Editor’s Note: This is the first article in a series about the history of broadcasting in the Sacramento area. This series was inspired by readers’ positive responses to previous articles about local television history in this publication and several requests to feature histories of local radio stations.
KVQ, Sacramento’s first commercial radio station, made its debut in this building at 711-715 7th St. in 1922. Photo courtesy of the Lance Armstrong Collection
For many years prior to the widespread introduction of television, Sacramentans were very much in the practice of utilizing their own blank canvases to paint mental pictures through the sound of radio.
Although there are still many locals who love listening to the radio today, pre-television days in the capital city were obviously much different times when it comes to the topic of broadcasting.
An early reference to radio appeared in the Jan. 27, 1922 edition of The Sacramento Bee.
In that report, it was mentioned that the Sacramento Valley Radio Club would be presenting a free “wireless concert” that evening at the YMCA building at 5th and J streets.
The club, which then consisted of more than 600 amateur wireless operators from Sacramento and its vicinity, designed the event “for the benefit of all interested in the study of wireless and those wishing to join the club.”
On Feb. 2, 1922 – just 15 months after the Westinghouse Electric Co. became recognized as opening the world’s first permanent radio station, KDKA, of East Pittsburgh, Pa. – Sacramento’s first commercial radio station, KVQ 833 AM, with a power of only five watts, went on the air.
The station was originally co-owned by The Bee, making it the state’s first newspaper-owned radio station.
As the story goes, Carlos McClatchy (1891-1933) had been introduced to radio during the previous year through a friend on the East Coast and Carlos’ enthusiasm led him to convince his father, Bee editor Charles Kenny “C.K.” McClatchy, to contribute toward the establishment of KVQ.
Also co-owning KVQ was the local, German-born electrician Joseph Charles Hobrecht (1876-1953), who along with his brother, Philip J. Hobrecht, then-owned the lighting fixture business, J.C. Hobrecht Co., at 1014 6th St.
According to the 1913 book, “History of Sacramento County, California,” the Hobrecht brothers first opened their business at 1012 10th St. on Sept. 20, 1909. They relocated their establishment to its 6th Street location about four years later.
The book also notes that Joseph previously worked in Montana as an electrician, then came to California in 1900. He continued to work in the same profession and eventually spent at least four years employed with the Electrical Supply Co. at 815 J St.
Joseph’s interest in co-founding a commercial radio station in Sacramento was influenced by the fact that J.C. Hobrecht Co. had already gained experience as a radio parts dealer in the capital city.
The inaugural day’s program for KVQ included news and weather reports and music performed by eight Victor recording artists in an office on the second floor of The Bee building at 911-15 7th St.
In its following day report regarding KVQ’s debut, The Bee noted that the station’s inaugural concert was presented from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
The station officially began when the following words were spoken into a microphone: “KVQ, KVQ, KVQ, Sacramento Bee calling. Hello, hello.”
It was also noted in The Bee’s Feb. 3, 1922 report that the aforementioned eight recording artists had their part in the concert shortened by 30 minutes due to the late arrival of their train from San Francisco.
The Victor singers who performed for KVQ’s first concert were Frank Banta, Henry Burr, Albert Campbell, Frank Croxton, Fred Van Eps, John Meyer, Billy Murray and Monroe Silver.
These artists, who were referred to in the article as the “Victor eight,” performed five numbers.
The program began with a piano piece by Banta, who was well-known for his abilities as a skillful jazz pianist.
The next number featured Billy Murray, who sang, “Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes.”
One of the more lively numbers was a banjo solo by Van Eps.
In a special Bee report from Roseville, it was noted: “All of the Victor artists could be heard plainly (in Roseville) and the banjo solo by Fred Van Eps was interesting, because every stroke that Van Eps used on his banjo could be heard and every trill and run of his masterful touch could be heard as if he were playing in the next room.”
Another one of the pieces of the evening highlighted the vocal talents of Burr, a tenor, who was accompanied by Banta at the piano.
In addition to KVQ’s inaugural radio performances, a concert featuring the same artists was held later that evening at the Clunie Theatre at 809 K St.
An advertisement in the aforementioned edition of The Bee noted that phonograph records featuring recordings of those artists could then be purchased at the John Breuner Co., the well-known general home furnishings business at 600-608 K St.
The initial venture of KVQ was considered a success, as The Bee estimated that about 1,000 wireless set operators in Central and Superior California tuned into that evening’s broadcast, and among the listeners of that program were hundreds of amateur wireless receiving set operators in Sacramento.
Furthermore, in taking into account that many neighbors and friends of those particular operators joined them in listening to that now-historic program, The Bee noted that “thousands of Bee readers” heard that first broadcast.
Following the station’s first day of operation, it continued with a program schedule of 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. each day, except for Sundays, and Wednesday and Saturday nights, when the station broadcast from 8 to 9 p.m.
Those programs included daily local and Superior California news, market exchanges, weather reports, music from phonograph records and occasional live music performances.
In order to attract additional listeners to its radio station, The Bee, in its Feb. 4, 1922 edition, ran an article and diagram directing its readers how to make a wireless receiving set.
It was mentioned in that edition that with such a set, KVQ’s broadcasts could be heard by those living in the city and residents of places within an eight to 12-mile radius of Sacramento.
The popularity of KVQ and radio, in general, continued to increase, as The Bee received hundreds of letters praising its decision to enter the radio broadcasting world.
It was also learned through those letters that thousands of receiving sets had been constructed in Sacramento since KVQ had gone on the air.
As radio was becoming one of the nation’s largest industries, KVQ made advancements of its own.
Its improvements included expanding to 50 watts in August 1922 and constructing a soundproof studio in The Bee building. And as a result of its wattage increase, the station could be heard as far away as Canada, Alaska, Pennsylvania and New York.
Despite its many successes, KVQ was discontinued following its evening program of Dec. 20, 1922 due to most local listeners’ preference to tune into stations from other areas.
The Bee, in its Dec. 20, 1922, edition noted that radio fans found “more pleasure and greater opportunity for development in increasing the efficiency of (their sets) to include the detection of waves from stations hundreds or thousands of miles away.”
Unfortunately for wireless operators who were continuously seeking a greater variety of listening options, during KVQ’s broadcast hours, the station drowned out the reception of all of the otherwise obtainable radio stations.
After explaining its desire to “enable those interested in radio to get the most out of their sets,” The Bee concluded its aforementioned Dec. 20, 1922 article with the following send off: “Hello, Hello! KVQ calling. The Sacramento Bee. Adieu, radio fans; KVQ gives way to your interests and a greater radio.”