On Q - Special Articles

Selected articles from KQED's member publication, On Q.

KQED FM Building on Divisadero, 1969

The staff of KQED Radio, circa 1969.

40 Years of KQED Public Radio

In 1968, KQED Public Television had been on the air in the Bay Area for 14 years. Jim Day, the president of KQED at the time, was approached by the head of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, offering to sell its radio station, KXKX-FM. The station (88.5 FM on San Bruno Mountain) was authorized by the FCC to broadcast at 110,000 watts of effective radiated power-a tremendous broadcast reach.

As it turns out, the seminary, which had operated the station as a means of promoting its services and communicating with seminarians, was in hard financial times and could no longer afford to own and operate KXKX.

After some considerable debate, KQED decided to go ahead with the purchase, and the Ford Foundation agreed to help with half the purchase price of $62,000 (nearly $20,000 less than the original asking price). Why the low bid? At the time, FM radio was not considered an especially valuable medium.

So, on June 25, 1969, KQED signed KQED-FM on the air. The station's first home was a three-story Victorian, used as a church for some 25 years, on Divisadero Street, which some of the original staff said was haunted: tapes left in the editing room were erased with no logical explanation, and there were strange, unexplainable sounds late at night!

Fast forward to August 12, 1987. On the Monday following KQED-FM's two-and-a-half-month-long gavel-to-gavel coverage of the U.S. Senate's Iran-Contra hearings, KQED Public Radio changed format from a classical music station that also aired Morning Edition and All Things Considered to an all news and information station. As they say, the rest is history.

A historical broadcasting note: KQED-FM was the first station—commercial or noncommercial—to experiment with an all-news format on FM. Among broadcasters, it was thought that listeners would not tune in for news on the FM dial. In 1987, KQED's experiment was seen as very risky—especially because there were two giant news stations in the Bay Area already, KCBS and KGO.

At the time of the format change, KQED reached 260,000 listeners per week. Today (in 2009), KQED-FM reaches more than 850,000 listeners weekly, and KQEI reaches an additional 70,000 listeners each week in the Sacramento market. And for a number of years the station has had the distinction of being the most-listened-to public radio station in the nation.

What will we do to celebrate KQED Public Radio's 40th year? Along with KQED Public Television (which turns 55 this year) and KTEH Public Television (which turns 45), we're working on several ideas. Stay tuned. We look forward to celebrating with you.

More on KQED's History
Radio Control Panel
KQED Radio's Forum Special: 40 Years of KQED Public Radio

Listen to an audio archive of Forum discussing KQED-FM's history and future with general manager Jo Anne Wallace and Raul Ramirez, executive director of news and public affairs.

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