KCBS is the Bay Area's only 24/7, live and local radio station.
KCBS shares its Battery Street studios with CBS owned-and-operated television station KPIX-TV 5. The transmitter site is located in Novato. Its programming is simulcast on co-owned 106.9 KFRC-FM plus that station's HD1 digital sub-channel. It is Northern California's primary entry point station for the Emergency Alert System.
KCBS operates with a transmitter output of 50,000 watts, and during the daytime can be regularly received as far north as Sacramento and Hopland and south as far as San Luis Obispo. In good conditions it is also heard as far north as Redding and south to Santa Maria. At night, the station employs a directional antenna, primarily sending its signal to the southeast, in order to protect CFZM in Toronto, the dominant Class A station on the 740 kHz clear-channel frequency. KCBS's nighttime signal is heard throughout California, including Los Angeles and San Diego, in addition to several western states, including Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Utah. On rare occasions "DXers" (hobbyists who listen for distant stations) have reported receiving KCBS across the Pacific Ocean, and in Hawaii and Alaska.
In addition to over-the-air broadcasts, KCBS audio is webcast with live streaming audio around the clock. The station's live stream was also available through TuneIn and most streaming audio apps until August 1, 2018, when it was pulled from all streaming media sources except the Radio.com mobile app (now Audacy) where it is now available exclusively; in October 2019, it was one of the test stations for the app's new "Radio.com Rewind" feature, where the last 24 hours of KCBS programming can be accessed on-demand.
KCBS is considered to be among the first radio stations. It received its first broadcasting station license, as KQW in San Jose, in early December 1921. However, the original licensee, Charles Herrold, had begun making audio radio transmissions in 1909, as part of an experimental radio-telephone system, and KCBS has traditionally dated its founding to that year. Herrold's earliest radio work had been largely forgotten until 1959, when Gordon R. Greb's "The Golden Anniversary of Broadcasting" was published in the Journal of Broadcasting.
On January 1, 1909, Herrold opened the Herrold College of Wireless and Engineering, located in the Garden City Bank Building at 50 West San Fernando Street in San Jose. In order to promote the college, as well as provide practical experience for his students, a radio transmitter (then commonly known as "wireless telegraphy") with a large antenna was constructed atop the building. The earliest transmissions used spark-gap transmitters which could only transmit the dots-and-dashes of Morse code.
Herrold was among the first to develop a radio transmitter that could also be used for audio transmissions. After limited success with an approach that used "high-frequency" sparks, he later began using a version of an "arc-transmitter" originally developed by Valdemar Poulsen. Although his primary objective was to create a wireless telephone that could be commercialized for point-to-point use, beginning in July 1912 Herrold also began making regular weekly entertainment broadcasts, with the debut program featuring phonograph records supplied by the Wiley B. Allen company.
Radio communication was initially unregulated in the United States, and at first Herrold used a variety of self-assigned identifiers for his station, including FN and SJN, plus, for audio transmissions, "San Jose calling". The Radio Act of 1912 established the licensing of stations through the U.S. Commerce Department, and in late 1915 Herrold was issued an Experimental Station License with the call sign 6XF. Although Herrold reported success in developing his system, his arc-transmitters were low-powered and would only work at wavelengths above 600 meters (frequencies below 500 kHz). The concurrent development of vacuum-tube technology, which did not have the same limitations, started making arc technology obsolete.
World War I
In April 1917, with the entrance of the United States into World War I, the U.S. government took control of the entire radio industry, and it became illegal for private citizens to possess a working radio receiver. In addition, all civilian radio stations were ordered to be dismantled, so for the duration of the conflict Herrold left the airwaves. This wartime government ban on civilian stations was lifted effective October 1, 1919, and in early 1921 Herrold was reissued an Experimental license, again with the call sign 6XF. (He had previously been issued a license for a portable transmitter, with the call sign 6XE.)
During the war impressive strides had been made in vacuum-tube transmitter and receiver design, and Herrold's arc-transmitters were no longer commercially competitive. In 1920 a number of radio stations in the San Francisco Bay area, employing vacuum-tube transmitters, began making regular entertainment broadcasts, most prominently the "California Theater" station, 6XC, set up by Lee de Forest, which began daily service around April 1920. After the war Herrold needed to become familiar with vacuum-tube equipment before he could return to the air. Although some of his co-workers later reported that he resumed regular broadcasts as early as 1919, the oldest documented report of his resumption of broadcasting, presumably over 6XF, dates to early May 1921, with the announcement that the school was inaugurating a Monday and Thursday night schedule consisting of records supplied by "J. A. Kerwin of 84 East Santa Clara street, dealer in phonographs".
Effective December 1, 1921, the Department of Commerce issued a regulation that stations making broadcasts intended for the general public now had to hold a Limited Commercial license specifying operation on a wavelength of 360 or 485 meters, and, on December 9, 1921, a broadcasting station authorization with the randomly assigned call letters of KQW was issued in Herrold's name. This license specified operation on the common "entertainment" wavelength of 360 meters (833 kHz), so KQW initially broadcast only during the hours assigned to it under a time-sharing agreement made with the other local broadcasting stations.
Classifying stations according to when they first received a broadcasting authorization under the provisions of the December 1, 1921 regulations, KQW was tied for 6th in the state of California and 16th in the United States. It is the eighth oldest surviving radio station in the United States and tied for 2nd oldest in California, one day behind KWG in Stockton, and tied with KNX in Los Angeles. It is also the oldest in the Bay Area; the next-oldest, KMKY in Oakland, was licensed as KLS on March 10, 1922.
Operation of KQW was financed by the sale of radio equipment by the Herrold Radio Laboratory, but by 1925 the costs had grown. The station was transferred to the First Baptist Church of San Jose, with Herrold kept on as program director. In 1926, station manager James Hart bought KQW's license and facilities, eventually buying the station itself in 1930. From 1937 to 1941, KQW served as the San Jose network affiliate of the Don Lee Broadcasting System. During this time its owner was Julius Brunton & Sons, and the station's operations were co-located with KJBS at 1470 Pine Street in San Francisco. Until 1942, it operated as a service of the Pacific Agricultural Foundation to farmers in the Central Valley.
In 1927, the Federal Radio Commission (FRC) was created to take over the regulation of U.S. radio stations, and it began a series of frequency shifts to coordinate station assignments. Effective November 11, 1928, the FRC divided the AM band transmitting frequencies into three classification: Local, Regional, and Clear Channel. KQW's assignment, 1010 kHz, which it had been using since the previous year, was designated a regional frequency. By 1940, KQW had increased its daytime power to the maximum permitted for regional stations, 5,000 watts. In March, 1941, under the provisions of the North American Regional Broadcasting Agreement (NARBA), most U.S. radio stations were shifted to new dial positions, so KQW moved to 740.
Under the NARBA provisions, 740 was a Canadian Clear channel, with CBL (740 AM) (since transferred to FM; the frequency now is utilized by CFZM using the same technical perimeters) as the frequency's Class I-A primary station. KQW was classified as a Class II secondary station. However, the great distance between the two stations meant that, with the use of a directional antenna, KQW could apply for permission to increase its power to 50,000 watts. In the early 1940s, the San Francisco Bay area affiliate for the CBS radio network was KSFO, which, because it operated on a regional frequency, was limited to a power of 5,000 watts. CBS wanted to have a station operating at a full 50,000 watts, and an agreement was initially made for KQW and KSFO to swap frequencies — KSFO to 740 and KQW to 560 — after which KSFO would upgrade to 50,000 watts. However, this plan fell through because CBS also wanted to own the Bay Area affiliate, and the owners of KSFO were not willing to sell. Due to this rebuff, in 1942 CBS transferred its affiliation from KSFO to KQW, with an option to eventually purchase KQW. The station staff moved to a CBS-owned studio located at the Palace Hotel. For all intents and purposes, it was now a San Francisco station. However, it was still licensed to San Jose, so an announcer was posted at the transmitter site to provide the required "KQW, San Jose" legal IDs.
The beginning of KCBS (1949–1995)
CBS exercised its option to buy KQW in 1949, changing the station's call letters to KCBS. In 1951, KCBS signed on for the first time from the four-tower 50,000-watt facility at Novato that had originally been intended for KSFO. KCBS's city of licence was also officially changed from San Jose to San Francisco.
In 1968, KCBS became one of the first all-news stations in the country, as CBS was converting many of its radio stations nationwide to the format, developed at WCBS in New York City. KCBS already had a long history in news dating back to World War II, when it was the center of CBS' newsgathering efforts in the Pacific Theater. In 1971, KCBS moved its studios to the 32nd floor of One Embarcadero Center. Notable anchors and reporters who became popular during the early "Newsradio" era included Al Hart, Frank Knight, Dave McElhatton (whose KCBS tenure dated to the early 1950s, including hosting a popular morning show on the station before the all-news format was implemented; McElhatton moved to KPIX-TV in 1977, where he was a highly popular and trusted lead anchorman until his retirement in 2000), Ray Hutchinson (KCBS' first business anchor under the all-news format, delivering his updates from the floor of the Pacific Stock Exchange), Ken Ackerman (who began on the station in 1942, later hosting KCBS' version of Music 'Til Dawn and eventually becoming a news anchor under the all-news format, serving until his retirement in 1995), Bob Price, a longtime business anchor and editor for KCBS who worked for over 20 years at the radio station, anchored from the Pacific Stock Exchange until his retirement on November 5, 2009.
Throughout its early history, KCBS also broadcast local sports. As early as 1949, KCBS broadcast Stanford University football games. Upon converting to its all-news format in 1968, KCBS stopped broadcasting Stanford sports, whose broadcasts moved to rival KSFO. In 1985, KCBS signed a three-year contract to broadcast Stanford football and men's basketball. In 1992, Stanford dropped KCBS in favor of KFRC-AM in 1992 in order to find a station that would devote more airtime to discuss Stanford sports than KCBS could with its all-news format. From 1980 to 1986, KCBS broadcast San Jose State football. However, KCBS carried most San Jose State games on tape delay in the 1986 season due to conflicts with Stanford games. KCBS did not renew its contract with San Jose State after it expired, and San Jose station KHTT won San Jose State broadcast rights beginning in 1987. From 1981 to 1986, KCBS was the flagship station for the San Francisco 49ers. In 1990, KCBS became the primary station for the Bay Area's Emergency Broadcast System after KNBR, the former primary EBS station, failed to activate the Emergency Broadcast System due to major technical malfunctions caused by the engineering department at KNBR during and the aftermath of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. The Federal Communications Commission called the situation "revoked" as the decision was made to move its primary EBS status to KCBS after the major fail on KNBR.
Common ownership with KPIX (1995–2017)
In late November 1995, the Westinghouse Electric Corporation bought CBS, bringing the Bay Area's oldest radio station under common ownership with its oldest television station, KPIX-TV Channel 5, which Westinghouse had purchased from Associated Broadcasters in 1954. In May 2006, KCBS and KPIX-TV moved their news bureau in San Jose to the Fairmont Tower at 50 West San Fernando Street. This was, coincidentally, the location of Charles Herrold's original broadcasts. CBS management was unaware of the San Fernando Street address' history when the move was planned. However, once informed that this was the birthplace of KCBS, they recognized this at the bureau's opening celebration.
In mid-March 2005, KCBS, along with nearly all of the other all-news stations owned by Infinity Broadcasting (which renamed itself CBS Radio that fall), began streaming its audio over its website, reversing a long-standing Infinity Radio policy of not doing so. (New York City's WCBS began streaming its programming online the previous December). Local commercials which are heard on the radio signal are replaced on the internet stream for nationally and regionally sponsored ads, a few public service announcements, station promos, promos of CBS Television shows, and repeats of pre-recorded feature segments already on the broadcast schedule (including StarDate and Science Today, produced by the University of California). In March 2010, KCBS and the other CBS Radio stations blocked Internet listeners outside the United States from accessing its live stream.
In 2007, KCBS added an HD Radio digital sub-channel, and began identifying as "KCBS and KCBS-HD". On October 27, 2008, the station began simulcasting its full schedule over co-owned KFRC-FM (106.9) and that station's HD1 digital sub-channel. (KFRC-FM's previous "classic hits" format was moved to sub-channel HD2.) The stations' microphone flag now displays "740" on two sides of the cube, and "106.9" on the other two. In 2011 the stations adopted the joint branding of "KCBS All News 740 AM and 106.9 FM." (KFRC-FM did not change its call letters because the KCBS-FM call sign was already in use by a CBS owned station in Los Angeles on 93.1 FM).
In mid-September 2010, KCBS Radio's website was merged with that of KPIX and their sister radio properties in the San Francisco market under the "CBS San Francisco" banner.
Sale to Entercom
On February 2, 2017, CBS Radio announced it would merge with Entercom. While CBS shareholders retain a 72% ownership stake in the combined company, Entercom was the surviving entity, separating KCBS radio from KPIX. The merger was approved on November 9, 2017, and was consummated on the 17th. On March 30, 2021, Entercom changed its name to Audacy.
Pioneer station status
One of the conditions of Herrold's sale of KQW in 1925 was that the new owners include, in the sign-on announcement, the following: "This is KQW, pioneer broadcasting station of the world, founded by Dr. Charles D. Herrold in San Jose in 1909".
Although there are reports that Herrold was making experimental audio transmissions as early as 1909, the best evidence is that it wasn't until July 1912 when he began making regularly scheduled broadcasts. These weekly programs are generally accepted as being the first regular entertainment broadcasts made by radio. More contentious is whether KCBS can be considered the oldest radio station in continuous service, due to the fact that, following the end of World War I, Herrold did not resume regular broadcasting until May 1921. (Other candidates for oldest U.S. radio station include 8MK / WWJ in Detroit, which began regular broadcasts in August 1920; WOC in Davenport, Iowa, which traces its origin to station 9BY, beginning regular broadcasts around September 1920; 9ZAF/KLZ in Denver, with nightly concerts beginning in October 1920; and 8ZZ/KDKA in Pittsburgh, which began operating on November 2, 1920.)
In 1945, stations WWJ and KDKA held competing 25th anniversary celebrations, both claiming to be the oldest "commercial radio station." Later that same year, KQW prepared and broadcast "The Story of KQW." The program made the claim that KCBS is the oldest radio station, predating by eleven years both WWJ and KDKA. This broadcast included a brief recorded statement by Herrold, made just before his 70th birthday. All three of these stations, WWJ, KDKA and KCBS, eventually came under the common ownership of CBS Radio and remain sister stations under the ownership of Audacy.
In 2009, KCBS celebrated its 100th birthday, with a yearlong series of events throughout the Bay Area. Included was the public dedication of a plaque commemorating the "Centennial Celebration of the World's First Broadcasting Station." This plaque is located outside the lobby at 50 Fairmont Plaza in San Jose, where Herrold's original broadcasts took place. During the year, KCBS adopted the slogan "The World's First Broadcasting Station".
Like most of its sister Audacy all-news stations, KCBS airs hourly CBS News Radio reports, including the CBS World News Roundup on weekdays and the CBS News Weekend Roundup on Saturday and Sunday early mornings. It simulcasts the audio portion of the weekly CBS News TV programs 60 Minutes and Face the Nation. Additional features include traffic, weather, sports updates, and "Bloomberg Moneywatch" business reports. KPIX-TV meteorologists provide weather forecasts, especially during AM and PM drive times.
KCBS Cover Story airs weekly as an extended look at a major issue in the news, while In Depth is a weekly long-form interview program. KCBS also simulcasts a seven-minute block of the CBS Evening News East Coast feed live on weekdays, allowing listeners to hear the program's top stories two hours before the newscast airs on KPIX-TV. The station hosts special segments each weekday with CBS News technology analysts Larry Magid and Brian Cooley, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Phil Matier, and longtime food and wine editor Narsai David. KCBS will often feature live interviews with call-in guest experts (who occasionally also appear in the studio with the anchors) to briefly discuss a specific story, topic or subject; the edited comments are replayed as part of featured news stories throughout the remainder of the day.
The morning team consisted of longtime anchors Stan Bunger and Susan Leigh Taylor. Bunger retired in 2021, Taylor in 2020. Their replacements have not yet been announced. Jason Brooks serves as anchor of business news segments. Kim Wonderley handles traffic reporting. Mid-days are anchored by Rebecca Corral. On weekday afternoons, the anchor team consists of Jeff Bell and Patti Reising. Evening and night/early morning news anchors include John Evans and Megan Goldsby. Weekend anchors include Melissa Culross, Dan Mitchinson, Liz Saint John, Lisa Chan, Eric Thomas, Susan Kennedy, and Peter Finch.
- "HD Radio Guide: San Francisco, California" Archived 2018-01-19 at the Wayback Machine (hdradio.com)
- Mariners have also reported hearing KCBS on Marine VHF radio channel 22 on incorrectly configured receivers: "Getting AM radio stations on VHF Radio" (forum thread), June 25, 2010 (sailnet.com)
- "The Golden Anniversary of Broadcasting" by Gordon R. Greb, Journal of Broadcasting, Winter 1958-1959, pages 3-13.
- Charles Herrold, Inventor of Radio Broadcasting by Gordon Greb and Mike Adams, 2003, pages 82-84.
- "Will Give Concert by Wireless Telephone", San Jose Mercury Herald, July 21, 1912, page 27.
- "Musical Concert by Wireless Telephone", San Diego Union, July 23, 1912, page 19.
- "FN" was the inverted initials of "National Fone".
- "Special Land Stations", Radio Service Bulletin, December 1915, page 2. The "6" in 6XF's call sign indicated that the station was located in the 6th Radio Inspection district, while the "X" specified that the station held an Experimental License.
- Wireless Communications in the United States by Thorn L. Mayes, 1989, page 206.
- "Special Land Stations", Radio Service Bulletin, April 1, 1921, page 4.
- "Special Land Stations", Radio Service Bulletin, October 1, 1920, page 5.
- "Radio Telephone Development in the West" by Harry Lubcke, Radio News, February 1922, page 702.
- "Radio School Sends Jazz Music via Air", San Jose Mercury Herald, May 3, 1921, page 4.
- "Amendments to Regulations", Radio Service Bulletin, January 3, 1922, page 10.
- Limited Commercial license, serial #255, issued on December 8, 1921 for one year.
- Limited Commercial license, serial #245, issued on December 7, 1921 for one year to the Portable Wireless Telephone Company.
- Limited Commercial license, serial #248, issued on December 8, 1921 for one year (as KGC) to the Electric Lighting Supply Company.
- "Broadcasting Stations Alphabetically by States and Cities: Effective June 15, 1927", Radio Service Bulletin, May 31, 1927, page 5.
- "Your Radio Stations Have New Homes", San Francisco Chronicle, March 29, 1941, page 7.
- KSFO's owner, Associated Broadcasters, had decided to concentrate on plans for its new television station, KPIX-TV. As compensation for allowing KQW to remain on 740, KPIX received the Bay Area's CBS television affiliation.
- John F. Schneider (12 August 2014). "The History of KQW and KCBS San Jose/San Francisco". Bay Area Radio Museum.
- This use of the KCBS callsign predates its use in Los Angeles by KCBS-TV (formerly KTSL and KNXT) and KCBS-FM by more than 30 years.
- "Business editor Bob Price retires from KCBS", San Francisco Press Club, November 5, 2009 (sfppc.blogspot.com)
- "Cards Favored In Huskie Tilt", The Stanford Daily, vol. 116, no. 15, October 14, 1949, retrieved July 28, 2019
- Haft, Chris (January 16, 1981), "Farm loses 'voice'; Klein goes to 49ers", The Stanford Daily, Stanford University, vol. 178, no. 60, p. 9, retrieved July 28, 2019
- Lis, John (March 13, 1985), "University signs with KCBS-Radio", The Stanford Daily, Stanford University, retrieved July 28, 2019
- Antonucci, Mike (March 18, 1987). "SJS, KHTT close to deal for live football coverage". San Jose Mercury News. p. 6E. Retrieved July 21, 2019 – via NewsBank.
- Chandrasekaran, Rajiv (August 6, 1992). "Walsh's revelation: Football on the Farm". The Stanford Daily. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
- Brewer, Boni (April 29, 1980), "Less means more in football radio contest", The Spartan Daily, San Jose State University, vol. 74, no. 57, retrieved July 28, 2019
- "San Francisco 49ers Football On The Radio". Bay Area Radio Museum. 13 August 2014. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
- Cox, Jim (2013). Radio Journalism in America: Telling the News in the Golden Age and Beyond. McFarland. ISBN 9780786469635.
- Press release from 2005 announcing launch of internet stream of CBS news radio stations
- "CBS Sets Radio Division Merger With Entercom". Variety. 2 February 2017. Retrieved 2 February 2017.
- "CBS and Entercom Are Merging Their Radio Stations". Fortune. Retrieved 2017-02-02.
- "CBS Radio to Merge with Entercom" by Lance Venta, February 2, 2017 (radioinsight.com)
- "Entercom Receives FCC Approval for Merger with CBS Radio". Entercom. November 9, 2017. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
- Venta, Lance (November 17, 2017). "Entercom Completes CBS Radio Merger". Radio Insight. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
- "Entercom Rebrands, Changes Name to Audacy". www.businesswire.com. 2021-03-30. Retrieved 2021-04-25.
- "KCBS: 50 Years of Broadcasting" (advertisement), Broadcasting magazine, April 6, 1959, pages 22-23
- Greb and Adams, page 129.
- "Broadcasting's Oldest Stations: An Examination of Four Claimants" by Joseph E. Baudino and John M. Kittross, Journal of Broadcasting, Winter 1977, page 71.
- "The Story Of KQW" (November 10, 1945) Includes a link to a recording of the original broadcast (bayarearadio.com).
- KCBS Centennial Celebration
- "Longtime KCBS News Radio Anchor Stan Bunger Retires". 13 June 2021.
- "KCBS fixture Stan Bunger bids farewell to Bay Area airwaves". The Mercury News. 2021-06-11. Retrieved 2021-07-01.
- "Jason Brooks" biography, (kcbsradio.radio.com)
- Official website
- KCBS in the FCC AM station database
- KCBS on Radio-Locator
- KCBS in Nielsen Audio's AM station database
- FCC History Cards for KCBS (covering KQW/KCBS from 1927 to 1980)
- "The History of KQW/KCBS" by John F. Schneider, 1996 (bayarearadio.org)
- KQW Radio, San Jose "The Story Of KQW" Saturday, November 10, 1945 (bayarearadio.org)