On June 29, 1941, KIRO radio begins broadcasting from its new 50,000-watt transmitter on Maury Island, located within King County in Puget Sound, adjacent to Vashon Island. The $250,000 stationhouse and its towers are the largest radio operation with a directional antenna west of the Mississippi.
The Friendly Station
KIRO radio got its start in 1927 as KPCB, founded by Moritz Thomsen of the Pacific Coast Biscuit Company (hence the PCB in its call letters). The 100-watt station was heard by only a few, but those who listened in the 1930s heard a very young announcer by the name of Chet Huntley, who later went on to fame in the 1960s, paired with David Brinkley, on NBC TV’s Huntley-Brinkley Report.
In 1933, businessman Saul Haas (1896-1972) bought part of the station, and in 1935 gained control. He changed the call letters to KIRO and boosted the station’s power to 500 watts. Two years later, the Federal Communications Commission (which had recently formed under the Roosevelt administration) assigned the station a frequency of 710 kilocycles and allowed Haas to boost the power to 1,000 watts.
Haas had a bigger goal in mind. He wanted his radio station to be the most powerful in the Pacific Northwest. After successfully affiliating with CBS, and becoming known locally as “The Friendly Station,” plans were undertaken to expand KIRO’s broadcast range.
Haas set his sights on Maury Island, located in the middle of Puget Sound between Seattle and Tacoma. The station obtained approval from the FCC for an enormous 50,000-watt transmitter, and work began on a cutting-edge studio that would become the largest radio operation with a directional antenna west of the Mississippi.
A New Direction
The Maury Island broadcasting station became operational on June 29, 1941. Built at a cost of $250,000, the transmitter site was located one half-mile south of Portage, on 40 acres of ground. Two 526-foot tall towers, spaced 600 feet apart, formed the directional antenna system. Earlier systems used one tower, which broadcast equally in all directions, but the directional system allowed KIRO to broadcast to where it wanted, specifically, to where more people lived.
The building that housed the studio was designed in an Art Deco style. Since war was looming, Haas had a 120-foot tall pole built around back, for use as an emergency antenna. Windows were reinforced against bombing and aircraft fire.
At the June 29 dedication, mayors from Tacoma, Everett, and Aberdeen were in attendance, as well as executives from CBS. Seattle Mayor Earl Millikin was unable to attend, and sent Public Works chairman W. C. Morse in his stead.
First Day’s Broadcast
The opening of the station was broadcast coast-to-coast by CBS. It began at 10:15 a.m. with a short show by folksinger and future Acres of Clams restaurateur Ivar Haglund (1905-1985). Then a dedication preview went out, followed by a special “Dedication Edition” of KIRO news. The formal dedication went on air at 11:00 a.m., after which CBS saluted KIRO with live music by Lynn Murray and his orchestra.
At 1:00 p.m., Carroll Foster, recently voted Seattle’s most popular announcer, hosted Looie’s Time Klock Klub, followed by the stylish singing of Carola Cantrell, KIRO Dream Girl. Later broadcasts that day included: special salutes from cowboy Gene Autry and orchestra leader Andre Kostelanetz; radio shows Dear Mom, Answer Auction, and Crime Doctor; and the ever-popular CBS network show, I Was There.
KIRO’s signal served a new area of more than 388,000 square miles, compared to 80,000 square miles served under the previous transmitter. The new transmitter was built before any other local station had a chance to keep up. When war broke out at the end of the year, a moratorium was placed on radio construction for the duration of the conflict. KIRO was the most powerful radio station in the Northwest both during and after the war.