D. WINDSOR HUNT'S ACCOUNT OF KFIO IN THE LATE 1920's and EARLY 1930's
The following is an account of KFIO and early radio by D. Windsor Hunt, a student at North Central High who was an announcer and later a program director for the station. His words provide an interesting insight into how the station operated at the time specifically and of old radio in general. This undated article was written by Mr. Hunt and was to appear in Partlow and Jorgenson's Early History of Spokane Broadcasting. Except for a few obvious annotations by myself, the words are Mr. Hunt's.
"I entered North Central High School in the fall of 1927 at the age of 14 and immediately joined the radio club. Homes had some form of radio, some even with only one dial. "All electric" AC sets were coming in to use and the 60 cycle hum had nearly disappeared. But crystal sets were in the majority. Woolworths 10 cent stores sold crystals, sliders, bars, tops, wire, earphones, bus bars, cat whiskers and solder. The fixed "Selenium" crystal was very advanced but not as sensitive as the galena crystal. We tried for miniature sets-built inside of an earphone half. We cupped them in our palm, clipped a wire to the radiator, supported by our tired heads with our elbow on the desk and listened through class. We didn't know anything about inductance and capacitance so we wound the coil around anything and found the right length and it worked! We almost always used the same diagram, and it worked (sic).
"The N.C. Radio Club was building a transmitter under the guidance of Mr. Arthur L. Smith, physics teacher. This was the second attempt - the first one was a flop. The new one was in a closet about 8' X 16', between the physics lab and classroom, on the south side of the 3rd floor. I believe it was 100 watts but I'm not sure. There was a big mercury arc rectifier tube on a spring platform that we jiggled with a pool cue to start. A big sign said, "Do not watch the arc!" The antenna lead in and ran out of the window to the antenna on the roof and there was also a 3 wire counterpoise hung below the "aerial." I don't believe the insulators were much good because we lost power in wet weather. The transmitter took up about six square feet and a two foot passage alongside led to the studio. This was the back of the room with one window to an airwell. It was about 8' X 12'. Along the left wall was the record storage - all 78 RPM - some with holes 1-1/4" in diameter. We used a wooden thread spool as a bushing when we played these. They were mostly circa 1915. I remember Henry Burr was the featured singer. We also had some modern records (all donated). "Sweet Hearts on Parade" was leading the hit parade and somehow we got a copy of it while it was still the number one hit!
"On the right side was the "console" - a bench about two feet wide with one turntable mounted on it. Later we got a variable speed job, but we didn't have LP (long play, not liquid petroleum) records so we never used it in my time.
"There was a bin for newspapers. Our news program was a 15 minute reading of the headline from the Review, Chronicle or Spokane Press. Verbatim! And we gave no credits. We picked stories at will and read the first paragraph that looked good. We had to avoid divorces, sex in any form - we didn't even use the word "sex." Also bootlegging was taboo.
"There were half a dozen meters on the console back board. One was for plate current, one for loading and the most important one was for modulation. This meter had one line that shouldn't be exceeded by voice or record or a mixture. We had one switch that took care of all three modes and rheostats that cut down or raised voice and records.
"Someone loaned Mr. A. L. Smith a mechanical song bird from Europe - a wind up dealy in a big brass cage. Every 15 minutes it sang a line in a very beautiful realistic bird song. On the hour it sang a longer trill. It not only warned us of the time but often added a nice touch to the announcements. I had played a record and as I was making an announcement and the bird started singing when I had finished. I flipped it back to the record position. One of my friends was in there and said, "That cheaping S.O.B. is getting one my nerves." Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the modulation meter bouncing! I had switched only part way and was on record-voice mixture! I promptly telephoned my mother (she monitored every word) and asked her what she heard - but she heard only a rasping interference that she thought was static. Oh those lovely carbon mikes.
"The private line phone was lovely - lots of clandestine calls for many reasons, mostly affairs of the heart, high school style. But [an] occasional emergency went out for free.
"An article came out in the news that tryouts for announcer (sic) would be held. I tried out, and passed the reading and diction tests very easily and it was of no use until it came to foreign languages. With my Hawaiian background, I was quite at home with Oriental wards and pronunciation, was familiar with phonetic spelling and could get by reading Spanish, Latin, Mexican, Hawaiian and Robert Burn's "To a louse on a lady's Bonnet in church." I won the job. (The Burn's poem was judged by Miss Maltby, English V.)
"My duties were watching the modulation meter, reading the news, playing records, announcing school athletic events, proms, and games and looking out for snooping teachers and emptying the drip pan under the grid-leak. (That was high class humor back in 1928.)
"But there was no humor in watching for teachers. First of all - signs in a school do not apply to teachers. In 4" letters as you come down the narrow aisle by the transmitter, (we called it the station) was a sign saying, "Do not watch the arc." I had to politely get them by the mercury tube before they went blind. We had another sign saying "Quiet - On The Air," we had to change it to "Quiet Please - Transmitting, but that worsened the situation. We finally ended up with a red spotlight that scared the hell out of them!
"We had a few paid sponsors just for expenses, Chili Bob, The Shack, Emmys Dog House, and the Peerless Painless Dentists.
"Occasionally, a teacher would come in with a very important world shaping announcement and I would seat them on a stool beside me and give them a very formal introduction. They seemed to think that every parent had his ear glued to the speaker at all times. I know my mother did.
"I was an honor roll student and could get out of study hall, so I came to the station and worked straight through from about 1 PM to closing time at 4:30. My pay was a pleasant hello from all of the teachers who were publicity conscious, crusading for a cause or wanting something translated into Hawaiian, a line in the Tamarack year book saying "Announcer KFIO" below my picture, and a few very exciting rendezvous with a promising acrobatic dancer who was appearing at the Lyric Theatre amateur contest and wanted it publicized. I got the event on the air successfully and she was very promising.
"There was a terrific rivalry between N.C. and L.C. in those days. (Note: North Central and Lewis and Clark High Schools.) The professional class of the South Hill against the blue collar North Side. The station KFIO was a feather in the North side Indian's war bonnet. So through politics, commercial objections, pressure and just plain dirty pool, the school board [brought] an end to KFIO. Mr. Smith formed a corporation but the radio club never got any money - I wonder where it went?
"KFIO was moved downtown on Riverside Avenue and into a building that had been a well known bootlegging joint (speak easy and blind pig were eastern nomenclature). It was a real studio - you could see the operator through a glass window and it had several chairs in the back for an audience in a room about 20 X 30. (Note: Hunt is likely referring to the Pedicord Hotel.)
"Meanwhile I had gone to work on my 17th birthday for the Peerless Painless Dentists in the laboratory for $3.00 a week for 8 hours a day, six days a week, after school. That meant that I could leave my duties in the lab in the evening to slip over to the KFIO studio or to Tom Symons' KFPY to do the spots for the Peerless Painless Dentists. I wrote my own scripts and had the MC job on a few programs. One was Sammy Mossuto on KFIO. He was a handsome personable Italian lad with a trained voice that was a lovely "croon," but he preferred the operatic training to the "croon." And in the days of Crosby, Columbo, and Vallee, do you think that Spokane would sit still for O Sole Mio?
"Sammy is still around - he runs a costume rental on East Sprague, after a long career of owning his own restaurant and night-club pattern a lot after the "speaks" of the Prohibition era. He started out as the star of Dr. Cowen's Peerless Painless Dentists Happy Gang on KFIO once a week patterned after the old Oregon Hoot Owls' Saturday night show. I was MC known as Swenson. Sammy was the sex interest - he crooned, "Just Friends," "Always," "Miss Otis Regrets" and laid them in the aisles - not literally - but I think he could have!
"We became so famous that we began appearing at grange halls, church rodeos, basket socials etc. - for free of course as long as E. McIntyre, the Peerless credit manager could make a sales pitch. All our expenses were paid and we had a free meal at our choice of three restaurants!
"A young man named Eddie Stock was our producer. He brought the idea to Dr. Cowen but I ended up with the job of director. We had a Baby Jean Miller, a chubby 12 year old with a wonderful voice, a trio, various banjo and accordion players, Sammy was the climax, and a beautiful big doll (I've forgotten her name - her mother never lost sight of her) with a seductive voice, too.
"Dr. Cowen decided he wanted more personal announcements on his programs, so as Dr. Hunt, I wrote the script and took off my lab apron and rushed over to the Symon's Building or to KFIO and did the spots. For about a year I did these - $10.00 per 48 hour week and wrote them myself. I still remember that Apollonia is the patron saint of dentistry - she got her teeth knocked out trying to remain a virgin!
"The Happy Gang was breaking up - mainly getting jobs that paid a living wage. Sammy Mossuto opened his night club, Mr. Smith was old and retiring and I went to work, playing a guitar at the Grand Coulee Damsite [making] quadruple what I made at the Peerless Dentists.
"But don't take the name of David Cowen's Peerless Painless Dentists lightly. During the depression it kept Spokane radio Stations alive. It was their biggest account, their bread and butter. Louis Wasmer, Tom Symon, and A.L. Smith were all very polite to Dr. Cowen. His food giveaways were news - his political announcements were lucrative, his legislature contacts were tremendous, his vision towards advertising on the air was far ahead of the plans of the then current advertising supervisors - some what garish and far out, but look at drug ads today. Sure he advertised dental plates for $10.00 and sold them with options for $50.00 - just like our modern car salesman.
"Really, I think you should include a chapter on the early advertisers. Do you remember Dr. Robinson's church down in Moscow, Idaho? Or XERA, Aquna Cuavina (Note: spelling error in orginal it should be Acuña, Coahuilain) in Mexico? Ma Oo's medicine show tavern out on the Market Street to Mead Highway?
"But I'm sure you have considered this. Who could forget Jack Dempsey's personal appearance on Davy Cowen's program on KHQ? I quote, "I didn't stop because I didn't know it was an artillery highway!""
Transcribed by Bill Harms - 27 June 2007
NOTE: Little is known about D. Windsor Hunt. If you have some
information about him, please let me know.