Jay W. Peters got his start in radio broadcasting in Inglewood, CA, in 1927, with a portable broadcasting station licensed as KGGM. He operated his station on 1470kHz at a power of 100 watts. By late 1927, Peters had gone to Albuquerque, New Mexico and was probably using the mobile radio station to demonstrate transmitting equipment that he intended to sell. The transmitter was installed on a trailer with a collapsible antenna and Peters towed the station to various locations around the Southwest demonstrating his equipment. Apparently, while in Albuquerque, he sold the station to The New Mexico Broadcasting Company and the call letters, KGGM, were transferred at that time, around 1928. The commonly heard version relates that the call letters KOH were assigned to Jay Peters and his mobile station in 1922, however there are no Department of Commerce (pre-1927) or Federal Radio Commission (1927 or later) records showing that the call KOH was assigned to Peters before September, 1928.
The story of an early twenties assignment of the KOH call to Jay Peters probably originates from a belief that the Department of Commerce issued all early broadcast stations three-letter calls first, followed by four-letter calls later, which isn't true. Actually, three-letter calls were initially issued to ships and commercial shore stations, (an International agreement dating from 1908.) Due to maritime superstition, ships that met with a disastrous end did not have their calls re-issued to other ships. Apparently, if the ship was sold to another country, then the three-letter call was also not re-issued. The first broadcast call issued was a four-letter call, KDKA, but immediately thereafter, the Department of Commerce started to issue "retired ship" three-letter calls to many applicants. Through 1922, while most applicants received four-letter calls, some stations would be issued the old ship three-letter calls. After 1923, the Department of Commerce had a change of plan (they had many) and three-letter calls were only issued randomly, perhaps by special request or perhaps as they became available from recently retired ships. According to Federal Radio Commission records, the last three-letter call issued to a "new station" was KOH, issued to Jay Peters on September 13, 1928. While three-letter calls were sometimes re-issued and changed for "existing stations" after that, no other three-letter call was issued to a "new station" after KOH.
A commonly heard story, told by Walter Mulcahy, has Peters arriving in Reno to demonstrate the mobile transmitter/station to investors who wanted to build a new broadcast station for Reno but Peters found that the investors would not accept anything other than the actual mobile transmitter. The buyers prevailed and the entire equipment package was purchased and Jay Peters hired to set-up and operate the new station. Some of the prominent investors were H.E. Saviers and Son, Inc.(Reno's largest dealer in radios and phonographs), Sierra Pacific Power Company (may have actually been the Truckee River Power Company at that time) and the Reno Chamber of Commerce. It is likely that this "sale" actually happened,...but in Albuquerque rather than Reno, since the documented evidence has Peter's mobile call, KGGM, transferred to The New Mexico Broadcasting Company in 1928.
Another frequently heard version of KOH's origin starts in 1927, with Peters building a mobile broadcast station in an old bus. The antenna was supported by two A-frame masts mounted on the front and rear bumpers. Supposedly, Peters did not have a broadcasting license but traveled around Nevada broadcasting radio shows using whatever local talent he could find. When Peters arrived in Reno, he continued to operate his mobile station around town without a license however he was approached by officials (the FRC?) who informed him a license was going to be required and the station had to cease mobile operation. At this time, Peters applied for a license and was given the call letters KOH. This story is based on a photograph that Peter's had of a mobile station that was built into a bus. Whether it was the actual KGGM is unknown. The story is hearsay and none of it can be documented. What is known is, Jay Peters was in Reno in 1928 with the intention of building a radio broadcast station. The financing probably did come from the larger Reno businesses mentioned. The decision was made set-up the transmitter at Blanch Field Airport. Peters applied for a broadcast license at that time and was assigned the call letters KOH on September 13, 1928. The rest of the KOH story is from Nevada State Journal articles and FRC/FCC records.
Peters located the new station's studio in the basement of the Elks' Club, (he was quite active in the Elks.) The transmitter was located at Blanch Field Airport. The debut broadcast was to be on November 11, 1928 (to honor Armistice Day) but on-the-air testing between 4AM and 8AM the morning of October 27, 1928 proved so successful that KOH went directly to full-time broadcasting running 100 watts on 1370kHz. This early debut also allowed KOH to take advantage of the lucrative political advertising for the upcoming 1928 Presidential Elections in November. In fact, KOH even carried the election returns in a joint effort with the Reno Evening Gazette on November 6, 1928. KOH had a seven man crew, which was the largest for a radio station in Nevada up to that time. KOH was the first professionally operated, commercial radio station in Nevada, (the pioneer broadcasters - Broili, Beedle and Sparks HS/NSJ - were barely more than amateur stations and really didn't net any income from their stations.)
On April 9, 1931, KOH moved to the Steinheime Building near 5th Street and Virginia St. in downtown Reno. With the move came an increase in power to 500 watts and a frequency change to 1380kHz, (which gave KOH a clear channel to the west.) The antenna was located between two, 100 foot tall wooden poles, one mounted in the sidewalk on Virginia St., the other at the back of the property. Each pole weighed seven tons! About this time, The Sacramento Bee bought the KOH operation (in 1931, according to McClatchy News but reported as January 1, 1932 in the Nevada State Journal.)
In 1939, KOH applied to the FCC to increase power to 1000 watts and to change operating frequency to 630kHz. Los Angeles radio station KFI (640kHz) filed an opposition but lost its appeal in December, 1939. KOH had purchased 20 acres in Sparks for the antenna site and eventually spent $50,000 for towers, transmitter, station house (in Sparks) and a new studio at 143 Stevenson St. in Reno. It was August 23, 1940 when the KOH operation was moved into their new facilities, which featured two "state of the art" studios at the Stevenson St. location.
During WWII, FCC licensed engineers were hard to find as most were doing wartime duty. Bob Stoddard took over as Manager of KOH on July 5, 1943. One evening, while attending a social party, Stoddard was telling of his difficulties in finding FCC licensed personnel. One of the ladies present related that her son had a First Class FCC License. "Send him down to my office in the morning and I'll give him a job!"
"But he's only sixteen years old and still in high school," she protested. "I don't care, " retorted Stoddard. "If he's got the license, I'll put him to work." The next morning young Gordon Harris reported to Bob Stoddard's office and presented his First Class FCC License. "That's great. Let's hear you read some copy." Stoddard handed Gordon a piece of copy. When he had finished, Gordon asked, "Well, how'd I do?" "You were terrible, but I gotta have ya!"
Gordon Harris worked weekends, evenings and summers at KOH during his high school years. He worked the board and did remote broadcasts, certainly one of the youngest First Class FCC Licensed Operators working in broadcasting at any time.
During the early fifties, KOH operated a 5KW, custom-built, Phase-to-Amplitude Modulated Transmitter (Ampliphase.) The circuit used a pair of 4-250As driving the 3X2500 finals. The balanced phase modulator was followed by a tripler circuit prior to the driver stage. The advantage of the Phase-to-Amplitude Modulation was great economy in drive levels and power requirments. By combining balanced audio amplitude and balanced phase modulation the phase shifts reduce modulation to 0% at 180 degrees shift and increase modulation to 100% at 90 degress shift. A 50KW version was used at radio station KFBK in Sacramento, California (also owned McClatchy Broadcasting.) In 1956, RCA introduced their version of the Ampliphase in both Broadcast and Shortwave Transmitters with power levels from 2.5KW up to 100KW.
Jay Peters stayed with KOH for many years but eventually left Reno for Carlin, Nevada. He was also an amateur radio operator with the call W7CNG. In the late forties, Peters operated an amateur radio station from Lima, Peru with the call OA4AN.
On October 14, 1982, McClatchy Broadcasting sold KOH to Price Broadcasting Company (of SLC, UT, but partially owned by Sierra Pacific Power.) Price Broadcasting also owned KROW (Reno, 780kHz) and because of an FCC rule restricting multiple, high power station ownership within the same area, Price Broadcasting elected to sell KOH, which was still operating on 630kHz. Klein Broadcasting Company bought KOH from Price Broadcasting Company in late-October, 1982.
In the early 1990s, KOH was again sold, this time to Citadel Broadcasting. A change of operating frequency was requested from the FCC moving KOH from 630kHz to the new frequency of 780kHz, (where E.L. Cord's station, KCRL had earlier been and where station KROW was then operating.) The move would allow a "new" KOH to increase transmitter power to 50KW. The station owners had to weigh the advantage of 50KW vs an old three-letter call. They chose the former and on March 10, 1994, the FCC retired the KOH call and issued a new license with the call of KKOH for a 50KW station to operate on 780kHz....
*Many thanks to Henry Rogers and
The Western Historic Radio Museum
Few persons recall the days before radios. Fewer yet remember Nevada's first radio station. Was it really KOH of Reno as we've been told over the years?
The technology dates back to 1895 when Guglielmo Marconi became the first person to send radio communication signals through the air. Eleven years later, Reginald Fessenden first transmitted voice and music by radio. By 1910, experimental radio broadcasts were coursing over the airwaves, and the Radio Act of 1912 called for the federal licensing of radio stations. Stations WWJ of Detroit and KDKA of Pittsburgh made the first regular commercial broadcasts in 1920. Licensed radio stations came to Nevada during the "Roaring 20s."
Contrary to popular belief, KOH was not the first licensed radio station in the Silver State, although it was the longest continuously running radio station in Nevada. The first official broadcast was transmitted from the Elks Building in downtown Reno on October 27, 1928. In pre-broadcast tests conducted by the small, 100-watt station, the signal had been heard clearly and distinctly in San Francisco.
However, there were radio stations before KOH in Nevada and some were licensed. Among the earliest was a wireless station at the University of Nevada in 1916. In April 1922, the university was issued a license to operate radio station KOJ, however the station never officially went on the air. In addition, radio hobbyists had small transmitters that could be heard over short range by the growing number of crystal sets.
According to the Nevada State Journal, "Nevada's first radio broadcasting station, KDZK, officially started operations last night [July 21, 1922]. . . . The first program was broadcasted from the Majestic Theater between the hours of 8 and 9 and from reports from radio enthusiasts, the program was heard very easily." Credit electrical engineer Frank O. Broili and his brother Julius, who owned Nevada Machinery and Electric Company in Reno, for recognizing the potential of radio for entertainment and news, and underwriting the station's operation.
Initially, the 20 watt station broadcast phonograph music, but soon aired only live music. "The musicians' union was strong enough to prevent the transmission of any music other than that performed by live orchestra," wrote June Broili in "Frank Broili: The Transformer" (Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Spring 1975). KDZK increased its output to 50 watts and its air time to three hours per day. Boosting the station, the newspaper claimed that the normal broadcast radius was 500 miles during the evening. KDZK also expanded its format to include a 30 minute news program and featured interviews of guest speakers at the university.
In spite of all KDZK's efforts, competition for the airwaves proved to be its undoing. A rival station, KFAS of Reno, was issued a license on October 18, 1922 and soon competed for listeners. Hadley S. Beedle owned and operated the station.
Beginning in March 1923, Sparks High School, known then for its manual and technical training, operated a licensed station with the call letters KFFR. As the radio industry dramatically grew, and more powerful stations in California provided enhanced programing through network broadcasting, the Nevada audience expected better programing than the Broili's could afford to produce.
KOH, 1370 AM, filled the void locally after KDZK left the air. University of Nevada football was first broadcast on September 28,1929 (BYU 10 - Nevada 7). The station affiliated with the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) the following year and moved its studio and 500 watt transmitter to the north side of Reno. KOH also changed its location on the dial to 1380AM. In 1931, KOH affiliated with the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), switching back and forth between NBC and CBS over the years until its current affiliation with the American Broadcasting Company (ABC). The station relocated again in 1940, increased its broadcast output to 1000 watts, and moved to the other end of the radio dial at 630 AM where it remained until 1994.
Today 50,000 watt super station KOH is now licensed as KKOH, 780 AM, and is no longer the longest continuously operating radio station in Nevada because it was issued a new license in 1994.
Photo Nevada Historical Society
Western Historic Radio Museum