Longtime Station Owner Wants to Give KLIV to City of San Jose

This past January, after more than 70 years on San Jose’s airwaves, radio station KLIV (AM 1590) shut down operations. Independent to the very end, the station had never been owned by a major radio conglomerates like ClearChannel or IHeartRadio. Soon, it may be owned by a different kind of entity entirely.

On Friday, KLIV’s 97-year-old station owner Bob Kieve sat down with members of San Jose City Council to discuss a novel plan. After owning the station for more than half a century, Kieve wants to donate KLIV to the city.

“I was thinking about it around 4 in the morning, and I thought, ‘I’d really like to see something good done with this station,’” he says over the phone from the office at his other station, KRTY. “From time to time in the past I had thought about giving it to the city,” he says. “I would hope they would make good use of it, to inform the citizens about all the things city administration is doing.”

Talks between Kieve and the city have been underway for two months now. With each new discussion, Kieve remains optimistic that his vision will be realized.

“The meeting was very positive. I was delighted with it,” he said earlier this week.

If all goes according to plan, the format would be a mix of music and direct communication from the city to the people.

“The city or the university will be able to break in at any time—either on a regular schedule or as the occasion calls for it,” Kieve explains. “Say, some announcement that the mayor feels is important for the residents to hear—he’ll be able to break in any time.”

While city spokeswoman Rosario Neaves characterized his proposal as “a very generous offer,” the communications office was reluctant to go much further, stressing that any potential deal remains in a stage of early negotiations.

The idea of a city-run AM radio station may seem a little anachronistic in the age of Spotify, Pandora, Audible and Earwolf, but San Jose and radio have a very deep, often overlooked connection. In fact, history seems to indicate that the first words ever broadcast over the airwaves were: “This is San Jose calling.”

In 1909, local inventor Dr. Charles D. Herrold strung an antenna out the window of his office on the corner of First and San Fernando streets, and connected it with a nearby building. The dean of Herrold College of Engineering and Wireless, Herrold was one of the earliest advocates of broadcast technology. On his first transmission, his audience was a bewildered assortment of Morse code operators and children with crystal sets, all of whom were shocked to hear a human voice suddenly emerging from their devices.

It was still three years before Congress passed the Radio Act, which officially recognized the existence of radio stations, assigning them call names and requiring a federal license. Before Herrold’s station even had a name, it had an audience, scheduled programming, and even a DJ (16-year-old Raymond Newby).

Working with a 15-watt transmitter, the fledgling station had a radius of roughly 15 to 20 miles. Most of the equipment was made by Herrold himself. In a newspaper article from the 1970s, Newby described the initial setup as “six arc lights attached to a helix coil.” A professional sound technician reached for comment described this Xolotl-esque contraption to me as “some Tesla-ass shit.”

Because there were no amplifiers at the time, the station’s microphone was plugged directly into its antenna, causing it to overheat quickly. To solve this, Herrold invented a water-cooled microphone with an attached water tank. Even this proto-steampunk invention only worked for half an hour at a time.

Most of the history surrounding Dr. Herrold’s station was uncovered by SJSU journalism professor Gordon Greb, who in the 1950s saw Herrold’s water-cooled microphone in a museum. When he found out it was used on a radio station in San Jose in 1909, he began researching the story. Fourteen years later, Greb presented his findings at the annual conference of the National Association of Broadcasters. That year, the organization officially recognized San Jose as “Birthplace of Radio.”

Eventually, Herrold’s station got the name KQW, which it held until 1949, when it moved from its original downtown location to a transmitter in Alviso. At that time, it switched its call letters out for the name KCBS. Just two years later the station moved to San Francisco, where it still operates today—the direct descendant of the Herrold’s creation.

KLIV itself is something of a San Jose institution, its roots tracing back to 1946. In its earliest days, KLIV was a daytime-only station, going silent at night.

Since 1967, the station has been owned by Kieve, who has steered it through format changes including disco, Top 40, talk and hot country. During its 25-year run as a news and talk station, KLIV featured news and local sports often alongside iconoclastic commentary, city politics and history. Three alums of this period went on to be inducted into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame.

If Kieve’s new plan were to come to fruition, it would be one of many surprising turns in his career. During WWII at the tender age of 21, Kieve moved to Spain as an agent in the short-lived Office of War Information. There, he wrote pieces for TV and radio that fused narrative with state narrative—features “with a propaganda slant that Washington had prescribed,” as he told San Jose Magazine in 2002. Along the way, Kieve broke into radio for real and ended up having a huge impact on the medium throughout Spain.

To this day he is considered the country’s “Father of Top 40 Radio.” El Arte Radiofonico, his Spanish-language book on the art of broadcasting, was the first of its kind in Spain, and was regularly used as a textbook by the University of Madrid for more than 20 years. He went on to become a scriptwriter for Eisenhower and an influential broadcaster, all before becoming KLIV’s longest-running owner.

As for his plans for his station and the city, so far it’s all just talk. Ever the optimist, Kieve remains hopeful. “Let me put it another way,” he says, before getting back to work. “There doesn’t seem to be anything to hold it back at the moment.”

13 Comments

  1. HMMMM, there were different rumors about this radio station not too long ago. Any government agency owning a radio station, or any media outlet for that matter, is a serious threat to our Democracy. San Jose has been ripe with corruption issues since the McHenry real estate and legal mobsters started being fed Silicon Valley dollars. Liccardo’s connections to District Attorney’s Office and Jeff Rosen in particular are already problematic enough. Controlling the airwaves would not only provide for more secret government, it would fail to maintain the checks and balances needed for a free press. Also there are FCC issues, and the City of San Jose has no business getting involved in that. The City of San Jose can’t even get the videos of their meetings up in a timely manner, imagine what a disaster it would be if Sam Liccardo were also in control of the airwaves. Governments that control the media are called Dictatorships, not Democracies. San Jose has a community based non-profit running CreateTV. That non-profit was established to assure the people maintained control over its local media. If this station owner really wanted to donate the radio station for the reasons he claims, why would he not go there, or “donate” that station to another independent media outlet.

    • > San Jose has been ripe with corruption issues since the McHenry real estate and legal mobsters started being fed Silicon Valley dollars

      Too recent. You need to look further.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._P._Hamann

      Hamann started “The Great Annexing” All these little burbs around SJ like Willow Glen, Robertsville, Almaden, all used to be their own cities. Even Alviso. Dutch made it a point to buy up property, then annex it the next week. Perhaps his greatest trick was Alviso.

      Dutch: “Hey Alviso, let us build a sewage treatment plant”
      Alviso: Uhh no way dude, get out of our city.
      Dutch: Me and the rest of the council just voted, you’re a suburb in San Jose now!
      Alviso: WTH just happened?

    • Ms. Bassi, SILICONE VALLEY HAS BEEN THE DEMOCRATS’ ELITES DICTATORSHIP FOR SO LONG. San Jose Mercury News banned me from posting. I know information of judges, supervisors, and others. The Mercury News has been the SILICONE Valley PUBLIC OFFICIALS’ PR for too long. SJI also posts their PR, but it also allow residents to comment on posts.Jeff Rosen and the “bending the Arch of justice.” They see their reputation is being destroyed by the community who no longer respect them. They have ripped off all. To own a radio station will give the city on open and controlled forum to keep corrupting the community. I can see supervisor Chavez being the Mega Start of the mornings’ Me, Me, Me SHOW, and Córtese telling us what a great Senator he can be. THESE PEOPLE’S egocentricism and control and power have no limits! RECALL ROSEN, LICCARDO, CHAVEZ, CÓRTESE, and ROCHA!

    • Mr. BOB, donate your Station to NAMI SANTA CLARA. THIS COULD BE THE VOICE OF FAMILIES and those living with mental illness. Do not give it to Liccardo or the corrupted supervisors! GOD HAVE MERCY OF US!

  2. We can’t hire enough cops, maintain streets or parks, and homeless impacts make us look like a third world destination.

    How many more Hayes Mansion, Redevelopment Agency, or Grand Prix boondoggles do we need? Foisting off a failed station on the public is a smart move. No doubt the tax advantages outweigh its paltry value.

    Do tell us Mr. Huguenor, which members of the city council met with station shill Bob Kieve.

  3. Another viable alternative is to look at turning it in to a worker cooperative. This is a great example of the kind of legacy business that cooperatives can support and save from closing. I’d be happy to sit down and chat with you about it Bob. Feel free to reach out to me at: [email protected]

    -Kirk
    GM, A Slice of New York
    Turned Worker Cooperative on July 1, 2017

  4. I would feel more comfortable if San Jose Inside could take over the radio station! Seriously, please take a look at it. Maybe it could be programmed by a consortium of local news sources.

  5. CCPR, “City Controlled Pubic Radio” what a droll idea. You would need to pass a law requiring radio’s could only be tuned to CCPR. Communique from the people cooperative at the University of Minds full of Mush.

    Rush Limbaugh at 9am, Shaun Hannity at noon, Mark Levin at 3pm. I’d love to hear Mark interview slick Sam once a week. Then the tax payers won’t have to bail it out.

    Now get off my phone you big dope!

  6. Mr. Bob, you can also give it to the Feminists’ cause of the Silicon Valley. Ms. Bassi, this FEXXNIST, and other mothers and fathers that have been RIPOFF by the Santa Clara County Family court and my other feminist friends will take it. This way, it can be the voice of the community to fight governmental and other corruption. You see, there are better options than giving it to LICCARDO. God will bless you and will write your name on the book! Options: NAMI, FEMINISTS, San. Jose Inside, or all of the above!

  7. Founder of KCXU -LP 92.7 FM
    We air just Royalty Free Music, air Democracy Now, Native Voice One shows, harvard university henna show, and air live (san jose Jazz summer festival) and now working on obtaining our own Non-profit organization.

    Slowly but surely we will get our diverse community voices on the air.

    http://Www.kcxu.org

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