numbers by William Hofmann's Olympic Hotel Orchestra. The test assures radio fans of a perfect broadcast tonight" ("Everett's New Hotel ... ").
The paper went on to give readers complete technical details: "A microphone in the ballroom will pick up the music, which will be amplified by a special portable amplifier installed by KFOA experts and brought over a special leased telephone wire to the operating room of the station on the roof of the Rhodes Department Store, where it will be amplified again before being broadcast" ("Everett Program ... ") "over the electro-magnetic waves of radio" ("Times Will Broadcast ... ").
On with the Show
The big night of Friday, May 29, 1925, finally arrived and the itinerary for the guests was thus: "After the formal opening exercises, the Everett Chamber of Commerce has arranged for dancing and entertainment features in the ballroom of the new hostlery [sic]" ("Times Will Broadcast ... "). Entertainment was to be provided by Alfred G. Keighley's song and dance revue, featuring vocalist Mary Wilson. In addition, "Girls will furnish entertainment between dance numbers" by Emil Kine's nine-man band, the Western Serenaders Dance Orchestra ("Times Will Broadcast ... "). Along with that planned entertainment came a sudden surprise: "During the course of the evening the hotel was invaded by the drum and bugle corps of Earl Faulkner Post No. 6 American Legion. Bugle calls, humorous army songs and the general air of hilarity as the boys marched around the hotel in uniform were clearly audible to the fans" ("KFOA Memorial Day ... ").
Indeed, the fidelity of the audio signal being broadcast was notably good, with next-day newspaper coverage concluding that the show "demonstrated last night the practicability of a remote broadcast from a distant city" and noting that the live music and other antics could be "heard by listeners as clear and strong as if the event were being staged in Seattle" ("KFOA Memorial Day ... ").
From there, the radio industry quickly matured, becoming a mostly commercial enterprise over subsequent years, one that big-moneyed investors were easily attracted to. In 1928 KFOA was sold to Seattle's Archie Taft Sr. (d. 2011), who soon moved it to the basement of the Northern Life Tower (1220 3rd Avenue) and then, in 1929, changed the call letters to KOL. In time Archie Taft Jr. took over management and brought aboard the now long-gone KHQ's Louis Wasmer. KOL eventually became one of the region's most powerful stations for several decades. Meanwhile, the Monte Cristo Hotel, after sitting vacant from around the 1970s into the 1990s, survives in 2013 as the Monte Cristo Apartments, a still-handsome building whose history has been honored with its placement on the National Register of Historic Places.