One of the earliest Western Washington radio stations starts broadcasting in Seattle in 1920.

  • By Greg Lange
  • Posted 1/01/1999
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 1978

Sometime in 1920, Vincent I. Kraft starts broadcasting from his family's garage in the Ravenna neighborhood of Seattle at 6838 19th Street NE. Seattle residents, just beginning to buy crystal radio sets, tune in Kraft's station. This is one of the earliest if not the first radio station to operate in Western Washington.

Garage, Piano, Microphone

Kraft started with minimum accouterments. On the garage walls he draped tapestries to muffle outside noise. Station equipment included a piano, a phonograph, a five-watt, one vacuum-tube transmitter, and a microphone. Kraft broadcast to the surrounding neighborhood. It was claimed that he was one of the first broadcasters in the area to use vacuum tubes.

Kraft kept no regular schedule, but in the evenings and on weekends he played records with occasional interludes of live music by neighborhood kids and other people he knew. Initially his call letters were 7XC, but when the federal government required broadcasters to have a commercial license to broadcast music and news, Kraft applied.

On March 9, 1922, the Ravenna garage radio station was awarded the call letters KJR. These were the third call letters to be issued to a radio station in Western Washington. (The FCC lists the first as KFC, issued to a Seattle station on December 8, 1921, and deleted on January 23, 1923; and the second as KHQ, issued to a Seattle Station on February 28, 1922).

Making Waves

Radio technology, utilizing specific frequencies of the electromagnetic waves that infuse the universe, came into its own in the 1920s. Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879) predicted the existence of radio waves in 1867, but 20 years passed before German scientist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (1857-1894) detected them and coined the word "radio." The first long-distance "wireless telegraphy" signal was transmitted by an Italian aristocrat, Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), in 1896.

In 1906, the Canadian Reginald Aubrey Fessenden (1866-1932) developed amplitude modulation -- using a microphone he was able to amplify modulated sounds (such as a voice), which could then be picked up by a receiver. This made it possible to transmit sound by radio.

Crystal radio receivers were developed after World War I, and by 1921, eight stations across the United States were transmitting regular radio programs. Radio technology transformed communications, which before were tangled in the wire problem -- telephone or telegraph lines could break or blow down and could not serve moving ships and vehicles. And soon radio revolutionized entertainment, news, and politics.

Enter NPR, Rock & Roll, Talk Radio, Nashville, the game...


Sources:

David Richardson, Puget Sounds: A Nostalgic Review of Radio and TV in the Great Northwest (Seattle: Superior Publishers, 1981), 24; Oxford Illustrated Encyclopedia of Invention and Technology ed. by Sir Monty Finniston (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); Department of Commerce, Radio Service Bulletin No. 57, January 2, 1922 (http://www.fcc.gov/fcc-bin/assemble?docno=2201).
Note: This essay was corrected on May 26, 2002, and revised on October 20, 2002.


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