As the clock strikes midnight on Monday, October 14, KIRO Radio will officially turn 78 years old.
It was sometime early on Tuesday, October 15, 1935 that the “K-I-R-O” call letters were first uttered in Seattle by a now-forgotten, tuxedo-clad announcer.
Back then, the station was not yet a major player on the local dial. KOMO, owned until earlier this year by the Fisher family (of Fisher Flour Mills and scone mix fame) was Seattle’s most prestigious radio station, carrying popular national programs from NBC in New York and San Francisco, as well as producing its own robust local offerings of live drama and music.
KIRO was an underpowered also-ran, and not yet affiliated with a national network. In 1935, KIRO mostly played records.
The K-I-R-O call letters were new in 1935, but the station had already been on the air in Seattle for eight years when new owner Saul Haas took over.
KIRO Radio’s earliest roots trace back to January 1927 when the station first came on the air as KPCB, named in honor of Pacific Coast Biscuits. KPCB was founded by Moritz Thomsen, owner of Centennial Flour Mills (and home of those Pacific Coast Biscuits that were never as famous as those Fisher scones). It’s an ironic fact of local broadcasting history that both KIRO and KOMO share origins in the flour business.
Studios for KIRO, in 1935, were located at Fourth and University in the basement of the Cobb Building, in broadcasting facilities originally built for KOMO in the late 1920s. KOMO had moved to fancy digs a block away in the Skinner Building, home of the 5th Avenue Theatre.
KOMO and KIRO eventually became great local rivals, as KIRO became a CBS affiliate, and CBS and NBC battled nationally for listeners and advertising dollars with elaborate drama and comedy productions, and innovative coverage of the looming war and eventual conflict in Europe and the Pacific.
Saul Haas and KIRO scored the biggest coup of that era by boosting the station’s transmitting power to 50,000 watts just months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Once the United States was officially at war, the FCC froze all further radio station power changes, leaving KIRO the most powerful radio station in the Pacific Northwest.
During World War II, which was arguably American broadcasting’s most significant period of growth and maturation, KIRO’s strong daytime signal was easily tuned in from around western Washington, and its powerful nighttime signal reached for hundreds of miles, carrying the famous CBS wartime coverage (including legendary live reports from London by Washington State grad Edward R. Murrow) into several states.
Back then, if you wanted to know what was happening at home and overseas, local radio was the only app for that.