by Paul R. Spitzzeri
With the emergence of commercial radio on 2 November 1920 when KDKA in Pittsburgh became the first station to broadcast programming—it was election day so listeners heard about the electoral victory of Warren G. Harding before others read it in the papers the next day—a staggering revolution in communications and entertainment was underway.
In Los Angeles, commercial radio broadcasting began in spring 1922 and three stations hit the airwaves at that time, including KFI, owned and operated by Earle C. Anthony, Inc., which was a major presence in the burgeoning automobile industry in car-centric greater Los Angeles.
Anthony, born in Illinois in 1880 and a resident of Los Angeles from a young age, built an electric car of his own design at just age seventeen as the 19th century was coming to a close and when the first automobile appeared in Los Angeles (E.L. Erie’s vehicle was given its first trip in Boyle Heights and William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman and a former mayor and future treasurer of the City of Los Angeles, was an honored passenger—the Homestead has a photo of Erie and his car that will someday appear in this blog). A 1920s version of this car with some of the original components is at the Petersen Automotive Museum.
He studied engineering at the University of California, Berkeley and then returned to the City of Angels to become one of its first automobile dealers, working initially with his father, selling many different makes at a time when there was a large number of manufacturers in the country. He was an organizer of the Los Angeles Motorcar Dealer’s Association and, two years later, in 1907, he was the lead figure in developing the Los Angeles Auto Show, a long-standing event that draws many thousands during its end of the year run at the Convention Center.
The enterprising entrepreneur opened a showroom in 1911 in downtown Los Angeles at Hope and Tenth (renamed Olympic Boulevard in advance of the 1932 summer games) streets and today the structure is the Packard Lofts. Four years later, Anthony became the sole “California Packard Distributor” (he’d began selling them a decade earlier) and continuing as such for two decades—he sold Packards until the cars were discontinued in the late 1950s. It has been stated that he had a showroom at Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue on the “Miracle Mile,” but this was for a second Packard dealership which opened there in the mid-1930s and was not operated by Anthony. His San Francisco dealership was a Greek Revival “Palace of Packards” of note and it was said he sold one of every seven Packards manufactured.
He was also an early service station pioneer, joining forces with other auto dealers in establishing the National Supply Company. The firm used a chevron as its logo and that was transferred to the new owner of the filling station chains: Standard Oil of California, now Chevron. After the end of the Packard, Anthony sold other brands of cars, but did not long survive the demise of his long-time product as he died in August 1961 at the age of 80.
The auto dealer had two impressive homes that have survived. The first was a rare example of a Greene and Greene Craftsman that is not in Pasadena—it was built for Anthony in 1910 at Wilshire and Berendo and then moved by a film actor, Norman Kerry, in 1923 to Beverly Hills where it remains today. A ten-story apartment building, still standing, is on the Wilshire Boulevard site.
The second residence in the tony Los Feliz area, south of Los Feliz Boulevard and west of the Los Angeles River, is an eclectic mansion by famed San Francisco architect Bernard Maybeck and it has Gothic, Tudor and Spanish Colonial styles intermingled in it. Located on a large property, the estate is now owned by the Los Angeles Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church and houses a convent of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mercy and the Cardinal Timothy Manning House of Prayer for Priests.
Anthony also quickly recognized the potential of radio for all kinds of purposes, not the lease of which was advertising. On 16 April 1922, KFI was launched with a 30-watt transmitter mounted on a breadboard at his Hope Street dealership. It was an early “clear channel” station, meaning it was protected from interference from other stations. Among his positions of leadership in this arena was service as president of the National Association of Radio Broadcasters.
By the time the highlighted artifacts from the Homestead’s collection featured in this post were issued in late 1926 and late 1927, the station was operating on a much grander scale. The pamphlet, which features an image of the downtown Anthony Packard showroom with a pair of massive radio towers joined by wires, was sent to listeners. As expressed in the inner panels: “thank you very much for your report to us on hearing KFI; it is a pleasure to know you are enjoying our programs.”
It added that the station “occupies a floor space of approximately 10,500 square feet on the roof of the Packard Motor Car Building.” Moreover, it was noted that there were 2 employees at the “Super-Station” working in a space “finished in the Spanish period” and boasting two studios, a reception area, offices, the transmitter and rooms for the generator and control of the broadcasts. As for the equipment, it consisted of “a 5 Kilowatt set of the very latest Western Electric design, sending on 467 Meters.”
Also noted was a list of “exclusive contracts” which KFI had with the Southern California Music Company’s Chickering Hall; the Olympic and Philharmonic auditoriums; the Temple Baptist Church; the Third Church of Christ, Scientist; and the Aeolian Studio. Additionally, the station had its own private phone lines to the Coliseum and Chamber of Commerce so that “we are enabled to broadcast important features and events that would not otherwise be available to the Radio public.” Images of the control panel and transmitter; the broadcast studio, which looked like a well-appointed living room in a Spanish Colonial Revival home; and the generators and master switches, were also featured.
On the back panel was the broadcast schedule, showing daily programming. Monday, Wednesday and Friday there was a twenty-minute “Betty Crocker Gold Medal Flour Service” that appears to have been for the homemakers looking for new recipes. Otherwise, weekday programming was from 5:30 to 11 p.m., with daily regular features being the Los Angeles Examiner newspaper’s matinee program; the “KFI Nightly Doings; a “Radio Monologue Resort Service;” and “KFI Vest Pocket Period;” and a “KFI Radiotorial Period.”
From 7 to 11 p.m. were varied programs during the week including such examples as the “Packard Ballad Hour;” an “Aeolian Organ Recital” on Friday; a daily Los Angeles Examiner newspaper segment; and programs from the KFI main studio. Wednesday night was an hour devoted to singer Betty Patrick and the Patrick Marsh Orchestra, while Thursday had the Chickering Hall program.
Saturday featured extended hours from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. for the “KFI Midnite Frolic” and there was also a “Packard Radio Club” preceding that late night offering. On Sunday morning at 10, there was a “Studio Church Service” that may have been non-denominational (Anthony was an observant Episcopalian), followed by the services of the Third Church of Christ, Scientist the first Sunday of the month and that of Temple Baptist Church on the third Sunday. After a vesper service for an hour at 4 p.m., regular programming took place from 6:30 to 11 p.m., including an organ recital, classic hour, the Packard Six Dance Orchestra and “Father Ricard’s Sun Spot Weather Forecast.”
One of the pair of pamphlets has a nearly inscribed listener’s statement “Picked Up Sunday Morning Jan 10th 1926 at 2:08 to 2:45 AM on Loud Speaker” and the document was folded into third and sent to the station. KFI responded by placing a stamp which has a landscape scene of neat rows of orange trees framed by a pair of radio towers and snow-covered mountains in the distance and which has text reading “Reception Verified / Earle C. Anthony, Inc. / Los Angeles.”
The other pamphlet, also folded in thirds, has an ink-stamped statement that reads “THIS WILL VERIFY AS CORRECT YOUR REPORTED RECEPTION OF KFI” and came to the museum with the original mailing envelope addressed to Roy H. Davis / Landing N.J.” and postmarked from Los Angeles on 15 January 1927. The pamphlet is the same as the one from a year earlier with the same broadcast schedule (incidentally, the first twenty-four hour broadcasts in Los Angeles started in spring 1928).
These pamphlets are great artifacts from the Homestead’s collection from the early days of commercial broadcast radio as well as tangentially connected to one of the pioneers of automobile sales and other business endeavors. Finally, though the selection of these artifacts was already determined before the news, the title of this post is a recognition of the passing of Neal Peart, the towering drummer and lyricist of Rush, the Canadian power trio whose anthemic “Spirit of Radio” was avidly listened to by many of us (on the radio or otherwise) back in 1980.