Emil Olson's Early Station
Said to Be the First Station in Spokane to Broadcast Music
Sketchy Information About Emil's Station
Information about early radio stations in Spokane is sketchy and mostly anecdotal. That is no less true for the account about Emil Olson's station, which according to Carl Partlow, was the first station to play music in Spokane. According to the 1920 and 1930 censuses, Emil V. Olson worked as a clerk for Washington Water Power (WWP). At least one account by an old-time radio technician suggests he may have also been in-charge of linemen at the WWP (1).
Before the Department of Commerce issued licenses, many amateur station operators like Emil would experiment with broadcasting speech and music. Emil's station appears to have been well known in Spokane at the time it was on the air.
Roger Williams Description of Emil's Station
Roger Williams of Spokane and later Worley, Idaho, who visited Emil's home numerous times (2), in a letter to Thorwald Jorgenson dated 10 March 1980 related the following account of Emil's station. [COMMENT: The following is a verbatim transcription of Roger's letter. No changes to the grammar or the spelling were made.]
"I do remember Emil Olson well since I plagued him with quite a few visits. The Olson Family lived on the southwest corner of 18th and Adams, one block down from the house my family built and occupied about 1910. There was amateur activity of some sort by the Olson brothers prior to WW 1. The antenna remained up throughout the war years although the brothers were gone. When Emil returned, he had been mustered out with the rank of Major, Signal Corps. He then built or found a small house up in the scrub pine. The location is hazy but I remember going to the end of the car line (Cannon Hill or Grand Ave.?) and walking east the equivalent of few blocks on a dirt road. There were no curbings or side walks there then. If the address is important a telephone directory of about 1921 would show it. He was unmarried, I think at least a sister lived with him. Since he worked for the Washington Water Power then and probably for the rest of his active life he had access to cedar poles and the manpower to set them. The antenna used two such poles. It was flat top of three to five wires with the usual spreaders. A counterpoise was strung below at perhaps eight to ten feet. The length was a couple hundred feet or so.
"The thing that broadcast the music was a very well made breadboard which used one tube as the oscillator and one as modulator. The modulation system was according to Heising. The two tubes had the same envelope as the Western Electric long line repeater amplifiers of that time but no doubt they were liberated Signal Corps VT-2s. The VT-2 was used as an RF oscillator or amplifier and was rated at 5 watts. What actually fed those tubes, I don't know but they ran a nice cherry red and they were fueled by a beautiful little ESCO motor generator set which one would scarcely fool with or afford for the nominal 200 volts or so rating called for. Sound pick up was by microphone from a table top Victrola or other player. He operated under the amateur call 7MA. The frequency is unknown but probably as close to 1500 kHz as could be. Frequency was set by a Ham version of General Radio wavemeter. That was the only transmitter around but the receiving gear was extensive and elaborate covering the spectrum from VLF to as high as things went in those days. A loose couple with loading coils on the side gave way to honeycomb coils when they became available. The favorite detector tube was the Audiotron mounted in a clip on a false tube base to fit the old four pin shell type socket which had been built in liberated VT-1 no doubt. The Audiotron you will remember was an unmounted tubular affair with pig tails. There were two filaments. One in use and a spare. Filament voltage was four volts. At least I was using a two cell storage battery on mine. Unhappily for the life of the tube occluded gasses hadn't been effectively scavenged or the seals were poor. It developed a nice blue glow all too soon."
No Official Information Found Yet
It is not known when Emil's station first signed on with voice and music, but according to Ed Craney of KFDC and KFPY fame, Emil's station was on the air when KFDC obtained its license in 1922. No official records of this station have been found. The author has searched for a record of 7MA, Emil's amateur callsign, but to no avail as of this writing.
- Emil V. Olson was found in the 1920 and 1930 US Federal Census. His listed occupations were statistic clerk for a "Light and Power Co." in 1920 and sales clerk for a "Water Power Co." in 1930. Partlow suggests in his notes that he was in charge of the linemen at the WWP. This has not been confirmed.
- The exact location of his station has not been confirmed. In 1920, his family was enumerated in the Aurora Precinct listed as "103 29th Avenue." In 1930, his family was enumerated in block number 1037 and was listed at "E. 1218 17th Avenue." That address was confirmed by Dean Carriveau who looked it up in the 1938 Pacific Telephone directory. More research is needed. The Spokane City Directories of that time may shed some light on his addresses.
About Roger Williams
Roger Williams was born in Spokane on 13 May 1907 and died in Tacoma in June 1999. He lived in Spokane until about 1923 and subsequently joined the Navy where he served until the close of the 1950's. Before he left Spokane, he became acquainted with Emil Olson and apparently spent a lot of time with him. After his military service he returned to Spokane and then to Worley, Idaho where he retired. While Mr. Williams was a young man when Emil's station was active, and it is difficult to judge his ability to recall events, which happened some 50 years previously, his first hand account provides a good insight into what kind of station that Emil Olson operated.
Compiled and edited by Bill Harms - updated 21 September 2008
- 1920 US Federal Census; Roll: T625_1940, Page: 1A, ED: 174, Image: 1185.
- 1930 US Federal Census; Place: Spokane, Spokane, Washington;Roll: 2518; Page: 10B; Enumeration District: 105; Image: 706.0.
- Craney, Edmund Blodgett. Washington State Association of Broadcasters Oral History Project. Interview mid-1977 by Hugh Rundell.
- Old EWSHS Photo Collection, Joel E. Ferris Library, Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane, Washington.
- Pacific Telephone Directory. Spokane, Washington. 1938
- Partlow, Carl; Handwritten notes of recollections of Early Spokane Radio, ca. 1980.
- Williams, Roger; Early Days of Spokane Radio, 1922-1927; letter to Thornwald Jorgenson, 10 March 1980.