Seattle’s pioneering radio station, KJR, went from 500 to 1,000 watts of power on January 21, 1925.
On the Wednesday evening of January 21, 1925, a freshly modernized KJR radio station made its broadcast debut from its new headquarters in the prestigious Terminal Sales Building in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood. With the new headquarters, the station takes a huge technological leap forward as an impressive 1,000 watt transmitter doubles its previous power. With this new power, KJR broadcasts can reach Alaska, and this first night features a program aimed at Alaskan listeners.
Enthusiasm for the radio
KJR’s roots go back to a small 5 watt transmitter that Vincent I. Kraft (1893-1971) installed in his home in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. It had started with a simple Morse code telegraph unit in 1917, with an “experimental” license with the call letters 7AC. Then in 1920 he switched to another, 7XC, which was equipped with a telephone/microphone and a phonograph.
In 1921, the Department of Commerce (DOC) announced some changes to the rules regarding radio activity. The new rules prohibited experimental stations from broadcasting music and established a new formal category for “broadcasting service” stations. Kraft quickly applied for a license. It was endorsed with randomly assigned KJR call letters. Before going live, each new station had to have its facilities and equipment inspected by the DOC’s radio supervisor. This inspection took place on August 16, 1921 and KJR received its official license on March 9, 1922.
It was not alone. The Roaring Twenties radio craze took off that same year, with half a dozen new stations popping up in the Pacific Northwest. It was a growing industry. Kraft and his business partner, OA Dodson, who in 1920 had opened a downtown equipment supply and service business at 609 4th Avenue, in 1924 moved their Northwest Radio Service Company to the sixth floor of the Terminal Sales Building at 1932 1st Avenue in the Belltown neighborhood.
It was big news in January 1925 when KJR expanded its operations into a new office and studio in the Terminal Sales Building. Kraft and Dodson’s Northwest Radio Service Company built an impressive 1,000 watt transmitter for KJR, and this breakthrough promised that the station’s broadcasts would reach a much wider audience. Its frequency on the radio dial was 405 meters.
the Seattle Post Intelligence – who had pledged to sponsor KJR’s afternoon music shows – introduced the news by splashing a grandiose full-page cover on the front page of its “Radio News” section under a banner headline trumpeting “New Station Marks Epoch in Seattle Radio”. Articles—including one written by Kraft himself—advised readers that “1,000-Watt KJR Station Marks Ushering in New Era” and “Broadcasting Shows Growth in 2 Years”. Kraft wrote:
“During the early years our station KJR was our radio laboratory and improvements were constantly made to the station, the power grew and the programs improved until finally tonight the high point of our history was achieved, when our new 1,000 watt station, capable of broadcasting the best programs throughout the Americas, is a reality” (Kraft, R-2).
“Full Power Tonight”
An article in Seattle weatherwith the caption “KJR Station to Use Full Power Tonight”, further stoked the growing anticipation of the public by boasting “KJR will for the first time use the full power of the station, 1,000 watts, and will operate over a length of ‘wave of 405 meters’ (“Alaska will be featured”).
The content of KJR’s programming on this momentous day included some fairly typical fare of the era, including dance lessons from Hamilton Douglas, which also featured two younger sisters, Maxine and Baby Billie Loewenthal, nicknamed “little radio hosts (“Seattle Greets .. . ); a presentation by Aunt Bunny, the Story Lady; and a public speaking course by Professor George J. Mayer. A “formal dedication program” followed. Alaska Night”, under the auspices of the Young Men’s Business Club”, then music by Ray Robinson’s Willard Cafe Orchestra (“KJR — Today’s Program”).
The centerpiece of the evening was the presentation hosted by the Young Men’s Business Club of Seattle, which had a clear interest in the Alaska Territory, having sponsored an Alaska Fair the previous fall. The broadcast of the show was intended as a special outreach to northern listeners – made possible by those mighty 1,000 watts that KJR had just tapped into. It all started with William J. “Wee” Coyle, club president and former lieutenant governor of Washington, giving a speech titled “Hello Alaska.”
Then came piano solos by Edith Bayless and a piano duet by Mrs. CL Gere and Mrs. TE Nicholson, followed by vocal solos by Harold Mitchell. Next, Jack J. Sullivan read some of Robert W. Service’s well-known poems about Alaska and vocal selections from Marguerite Bone – who happened to be the daughter of Alaska Governor Scott C. Bone and also said a few words to his father. and his group of friends gathered at home. Other music followed with soprano solos by Mrs. Carl English, vocal solos by Gretchen Young and a violin obbligato by Mrs. Victor Zednick accompanied by Mrs. Jacobson.
Post-Intelligent editor EC Griffith “took the microphone for a few moments to tell a few of his choice Swedish stories” (“Seattleites Greet…”), and Charles A. Garfield, former Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce of the Alaska, spoke on the goal of cooperation between Alaska and Washington. The event ended with some vocal selections from the Young Men’s Business Club Quartet.
Confirmation that KJR’s signal had reached all the way to Alaska came before the end of the evening. “Through the miraculously long arm of the radio, Seattle reached out to say hello to Alaska last night” and “[w]As the program participants still stood by the microphone, the first telegrams arrived” (“Seattleites salute…”). The first arrived from Wrangell, Petersburg and Juneau, with messages that included “Your program is going well. Best wishes to our friends in Seattle” and “KJR program heard tonight by all Alaskans who own a reception station. Besides the novelty of the event, the Alaska program was highly praised for its merit” (“Seattleites Greet…”).
“Super Radio Station“
Over the next few days, the whole town was probably abuzz about KJR’s powerful new broadcast signal, as well as the interesting presentations and great music the station had been playing. The great event was described in the Seattle Post Intelligence thus: “From Seattle’s new super radio station, KJR, messages of greeting and brotherhood were sent to the extremes of the Arctic; old-time call songs; [and] readings of the famous Service Alaska poems” (“Seattleites Greet…”).
Vincent Kraft had also noted his commitment to KJR listeners: “It will be our intention to … at all times strive[…] maintain a KJR station at such a high level of performance that every citizen of Seattle can be proud of its operation” (Kraft, p. R-2).
Vincent I. Kraft, “The 1,000 Watt KJR Station Ushers in a New Era,” Seattle Post Intelligence, January 21, 1925, p. R-1, R-2; J. Newton Colver, “Broadcasting Shows Growth in 2 Years,” Ibid., January 21, 1925, p. R-1, R-2; “Seattle people welcome Alaska over the radio on station KJR,” Ibid., January 22, 1925 p. 1.5; “Seattle welcomes Alaska with a special radio show” Same, January 22, 1925 p. 5; “Alaska will be star”, The Seattle Times, January 21, 1925, p. ten; “KJR – Today’s Program,” Ibid., January 21, 1925, p. ten; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “KJR Radio (Seattle)” (by Peter Blecha), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed April 13, 2022).
Licence: This essay is distributed under a Creative Commons license which encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit must be given to both HistoryLink.org and the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more information. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies only to text and not to images. For more information on individual photos or images, please contact the source listed in the image credit.
Major support for HistoryLink.org provided by:
Washington State | Patsy Bullit Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum of History and Industry | 4Culture (King County Accommodation Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Fishing Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, other public and private sponsors and visitors like you