On the Wednesday evening of January 21, 1925, a freshly upgraded KJR radio station makes its broadcasting debut from 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 that new power KJR's broadcasts can reach Alaska, and that first evening features a program aimed at Alaskan listeners.
KJR's roots traced back to a little 5-watt transmitter that Vincent I. Kraft (1893-1971) set up at his home in Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood. He'd started off with a simple Morse Code telegraphy unit in 1917, with an "experimental" license with the call letters 7AC. Then in 1920 he progressed to another, 7XC, that was outfitted with a telephone/microphone and phonograph.
In 1921 the Department of Commerce (DOC) announced some changes to the rules regarding radio activity. The new rules prohibited experimental stations from airing music and established a formal new category for "broadcast service" stations. Kraft quickly applied for a license. It was approved with the randomly assigned call letters KJR. Prior to going live, every new station was required to have an inspection of its facilities and gear by DOC's Supervisor of Radio. That inspection occurred on August 16, 1921, and KJR received its formal license on March 9, 1922.
It wasn't alone. The Roaring Twenties radio craze took off that very year, some half-dozen new stations popping up in the Pacific Northwest. It was a growth industry. Kraft and his business partner, O. A. Dodson, who in 1920 had opened a gear supply and service firm downtown 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 operation into a new office and studio facility in the Terminal Sales Building. Kraft and Dodson's Northwest Radio Service Company built an impressive 1,000-watt transmitter for KJR, and that advance promised that the station's broadcasts would reach a far greater audience. Its frequency on the radio dial was 405 Meters.
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer -- which had contracted to sponsor KJR's afternoon musical broadcasts -- presented this news by splashing grandiose full-page coverage on the front page of its "Radio News" section under a banner headline trumpeting "New Station Marks Epoch in Seattle Radio." Articles -- including one penned by Kraft himself -- informed readers that "KJR 1,000-Watt Station Marks Opening of New Era" and "Broadcasting Shows Growth in 2 Years." Kraft wrote:
"During the earlier years our station KJR was our radio laboratory and improvements were being constantly added to the station, the power increased, and programs bettered until finally tonight the highest point in our history will have been reached, when our new 1,000-watt station, capable of broadcasting the best programs to all the American continent, will be a reality" (Kraft, R-2).
"Full Power Tonight"
An article in The Seattle Times, with the subhead "KJR Station to Use Full Power Tonight," further fanned the public's growing anticipation by touting "KJR will utilize for the first time the full power of the station, 1,000 watts, and will operate on a wave length of 405 meters" ("Alaska to Be Feature").
KJR's programming content on the momentous day included some fare that was fairly typical for the times, including dancing lessons by Hamilton Douglas, who also presented two young sisters, Maxine and Baby Billie Loewenthal, dubbed "tiny radio entertainers" ("Seattle Greets ...); a presentation by Aunt Bunny, the Story Lady; and a public-speaking course by Professor George J. Mayer. There followed a "formal dedicatory 'Alaska Night' program, under auspices of the Young Men's Business Club," and then music by Ray Robinson's Willard Cafe Orchestra ("KJR -- Today's Program").
The evening's core feature was the presentation arranged by Seattle's Young Men's Business Club, which had a demonstrated interest in the Alaskan territory, having sponsored an Alaska Fair the previous autumn. The program's broadcast was intended as a special outreach to listeners up north -- to be made possible by those mighty 1,000 watts KJR had just harnessed. It began with William J. "Wee" Coyle, president of the club and former Washington lieutenant governor, offering an address titled "Hello Alaska."
Then came piano solos by Edith Bayless and a piano duet by Mrs. C. L. Gere and Mrs. T. E. Nicholson, followed by vocal solos from Harold Mitchell. Next came Jack J. Sullivan reading some of Robert W. Service's well-known poems about Alaska, and vocal selections by Marguerite Bone -- who happened to be the daughter of Alaskan Governor Scott C. Bone and also said a few words to her father and his party of friends who were gathered together back home. More 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-Intelligencer publisher E. C. Griffith "took the microphone for a few moments to tell a few of his collection of choice Swedish stories" ("Seattleites Greet ..."), and Charles A. Garfield, a former secretary of the Alaska Chamber of Commerce, spoke about the goal of cooperation between Alaska and Washington. The event wound down with a few vocal selections by the Young Men's Business Club Quartet.
Confirmation that KJR's signal had reached all the way to Alaska rolled in before the evening was over. "By the miraculously long arm of radio, Seattle reached out to greet Alaska last night" and "[w]hile the program participants still stood by the microphone the first cablegrams arrived" ("Seattleites Greet ..."). The first ones came in from Wrangell, Petersburg, and Juneau, with messages that included "Your program coming through fine. Best wishes to our Seattle friends" and "KJR program heard tonight by every Alaskan that owns a receiving set. Aside from the novelty of the event the Alaska program was greatly appreciated on account of its merit" ("Seattleites Greet ...").
Over the following days, the whole town was likely abuzz about KJR's newly strong broadcast signal, and the interesting presentations and fine music that the station had aired. The big event was described in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this way: "From Seattle's new super-radio station, KJR, there was sent forth to Arctic extremes messages of greeting and fraternity; songs of old-time appeal; [and] readings of the famous Service Alaska poems" ("Seattleites Greet ...").
Vincent Kraft had also noted his commitment to KJR's listeners: "it will be our intention to ... at all times endeavor[...] to maintain KJR a station at such a high level of performance that every citizen of Seattle may take just pride in its operation" (Kraft, p. R-2).