|City||Los Angeles, California|
|Broadcast area||Southern California|
|Branding||KFI AM 640|
|Slogan||More Stimulating Talk|
|Frequency||640 kHz (HD Radio)|
|First air date||April 16, 1922|
|Class||A (Clear channel)|
|Transmitter coordinates|| (main antenna)|
|Affiliations||ABC News Radio|
(Capstar TX LLC)
|Sister stations||KBIG, KRRL, KIIS-FM, KLAC, KOST, KEIB, KYSR|
KFI (640 kHz) is an AM radio station in Los Angeles, California, owned and operated by iHeartMedia. It received its license to operate on March 31, 1922 and began operating on April 16, 1922, and after a succession of power increases, became one of the United States' first high-powered, clear-channel stations. KFI is a Class A 50,000 watt, non-directional station. It airs a talk radio format, with mostly local hosts and frequent news updates.
Its studios are located in Burbank between the Warner Bros. Studios and The Burbank Studios, and it has a transmitter site in La Mirada near the Artesia Boulevard exit of Interstate 5, the Santa Ana Freeway. By day, its signal can be heard throughout all of Southern California and at night, it can be picked up throughout the western segment of North America. KFI is licensed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to broadcast in the HD (hybrid) format. Although formerly an HD AM station, as of August 12, 2015, Los Angeles media reported that KFI turned off HD.
In 1922, Earle C. Anthony was the founder and owner of what eventually became KFI, a radio station he controlled until his death in 1961. From 1929 to 1944, he also owned KECA, now KABC. The E.C.A. in KECA stood for Earle C. Anthony.
He was an early president of the National Association of Broadcasters and, during his term, oversaw the establishment of the organization's first paid staff. He was also a founder of one of the earliest television stations in Los Angeles, KFI-TV (now KCAL-TV) and KFI-FM, both of which were disposed of in 1951.
KFI initially used a 50-watt transmitter made from a crank telephone. Early on, Anthony operated the station from his garage, and later from atop his Packard automobile dealership. In its early days, it was typically on the air for only four and a half hours a day.
From the time of its inception in 1926, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) operated two networks, the Red Network and the Blue Network. The Red Network carried sponsored commercial programs, while the Blue Network carried the sustaining ones (those without commercial sponsors). The red and blue designations came from the colors of the lines drawn on network maps. In 1931, NBC reorganized its West Coast operations, creating Orange and Blue networks for that area to replace its previous Pacific Coast network. KFI was part of the Orange group, along with KGO, Oakland; KGW, Portland, KOMO, Seattle, and KHQ, Spokane.
KFI, 640 kHz, was an affiliate of the NBC Red Network and KECA, 1430 kHz, carried programming from the Blue Network. In 1939, KECA moved to 780 kHz, the frequency of the former KEHE. Anthony sold KECA in 1944 and it moved to 790 kHz and became KABC.
KFI helped to keep the calm during the dark days of World War II by airing President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Fireside Chats." Later, it carried "Monitor," the network's very successful weekend radio service.
As a side note to KFI's participation in World War II, there is a bullet hole in the ceiling of the transmitter building, located in La Mirada, California, where a National Guardsman accidentally discharged his rifle on December 10, 1941, three days following the Attack on Pearl Harbor. The bullet hole is still there to this day, preserved as a monument to KFI's wartime service.
KFI's call letters were assigned sequentially but many people assumed that the "FI" stood for "Farmers Information." Every winter evening between 1924 and 1956, KFI would deliver a frost report at 8 pm that would tell citrus farmers whether to turn on wind machines or light "smudge pots" to keep their orange and lemon groves from freezing. The frost warnings moved to 7 pm until the late 1970s when they were removed from the schedule.
On November 29, 1944, KFI officials broke ground on Mount Wilson for construction of a new FM and TV transmitting facility. The ceremony was broadcast live over KFI (AM) from Mount Wilson from noon to 12:15 pm that afternoon. KFI-FM went on the air from that site at 105.9 megacycles (Megahertz today) in July 1946 with its first test program, though some later sources say the station went on the air in 1947. The station only lasted until 1951 when the owner, Earle C. Anthony, decided to turn off the FM station and returned the license to the FCC. This was common at the time, when some station owners saw no money from FM and no future in FM. In the early 1950s, while the audio quality was much better than AM, FM radios were not widely available, the AM-FM combination radios were expensive and stereo broadcasting on FM didn't exist until 1961.
KFI-FM was the first Los Angeles FM station to have its transmitter on Mt. Wilson. According to an article written by Marvin Collins several years ago, KFI-FM used a General Electric 3 kW Phasotron transmitter, operating with a 2-bay antenna, giving the station an ERP of 10,000 watts. Later, the 1951 Broadcasting Yearbook listed KFI-FM's power as 16,500 watts.
Through 1948 and 1949, KFI-FM broadcast its own music programs, separate from KFI (AM). A sample from the Los Angeles Times radio page for December 1949 from 3 to 9 pm shows KFI-FM offering those with FM receivers programs with titles such as Afternoon Melodies, Classics, Music For You, Symphony Moods and World of Music. By 1950, KFI-FM was broadcasting simultaneously the same programs from KFI/640. Five other FM stations were also simulcasting the programs from their AM stations, while at least three other area FM stations had their own programs, according to a Los Angeles Times radio log. Most of the FMs were only on the air from mid-afternoon to about 9 pm, while some like KFI-FM were on the air from 6 am to midnight with the simulcast of their AM stations.
Along with KHJ-FM (the area's first FM station which signed on in 1941) other early day FM stations in the Los Angeles region that went on the air in 1946 were the non-commercial KUSC/91.5 and KCRW/89.9. KFI-FM and KMPC-FM were broadcasting by 1947. By 1948 and 1949, other early FM stations on the band around L.A. included KNX-FM at 93.1; KWIK-FM in Burbank at 94.3; KFMV-Hollywood at 94.7; KECA-FM 95.5; KRKD-FM 96.3; KVOE-FM in Santa Ana at 96.7; KKLA (owned by KFSG/1150) at 97.1; KAGH-FM in Pasadena at 98.3; KMGM (owned by the movie studio) at 98.7; KMPC-FM at 100.3; KNOB in Long Beach at 103.1 (moved to 97.9 by 1958); KFAC-FM at 104.3 (moved to 92.3 by 1955); KCLI/105.1 and KFI-FM on 105.9. (KCLI was owned by the founders of KIEV/870 in Glendale.)
By 1950, KCLI was gone along with KMPC-FM. KFI-FM was listed in the 1951 Broadcasting Yearbook, but was gone from newspaper radio logs by mid-1951 and gone from the 1952 Broadcasting Yearbook. KKLA-97.1 also went off the air for good in 1951.
So, while KFI-FM made history as the first Los Angeles FM to transmit from Mt. Wilson, its short history lasted only about five years on 105.9. The station was not sold. The owner, Earle C. Anthony, simply shut the station down and returned the license to the FCC. A new license for 105.9 in Los Angeles was issued in 1956 with the call letters KBMS (Better Music Station). This FM station's original city of license was Glendale. The new station license had no ties to the defunct KFI-FM. After a few call letter changes, the current 105.9 FM license is still on the air today and has been known over the years as KWST, KMGG and since 1986 has been KPWR.
During its early days, KFI carried such sporting events as the World Series and the Rose Bowl. From 1960 to 1973, the station was the flagship station of the Los Angeles Dodgers radio network. Its programming transitioned during this period from block programming, often featuring 15-minute programs, to full service radio with disk-jockeys playing records interspersed with aggressive local news coverage. In April 1972, KFI celebrated its 50th birthday with a 12-hour special, featuring interviews and commentaries from many former NBC Radio personalities of the past.
In 1973, Cox Broadcasting, headquartered in Atlanta, purchased KFI for $15 million, at that time the highest amount ever paid for a radio station. James Wesley, Cox's manager at WIOD in Miami and that station's Operations Manager, Elliott "Biggie" Nevins, were dispatched to Los Angeles to manage the station. Cox instructed Wesley to find an FM facility in the Los Angeles market and purchase it also. A deal was reached with Dallas broadcaster Gordon McLendon, to purchase his KOST-FM for $2.2 million. Wesley also decided against renewing the long term agreement for carrying Dodger baseball, positioning KABC to become the new Dodger radio station in Los Angeles.
Starting in the mid-1970s, KFI successfully programmed Top 40 music. Owner Cox Broadcasting hired John Rook as program director. Rook was considered the force behind the success of WLS in Chicago. One of Rook's first hires was Dave Sebastian (Williams) as Music Director and Air Personality. Dave had recently left 930 KHJ, Los Angeles. Rook's first air staff included "The Lohman and Barkley Show" with Al Lohman and Roger Barkley (top-rated in the morning), Mark Taylor (mid day), Bob Shannon (afternoon Drive), (Music Director) Dave Sebastian Williams (evenings). Within the first year Dave left abruptly for crosstown Top Forty rocker KTNQ (Ten-Q). John Rook then moved in Eric Chase (mid-day), Charlie Fox (early evening) and Dave Diamond (late night). By the late-1970s the staff was revised to Lohman & Barkley mornings, Tim & Ev Kelly in mid-days, Jack Armstrong afternoons, Big Ron O'Brien evenings and Charlie Fox at night. Rook and several of the on air personalities left in the early-1980s with KFI softening to a more Adult top 40 format (in between Top 40 and adult Contemporary). By the mid-1980s the station was more news and personality intensive than music intensive with a Full Service format.
In the 1970s and '80s, the station featured a hybrid format combining adult contemporary music with comedian hosts. In addition to Lohman and Barkley, other hosts included Hudson & Landry (of "Ajax Liquor Store" fame), Charlie and Mitzi (Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In), and Gary Owens. In the early-1980s, KFI began broadcasting in stereo, with the C-QUAM system (continued until January 2000) .
By the mid-1980s ratings began to slip, as music listening switched to the FM dial. In the spring of 1984, KFI was ranked twenty-eighth in the Los Angeles Arbitron ratings, ahead of only KHJ among AM music stations in the market. KFI moved the music to more of a Soft Gold-based AC and began to play less and less of it. The talk shows moved from a blend of entertainment, comedy, and lifestyle to more political issues. Writer/Producer John Thomas was assigned to Lohman & Barkley in 1984 and raised the ratings for the morning show to a tie for #1 in the 25-54 demographic in Fall 1985. Shortly after Thomas left KFI for WLS in Chicago the morning show fell apart. Barkley split off from the morning show to go to KABC. The music was dropped in 1988 and KFI evolved to an issue-oriented talk format. The first hosts were psychologist Dr. Toni Grant, TV game show host Geoff Edwards did talk in the midday, and Tom Leykis hosted a politically oriented "combat radio" program. Competitor KABC, which had been doing talk radio for some time, sued KFI in U.S. District Court to have KFI cease and desist using the term "Talk Radio" with the call letters. Therefore, the slogan More Stimulating Talk Radio was created.Rush Limbaugh replaced Edwards in 1989 after Edwards refused to play promotional spots for the controversial Leykis show.
The station was owned by Cox Radio until 1999 when Chancellor Media traded 13 stations to Cox for it along with KOST 103.5. Cox opted to exit the Los Angeles market and focus on medium radio markets and its TV stations.
Chancellor merged with Capstar in 1999 and became known as AMFM Inc. In 2000, they merged with Clear Channel Communications making KFI Clear Channel's flagship AM radio station in Los Angeles. (In 2014, Clear Channel would become iHeartMedia after its iHeartRadio internet streaming platform.) Like other stations owned by iHeartMedia, KFI uses iHeartRadio to stream its webcast. The legal title of the station continues to be held by a subsidiary of Capstar. 
KFI and competitor station KNX (the two most powerful Los Angeles radio stations) are primary entry points for the Southern California Emergency Alert System, which are responsible for activation of the EAS when hazardous weather alerts, Disaster area declarations, and child abductions are issued.
When KFI went on the air April 16, 1922, the station was mostly an experiment to determine if anyone could hear radio voice transmissions. "Can you hear me?" Earle C. Anthony would yell into a carbon microphone from his garage transmitter location. "Yes, I can hear you," a family member would reply from a nearby house, listening to Anthony's transmission on an early, very primitive radio receiver. The station's operating frequency was not on 640 kHz in those days, but any frequency where Anthony could get the transmitter to operate.
Later, the Federal Radio Commission (prior to the Communications Act of 1934) mandated that all stations would operate on a wavelength of 360 meters (approximately 833 kHz). One station would operate on this frequency for a period of time. Then, it would go off the air so another one could use the same frequency.
The first station would invariably make the decision to continue to stay on the air after the second one had come on, causing massive interference. Later, after the establishment of the Communications Act of 1934, stations were assigned specific operating frequencies. KFI was assigned its present call letters and ended up with its 640 kHz operating frequency, a fortuitous happening, since radio signal propagation seems to be better at low end of the AM band than at the upper end.
In addition, being the first station on 640 kHz, KFI would not be required to erect a directional antenna system to protect other stations. Those that came on the air on 640 kHz following KFI would, instead, have to protect it. With its low operating frequency, its 50,000 watts of power, and its non-directional, 722-foot, single tower, antenna system, KFI's night-time signal could be heard over vast sections of the United States and various parts of the world.
From 1922 to 1926, early programming consisted of such things as reading news from a newspaper and local gossip. Broadcasting hours were very short, since Anthony was involved in many other activities, and programming sources were very limited. In other words, it was a hobby.
In November 1926, NBC was incorporated. When NBC's network facilities were finally extended to the west coast of the United States, KFI immediately became one of its affiliates. In joining this network, KFI had the advantage of NBC's vast entertainment and news resources. One of the first NBC programs to originate on the West Coast, and KFI, was the broadcast of the 1927 Rose Bowl Game from Pasadena, California, with announcer Graham McNamee.
As the years progressed into the 1930s and 1940s, NBC's, and KFI's, programming improved. The network was owned by its parent company, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), which also owned the Keith-Albee-Orpheum vaudeville circuit, later renamed Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO). RKO handled many vaudeville comedians and singers that were ideally suited for radio. Some of them were Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Fred Allen, Eddie Cantor, and Rudy Vallee, among others.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, many people could not even afford the admission price of a movie ticket, but they could afford to purchase a radio where they could listen to free entertainment, interspersed with commercial announcements.
During the dark days of World War II, KFI was there to provide air raid and blackout warnings. It was believed that an attack on the west coast of the United States was imminent, so people were warned to turn off their lights, and drape black cloths over their windows, so the expected bombers would see nothing but blackness. Periodically, KFI, and the other Los Angeles radio stations would go off of the air so the bombers could not use the signals to pinpoint their bomb dropping locations, as they did at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
An actual incident occurred on February 25, 1942, known as the Battle of Los Angeles, where U.S. Army anti-aircraft artillery emplacements fired 1,440 shells at something they thought were enemy aircraft. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his "Fireside Chats" broadcasting from the White House, used NBC and KFI to reassure the public that everything was safe and under control. People were glued to their radio receivers and KFI during this time to get news, any news, no matter how small, concerning the outcome of the war, the safety of themselves, their families, and their country.
In 1942, under the provisions of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, NBC was required to divest itself of its Blue Network, which later became the Blue Network Incorporated, and subsequently the American Broadcasting Company.
As a result of this divestiture and a booming economy, more money was available to NBC to develop better, higher-quality programming. In the 1940s, NBC was known as the network of the radio comedians, which gave it the distinction of being the network with the largest listener base. KFI, being an NBC Radio Network affiliate, also shared in this wide listening audience. If one wanted to hear the great radio comedians in the Los Angeles area, and in the western United States, one listened to KFI.
As the years continued into the 1950s, television began to cut inroads into radio advertising revenues and sponsors began the gradual migration from radio to television. As a result, less money was available to support quality radio network entertainment programming.
Gradually, NBC and the other radio networks began dropping large-budget entertainment shows in favor of news and information programming. "NBC News on the Hour" and "Emphasis" became the network staples as entertainment programs were slowly phased out.
NBC radio affiliates, including KFI, had the tough decision to eventually reduce, or completely eliminate, their network connections in order to maintain their profit structures. At that time, KFI became a disc jockey station, that is, live hosts playing phonograph records on the air. Between 1968 and circa 1975 KFI's programming alternated between streamlined MOR and full-service programming, dropping most long-form NBC programming.
Later, when music licensing fees became too difficult to maintain and as FM had replaced AM radio as the primary source for contemporary music, KFI became a news and information outlet.
KFI was named the Radio & Records News & Talk Radio Station of the Year in 2004.
KFI began as an experimental radio station in Earle C. Anthony's garage. As the programming improved and more money became available, the station was moved to his Packard automobile dealership building, formerly located at Tenth and Hope Streets in Los Angeles, with a "T" antenna mounted on its roof between two short towers. This site was retained as an emergency transmitter for many years, but powered by a 5,000 watt transmitter.
The main transmitter was eventually relocated from Anthony's business establishment to its present location in La Mirada, California, where a "T" antenna was erected between two medium height towers, and the KFI studios, and the studios of its sister station KECA, were moved to 611 South Ardmore Avenue. The 611 South Ardmore Avenue building is now gone, replaced by a parking lot. In 1948, the "T" antenna was replaced by a 722-foot vertical tower and a 200-foot emergency vertical tower, as long before vertical antennas had been determined to be superior to "T" antennas for high-powered stations, although 195 degrees (which would be 828-feet on 640 kHz) would have been optimum. Competitor KNX employs just such a 195 degree tower, as do many other U.S. Class A non-directional stations, and even some Class B non-directional stations.
Today, KFI broadcasts from its Burbank, California studios on 640 kHz on a 50,000-watt non-directional AM transmitter which is located in nearby La Mirada at 33° 52' 47" N, 118° 00' 47" W. As a class A signal, KFI can be heard throughout Southern California and some distance into Nevada, Arizona, northwestern Mexico, and, at night, in some parts of Hawaii and most of the western United States. According to a May 1, 2004 broadcast by Art Bell, this station can even be heard by sensitive receivers in parts of the eastern United States, if there are no nearby stations operating on 640 kHz. Some Canadians in British Columbia while others in Alaska were able to pick up KFI signals in the winter months, and even as far away as Japan, Philippines, Guam, American Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, and parts of Central America down to Panama on the proper receivers when conditions are right.
In summer 2004, KFI became the most listened to talk radio station in the United States, beating New York City's WABC in cumulative audience during the rating period.
On August 10, 2015, KFI began a simulcast on KOST FM's HD 2 signal.
With the move of the NFL's Chargers from San Diego to Los Angeles, KFI serves as the flagship station for all of the team's gameday broadcasts. KFI was ironically the Chargers flagship station during its inaugural year of the AFL in 1960.
In recent years, especially since the 2003 recall of the Governor of California, afternoon drive hosts John and Ken have become actively involved in several political causes, most notably that of illegal immigration. In the months leading up to the 2004 election, the hosts instigated several political rallies advocating the defeat of Congressmen David Dreier (a Republican) and Joe Baca (a Democrat), both of whom they felt were wrongly supportive of illegal immigration. As a result, the John and Ken show was the subject of a Federal Election Commission complaint filed by the Republican National Committee, alleging that John and Ken engaged in an illegal campaign against Congressman Dreier. The "Political Human Sacrifice" campaign, as they dubbed it, was not successful, since both Dreier and Baca were re-elected, albeit Dreier by a substantially smaller percentage than in past terms. On March 16, 2006, the complaint was dismissed.
On Sunday, December 19, 2004 at 9:45 am Pacific Standard Time, Jim and Mary Ghosoph were killed when their rented Cessna 182P single engine airplane, travelling from the El Monte Airport to Fullerton Municipal Airport, struck KFI's transmission tower, located in the City of La Mirada.
They had taken off from the El Monte Airport with a planned stop at the Fullerton Airport to pick up two passengers. From there, the plan was to fly to the island of Catalina to spend the day, after which they would make the return route to Fullerton and then to El Monte.
The solid steel truss, originally built in 1948, collapsed upon itself, mostly landing in a parking lot to the north of the site (KFI was relatively late to convert from a horizontal to a vertical antenna--same-market Class A KNX converted to a vertical in 1938, and same-state Class As KGO and KPO (now KNBR) converted to verticals in 1941 and 1949, respectively). KFI's signal was knocked off the air for approximately one hour.
Pilots had complained for years to KFI management that it needed to put strobe lights on the tower and highly reflective balls on the guy wire. KFI and Clear Channel Communications management responded by saying the tower was in compliance with Federal Communications Commission and Federal Aviation Administration regulations and that it did not need to make any changes. Until a replacement was successfully erected, the station transmitted from a 200-foot auxiliary tower at a power of 25,000 watts, but provisions had been made to transmit from the disused KRKD (KIIS) 1150 AM site just north of downtown Los Angeles, whenever the RF field towards the tower erection crew would exceed safety limits.
On Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 2:30 pm Pacific Standard Time the replacement tower collapsed while under construction. The tower was about 300 feet tall (the final height was to be 684 feet) when a guy wire support failed, causing the tower to tip over the opposite direction. There were no major injuries, and only limited collateral damage. The reason for the failure is assumed to be a combination of factors, including the much higher per unit weight of the new 84" cross-section tower, compared to the 1948 tower which had a 42" cross-section, and the inadequacy of the 1948 pier and guy wire terminations, one of which had previously been modified to a cantilever design to facilitate the passage of vehicles under that termination (and, it was the cantilever termination which catastrophically failed during this erection attempt). All of these structural components were replaced or strengthened in preparation for erection of the third tower, which is identical in design to the (failed) replacement tower.
A new tower began construction at the end of July 2008 and was completed on August 14, 2008 by Eli the Construction Guy (structural engineer). The station returned to full power (50,000 Watts) on September 25, 2008 at 17:00 PT. The new tower has a 50-foot-wide (15 m) top-loading "capacitance hat", which electrically extends the tower's height another seventy-five feet, effectively, without actually needing more tower sections (the local regulation authorities in apparent defiance of electrical engineering principles, and communications law, demanded "a 10 percent reduction in overall height", otherwise the necessary permits would be refused, not withstanding the federal government's primary authority over radio communications, and KFI's strategic role as an Emergency Alert System station for the western U.S. region). The new tower is also equipped with high intensity strobe lights due to its proximity to the Fullerton Municipal Airport, and additional safety upgrades because of the previous plane crash. The new tower has torque arms which limit the twisting of the tower in high winds. The tower has been dedicated to the memory of John Paoli, KFI Chief Engineer from 2000 to 2008, who died suddenly from a previously unknown genetic heart condition soon after overseeing the construction of the new tower. A plaque bearing the words "John A. Paoli, 1958-2008, Memorial Tower. Dedicated on this day, November 18, 2008 to our friend and colleague whose passion and talent brought KFI AM 640 to millions of listeners." and his likeness now graces the wall around the tower's base.
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