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.