The Original Big 610 Men (1966)

The Original Big 610 Men (1966):
Royce Johnson, Mike Phillips, Bobby Dale, Steve O’Shea, Howard Clark, Ed Mitchell and Glenn Adams

Before The Big 610

KFRC actually began a long, long time before most of us listened to it on the radio — and long before some of you worked within the walls of the shrine at 415 Bush Street in San Francisco.

Decades before KFRC became The Big 610, it was, nonetheless, a well-known and quite popular station in the City, having first gone on the air on Wednesday, September 24, 1924, from studios in the venerable Whitcomb Hotel on Market Street. KFRC operated with a paltry 50 watts — barely enough to illuminate a living room these days — at 270 meters on the radio dial, or what we call 1110 AM nowadays.

Six months after launching itself into the ether, KFRC was sold by its original owners to the legendary City of Paris Dry Goods Company at Eighth and Market streets. (You may not have ever heard of the fabled City of Paris, but several of our older readers just let forth a wistful “ahhhhhh.”)

But the marriage of KFRC and the City of Paris store was not to last. In November 1926, KFRC was acquired by Don Lee, Inc., which would prove fortuitous in our little station’s history.

For, you see, Don Lee was not only the franchised builder and retailer of Cadillac automobiles in California, he was also an empire builder of sorts. Under Mr. Lee’s ownership, KFRC was moved to a more favorable dial position at 660 kilocycles — not quite yet at 610 kc. — and its transmitter power was boosted to 1,000 watts during the day, and 500 watts at night, enough to blanket nearly all of California with its signal.

More significantly, in 1927 Mr. Lee moved his KFRC to his signature building at 1000 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, a magnificent edifice from which he offered his fine Cadillac automobiles for sale in the showroom, while producing equally fine radio programs from the station’s upstairs studios — programs which included such favorites as “Blue Monday Jamboree.”

In November 1928, the Federal Radio Commission (forerunner of today’s FCC) rolled out a major reallocation of the AM dial, which meant that most stations in the United States had to change frequencies. Beginning on November 11 of that year, KFRC was sent to 610 kilocycles, helping set up a future imaging slogan four decades in the future.

Having accumulated other stations, including another future Top 40 radio powerhouse, KHJ in Los Angeles (as well as KGB in San Diego and KDB in Santa Barbara), Don Lee created his own pocket-sized chain of broadcast outlets in December 1928 to share programming and advertising, known, of course, as the Don Lee Network, initially affiliated with the fledgling CBS chain.



Photo: From 1966, the original Big 610 men strike a classic(al) pose.  David Jackson Collection.