Ham Stories‎ > ‎

Radio Waves

San Francisco Chronicle

Ben Fong-Torres
Sunday, April 9, 2006

A RADIO MUSEUM GROWS IN BERKELEY: Steve Kushman works in television, as a video editor at KGO, but his heart is in radio. His home in Noe Valley houses some 1,500 old radio sets, nearly 100 vintage microphones and who knows what else.

But that's not enough. And so, as president of the California Historical Radio Society, Kushman, 53, is overseeing the creation of a radio museum, at the site of the old KRE studios in Berkeley. There, he gets to look at two floors of rooms -- 4,600 square feet in all -- filled with radios, from tabletop "cathedral" models to those consoles that used to grace living rooms all over the country; with equipment and parts ranging from tubes to horn speakers to old "rip 'n' read" teletype machines. There are control boards and Ampex tape recorders from the '50s. One room is jammed with old radio magazines, which belonged to Jim Maxwell, a pioneer amateur radio operator whose ham radio gear -- and station (W6CF) -- are being kept alive in the KRE building.

It's all stuff from long ago, before radio leapt into the digital age, but Kushman and his 360 fellow CHRS members hope that by creating the Bay Area's first radio museum, they can pass radio history -- and the inner, technical workings of the medium -- on to future generations.

The society started in 1974 mainly as a way for radio collectors to get together for swap meets, where they could buy, sell and trade radio sets and collectible microphones. They could also exchange tips on getting antique radios repaired.

Kushman grew up loving radio and wanting to work in the business, but after college, his first broadcasting job offer came from a TV station, the old KEMO (Channel 20), and in 1976, he joined KGO. He began collecting radios and, from John Wentzel at the Aladdin Radio repair shop, learned about the CHRS.

Local radio people have been trying to create a museum for decades. The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is exploring sites for a broadcast museum. Broadcast Legends, a social group, keeps radio's golden age alive through programs and newsletters. David Jackson, creator of www.bayarearadio.org, hopes to work with the other radio groups to form a local radio hall of fame. Jackson said that, after a recent column in this space about his site, visits increased from an average of 1,000 a day to more than 5,500. The Bay Area loves radio.

As Kushman put it, "This area is so rich with broadcasting history and legendary broadcasters. At every turn, somebody is stepping forward."

That's how the CHRS found its home. In 2002, a friend of Kushman's introduced him to a fellow radio freak in Noe Valley, Jaime Arbona, whose company had dealings with Inner City Broadcasting Corp. ICBC owns KBLX ("The Quiet Storm" at 102.9 FM), which used to be KRE-FM. The company also operates KVTO (1400 AM), which used to be KRE-AM, a station dating back to 1922. As KBLX grew, ICB found the studios, built on the Berkeley wetlands in 1937, no longer suitable for its operations, and moved the station to San Francisco in 1993. The studios had received a moment of fame in 1973, when George Lucas, directing "American Graffiti," used them for several scenes with Wolfman Jack, but had been abandoned, except for a studio for KVTO, an Asian language station, along with transmitters and antenna towers serving KVTO and KEAR-AM.

When Arbona told Kushman that the KRE studios had largely been vacant for nine years, Kushman contacted Harvey Stone, president and GM of Inner City's three local stations (ICBC also owns KVVN, an Asian language station in San Jose). Stone invited Kushman to write up a proposal. CHRS promised to restore the building and its original studios, make all necessary repairs, keep up the property and operate an educational radio museum, including a classroom, a repair shop and a library, all for CHRS members and outside visitors and groups by invitation. Classes would be offered in radio history, troubleshooting and repairs, and amateur radio operations.

Over lunch, Kushman said, Stone virtually handed over the keys. "He said, 'You have the building for 10 years, rent free. Just don't impinge on KVTO's signal. Otherwise, you can do anything you want.' "

"The office was just going to waste," Stone told me. "It'd be a problem selling it with a 400-foot tower on the property. I'm an old radio guy, and I love what the group is doing, and what they wanted to do there."

Once the news spread that CHRS had a home, members and others began donating radio sets, equipment and libraries. Volunteers have gone to the site on a regular basis to clean, paint, make repairs and organize the various rooms.

As Kushman leads a tour, showing where a classroom will be and telling about how visitors can get audio memories in any form ("from 78 rpm records to cassettes" converted into CDs), it's clear that CHRS has done an impressive job -- but also that there's a lot of hard work ahead. To create a large gallery, which could serve as the home of a Bay Area radio hall of fame, walls need to be moved. To re-create a radio studio circa the '40s but with updated equipment so that, say, the Broadcast Legends could do a live show over KVTO on Saturday nights, control rooms will need rewiring. The CHRS charges its members modest annual dues of $25. Where will the money come from?

"We get money from within," says Kushman, who notes that 20 members have ponied up $1,000 or more each for the group's museum fund. But won't the labor required to renovate and rebuild the facilities require a lot more? Kushman almost laughs.

"Nah!" he says. "All the equipment's donated, and most of the work consists of taking stuff away. We have electricians and technicians, all volunteers."

CHRS (www.californiahistoricalradio.com) does need more funds to complete the renovations, get the museum operating and acquire additional storage space, but he's optimistic that local radio lovers -- and companies -- will come through. The Bay Area, after all, appreciates radio history.

As Kushman puts it: "Without history, there wouldn't be now, for God's sake!"

RADIOACTIVITY: Roy Campanella II, who lost his job as KPFA's general manager after battling charges by station employees of sexual harassment, writes: "The claims of sexual harassment were investigated and found to be baseless. I have a letter from Pacifica that confirms this point ... KPFA's Local Station Board also investigated these claims and overwhelmingly rejected them." Campanella adds: "I have a lengthy professional career in media and an even longer period as a progressive dedicated to struggling against all forms of injustice, including sexism" ... Harry O, a Sunday morning public affairs voice on Live 105 (KITS) since 1990, signs off after today's segment of the environmental show "The Green Hour." Harry was a weekend DJ on Live 105 when it started in 1986. "My future plans," he says, "are nebulous" ... If Al Hart's appearances on KCBS with John Madden (weekdays at 8:20 a.m.) aren't enough for you, check him out April 28 at the Hillsborough Antique Show and Sale. Hart, a longtime crooner, will regale shoppers from 1 to 4 p.m. with a few standards. For more information on the four-day event, which benefits the United Voluntary Services, call (208) 939-7460 or go to www.hillsboroughantiqueshow.com.

RANDOM NOTES: Cammy Blackstone of KFRC (99.7 FM) and Ken Bastida of CBS5 emceed the alumni luncheon celebrating the 60th anniversary of San Francisco State University's radio-TV-film department, now known as Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts. At President Robert Corrigan's table, Blackstone told me that KFRC raised more than $400,000 from its annual Radiothon for the Oakland Children's Hospital and Research Center. Blackstone and her morning show partner, Dean Goss, led the three-day fundraiser, which kicked off with the dedication of the hospital's new Dr. Don Rose Garden. Joining KFRC in honoring the late Dr. Don were numerous friends from other stations, among them Don Bleu, Sylvia Chacon, Lamont and Tonelli, Paul Wells and Stan Bunger. Blackstone, Bastida, Bunger and I are S.F. State alumni, as is Peter Casey (co-creator of "Frasier"), who hosted the alumni luncheon. (Other former Gators who wound up in radio include George Fenneman, Dave McElhatton, Carter B. Smith, Stan Burford, Nicole Sawaya of KALW, Steve Somers of WFAN-New York, Peter Finch, Larry Chiaroni, Sterling James, Bob Butler, Joy Bagnol and Jeff Kingery, who calls play-by-play for the Colorado Rockies.) And it was great to see my old profs, including Drs. Stuart Hyde, Herb Zettl and Art Hough ... Meantime, KGO further proved the value of local radio with its 26th "Cure-a-Thon" for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, which raised more than $1.3 million in a 24-hour commercial-free broadcast. KGO's marathons have generated $14.5 million for cancer research.

HEY, YOU: KYOU Radio (legally KYCY at 1550 AM), with its mix of podcasts and financial advice shows, may not have many listeners (the Oakland A's broadcasts will help), but it's got its believers -- especially radio pros and musicians getting a chance at a regular show. One of them is Jon Hammond, on most weekdays at 3 p.m. "The old-time spirit lives on AM again," says Hammond, an organist, accordionist, composer and radio vet dating back to the late '50s on KPFA. "Recently I played in Shanghai and I could listen to my show in my hotel room at the Ritz Shanghai, streaming crystal-clear on my Powerbook." In other words, you can get better reception in China than in Chinatown.