KGY Radio holds a celebratory open house at its new waterfront studio in Olympia on August 11, 1960.

  • By Dick Pust
  • Posted 8/25/2022
  • Essay 22528
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On August 11, 1960, KGY Radio shows off its new studio and broadcast tower to the public. Started in a shack on the St. Martin's College campus in 1922, KGY has become one of the most popular stations in South Puget Sound. More than 800 people come to take a look at the new facility, which is built on a waterfront pier and boasts views of Budd Inlet and the Olympic Mountains. KGY receives a 50-year property lease from the Port of Olympia, and over the next five decades its studio will become an Olympia landmark. 

A Festive Day

When KGY Radio's new home opened in 1960, it was advertised as "One of America’s Most Uniquely Situated Broadcasting Stations" (Stevenson). Staff moved in during the month of June, and a public open house was scheduled for August 11. An estimated 800 to 900 people went through the building that day, with many staying for a live concert in the parking lot. Two bands provided music. People swarmed up the stairs to view station owner Tom Olsen's executive office, the coffee room, the huge sales area, and to take in the views. 

While many other radio stations had windowless broadcast booths, KGY’s announcers (and staff) had a magnificent view of Budd Inlet and the Olympic Mountains. The deejays could talk about ships going by, seals popping their heads out of the water, and even an occasional whale passing by. Sometimes when the tide was high, someone in a rowboat would tap an oar on the deck just outside to get the announcer’s attention. Visitors would routinely ask, "How do you get any work done with this beautiful view?"

The building, located at the northern end of the Port of Olympia peninsula, was part of a redevelopment project. Port commissioners thought that a radio station built on their property could help create a more favorable image of their grimy industrial area and maybe attract other businesses, including a restaurant. KGY would own the building and be granted a 50-year lease on the property. The initial rent on this choice piece of real estate was $25 a month.

The building was designed by architect Robert Wohleb and Associates and was built by Phillips Construction. The two-story wooden structure rested on creosote-covered pilings and was surrounded by water during high tide. A long canopy-covered wood-plank walkway led to the front door and to a deck that originally went completely around the building.

Unique Problems

When the building was constructed, the American Disabilities Act had not yet been passed. As a result, no thought was given to handicapped access. There was no ramp to the walkway, and no elevator to the second floor. Narrow hallways and doorways would make access to the newsroom and control room difficult for someone in a wheelchair, and it would be virtually impossible to get into one of the two tiny restrooms.

Being situated over the water meant the building's underside was exposed to the weather. Water and sewer pipes had to be protected from the cold, but no matter how insulated the pipes were, they often froze when temperatures dipped below freezing. It could get cold inside the building, too. One of the worst winters was in 1983. On December 23 the temperature dropped to a record-breaking 7 degrees below zero. Pipes froze, leaving the station without running water or working toilets. The station’s electric baseboard heaters struggled to keep the building warm. The floor under the announcers’ feet was ice-cold.

The opposite problem occurred in the summer. With no air conditioning, the station could be unbearably hot during heat waves, especially in the big owner’s office on the west end of the second floor. On one occasion a staff member collapsed from heat exhaustion while in the office and had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital. Normally, the station could be cooled to tolerable levels by opening all the doors and windows and letting the breeze come in off the water.

KGY’s unique construction included considerable outside decking and walkways. Initially, there was a walkway on the first floor that went completely around the building. Tourists would often invite themselves to walk around the outside of the station to enjoy the view. The railing was just low enough and wide enough to invite people to sit on it. The space between slats was so far apart that a child could easily slip through and fall. That never happened, but according to one of the announcers, a woman who had reportedly been drinking heavily at the restaurant next door lost her balance while sitting on the railing and toppled over the side. Luckily for her, the tide was out, and she landed in soft mud. Except for her pride, she wasn’t injured. Covered with mud, she staggered up the embankment, got into her car, and drove off.

The station’s extensive railings were also an ideal place for seagulls to perch and make messes. Olsen had a strict rule about seagulls — don’t feed them. Many employees did anyway. One morning before the staff arrived, the morning announcer opened the sliding door to the deck and made a trail of breadcrumbs that led inside. As might be expected, a bird followed the trail and walked into the broadcast studio. Once inside, the seagull panicked and tried to leave, but couldn’t find the exit. The frightened bird flew around the control room while the announcer was doing his show, leaving droppings on the turntables and the tape recorders. The announcer continued his show as if nothing was going on. He knew he couldn’t say what was happening because he could get fired. Eventually, the bird found its way out, leaving the announcer to clean up the mess inside.

KGY’s AM broadcasting tower was located just outside the building, in the parking lot not far from the front steps. From an engineering standpoint, this was handy. There were no long drives to some distant hilltop, but it often caused something called an "RF problem." With the tower so close to the station, KGY’s programming often intruded into the phone system and recorders. On rare occasions, the station had to reduce power to get a clean piece of production made.

Streakers and Pranksters

Some may remember the streaker craze of the 1970s. That’s where people would strip off their clothes and run naked through a grocery store, on the field of a sporting event, or wherever. Pop singer Ray Stevens came out with a song called, "The Streaker," which became a hit. For some reason, the KGY tower attracted streakers. People would drive up in their cars, strip off their clothes, and dash around the base of the tower.

The building also attracted pranksters. Sometime during the night of June 4, 1973, while the station was off the air, members of the Olympia High School graduating class decided to make the KGY building the object of their senior prank. They stacked 228 tires onto the station’s wooden walkway, blocking the station’s only entrance. The morning announcer managed to get into the station by clinging to the outer edges of the walkway railing and edging himself over water and rocks to the front door. He was able to get the station on the air in time, and he never mentioned the tires while on the air.

Into the Future

As its 50-year lease was scheduled to expire in 2010, the Port of Olympia notified KGY that it would like the station to leave. Port planners wanted to put a boutique hotel at the site. But KGY, possibly helped by the Great Recession, managed to negotiate a lease extension for the building, though its tower had to be moved to another location on port property. After more than 60 years, the studio remains [in 2022] at the north end of the port peninsula. It has become an Olympia landmark. 


Dick Pust, "AM 1240 Life at a Small Town Radio Station," copy in possession of author; Shanna Stevenson, Booklet "60 Years of Radio," copy in possession of author; Jim Szymanski, "Uncertainty Hangs Over KGY Radio Headquarters," The Olympian, January 8, 2006, p. E-2; Port of Olympia; Journals of Dick Pust; Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) Historic Property Report of October 6, 2017; "KGY Radio Station," Historic Property Inventory Report, 2016, website accessed August 23, 2022 (

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