by Paul R. Spitzzeri
The radio age came to Los Angeles in 1920, the same year commercial radio made its debut in Pittsburgh. One of the first local stations was KNX, though its beginnings were rather modest.
In September 1920, Fred Christian hit the airwaves with a little 5-watt station called 6ADZ. A little over a year later, at the end of 1921, the station took on the call letters of KGC, though it shared time with other stations that were on the same frequency. Five months after that, KNX became the new call letters of Christian’s enterprise, which boasted 50 and then 100 watts by 1923.
Though there are stories that the call letters came from “K” signifying a western America location and then “NX” because of the station’s headquarters at the Annex of the Arcade Building on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles, only the part about the first letter is true. The use of “NX” was assigned by federal authorities.
A new owner came along in 1924, when Guy Earl, the owner of the Los Angeles Evening Express newsapaper took over. Under Earl’s ownership and then that of the Western Broadcast Company, the station boosted its wattage, within several years, to the maximum (and current [!]) of 50,000 watts.
By the late 1920s, the station was at 1050 on the AM frequency and didn’t make its move over to 1070 until the early 1940s, by which time the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) bought the station and it remains with the same ownership and frequency today.
Nearly a century after its debut and with all of the challenges that radio has dealt with in recent years, KNX is still operating as the region’s only “all news” station.
The photo shown here depicts a couple of employees poring over what appears to be a newspaper in the midst of the station’s control room. An inscription along part of the newspaper (or whatever that is) reads, “A token of friendship / to ‘Dad’ Allen / Van of KNX / 6/26/25.”
Note the equipment in the background with its gauges, switches and other elements, as well as the simple trio of overhead lights and the desk fan in the back. A lamp and telephone are on the table beside the two men.
At the bottom right is the name of the photographer, Albert Witzel (or, at least, that of his studio.) Born in the famous town of Deadwood, South Dakota and raised in Seattle, Witzel took up photography in the first years of the 20th century and opened a Los Angeles studio. By 1910, Witzel became best-known as a sort of “photographer to the stars” because of his knack for setting up his images to best accentuate the performers he depicted.
Witzel’s work (say that ten times fast!) was featured in newspapers, film magazines and other printed sources and he had a stable of photographers in his growing business. But, while his career was red hot, he died in 1929 at age 49. The Homestead has about 20 Witzel photographs in its collection, including several excellent ones of jazz musicians and of actors.
Great piece! I am looking for more info on KNX relating to the Hollywoodland Community Orchestra. Any ideas where I might find recordings of the orchestra and ads for the Hollywoodland tract?
Hello Christine, thanks for the kind words about the post. It looks like S.H. Woodruff only had the 8 or 10 piece orchestra around for promotional purposes for less than two years, including live performances on KNX, so recordings may not have been done. There also weren’t that many studios yet in Los Angeles and few local labels. A major label like Victor or Columbia wouldn’t likely record an ensemble like that unless there was a compelling commercial reason for doing so. As for ads, you might want to subscribe to newspapers.com and find them there. Good luck in your research.
KNX was never located at the Arcade Annex. The NX never stood for anything. Jim Hilliker, Los Angeles radio historian.
Thank you, Jim, for the correction and the post has been updated. Appreciate the heads-up.
Where was KNX located in July of 1938?
Hello, the Columbia Square facility, home to KNX, opened on 30 April 1938 with the cornerstone laying held in mid-January and original completion date to be in March. Hope this helps. Thanks for your question.
Thank you! I am researching an LA family; one member named Joseph LaRocca was a harpist (previously in vaudeville) and worked at NBC and CBS throughout the 1940s. I recently found an article specifying him working at KNX in 1938.