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KFSG LA Aimee Semple

Pioneer L. A. Christian Station Stops Broadcasting After 79 Years

by Jim Hilliker

ESTABLISHMENT OF A NEW LOS ANGELES RADIO STATION

image of KFSG Towers 1920s

KFSG Towers 1920s
© Jim Hilliker Collection

Aimee knew in 1922 she wanted to spread the word of God and bring people to her church through the use of radio, which was first gaining popularity at the time. The official church history states that she was the first woman to preach a sermon over the radio in April of 1922, on the Rockridge radio station (KZY) in Oakland, California. This station went off the air in 1923, and did not become KNEW, as the KFSG history Web site has written.

With about 500 radio stations in the country in 1923, Aimee gained more radio experience on station KHJ, which donated time on Sunday mornings to Protestant preachers. This helped her decide to put her own radio station on the air. The experts told Aimee there were about 200,000 radio sets within 100 miles of Los Angeles, with more being built and sold every day. Operators of other Los Angeles radio stations advised McPherson she could be on the air for under $25,000. Her congregation agreed with her and they raised the money for the broadcasting station. Aimee hired popular radio engineer Kenneth Gladstone Ormiston from the Los Angeles Times' station, KHJ, to be her radio engineer for $3,000 a year. (Ormiston had also written the radio column for the Times and was technical editor of Radio Doings magazine. In 1925 while at KFSG, he hosted a 45-minute weekly program over KFWB, the "Radio Doings Technical Hour." He answered questions from readers of the magazine about radio, their reception problems, problems with their radios, etc.).

The new modern station was built on the 3rd floor of Angelus Temple, with its transmitting antenna on the church roof. Radio Doings magazine reported the following item about the new station, a week before it went on the air: "The KFSG operating room is located in the center of the third floor foyer, in a special built room. Mr. K.G. Ormiston, well known through his work at KHJ, will see that the big station transmits properly. An attractive studio has been located at the east end of the third floor foyer, and microphones have been installed in the auditorium, so that the programs may be sent from either. A complete phone and signal system is in operation between pulpit, studio and operating room."

In January of 1924, the Department of Commerce-Radio Division wired Aimee that her license for the new radio station was granted, with the sequentially issued call letters KFNC. She was disappointed with the assigned call letters, and immediately sent off a reply telegram. She asked that her radio station be called KFSG, as her church of 4,000 resident members called its teachings the Foursquare Gospel. On January 28, 1924, the very same day, a telegram came back from Washington, D.C. telling Aimee that they had granted her request to call her radio station KFSG. She sent a wire back on January 29th, thanking the Department of Commerce for the change. The new station was assigned to broadcast on a wavelength of 278 meters, or 1080 kilocycles on the radio dial. KFSG's debut came at a time when the new technology of radio broadcasting was still undergoing change and experimentation. The public was also using a variety of radios that weren't standardized yet, to hear the broadcasts. These operated on storage batteries for power, and usually one had to have 3 different batteries to power those early radios. Recharging the batteries every so often became a chore for early radio buffs. Loudspeakers cost extra, too. The simpler, easy-to-tune one-dial all-electric AC radios weren't on the scene until 1927 and 1928.

image of Aimee Semple McPherson

Aimee Semple McPherson ca 1924
© Jim Hilliker Collection

The start of this historic radio station took place 8 days later. The date was February 6, 1924. It was a time when a 500-watt radio station was considered to be "high power" and the average transmitter power needed to cover a large city. KFI and KHJ were already broadcasting with 500 watts, and KFSG was about to do the same. KNX would not boost its power to 500 watts until October of 1924. KFSG's first broadcast took place during Los Angeles' 2nd annual Radio and Electrical Exposition, at the Biltmore Hotel. The opening of the new radio station was the big story on the front page of the Los Angeles Times the next day, since Mrs. McPherson had been acquainted with the Times' staff, through her occasional broadcasts on the newspaper's station, KHJ. Aimee Semple McPherson's own magazine, The Bridal Call, announced the big event this way in its February 1924 issue:

ANGELUS TEMPLE—Powerful 500 Watt Radio Station—Now Broadcasting—Wave Length 278 Meters—K.F.S.G. Angelus Temple, Kall Four Square Gospel. Draw up your fireside chair, adjust your earphones and tune in, for the great Angelus Temple Revival is now on the air!

With due pomp and ceremony becoming so great an event, the Angelus Temple radio broadcasting station was opened February 6th at 8 p.m. Enthusiastic thousands were assembled. Joyous anticipation rose to flood tide, as the powerful 500-watt Western Electric equipped station was formally dedicated to God and the people of the United States, Canada, Alaska, Mexico, Panama, Hawaii, South Sea Islands, etc.

Scarce had the station come on the air, till telegrams and dispatches began to arrive from Arizona, Colorado, Canada and the Mexican border, stating that the program was being received as clearly as though the listeners-in were seated in the Temple.

STATE PRESS AND CLERGY OFFICIATE

image of Aimee Semple McPherson and Kenneth G. Ormiston

Aimee Semple McPherson and Kenneth G. Ormiston
© Jim Hilliker Collection

Among the speakers on the dedicatory program who congratulated Angelus Temple for their radio equipment were acting Mayor Boyle Workman, Chairman of the City Council; Judge Carlos Hardy of the Superior Court; Col. J.F. Dillon, radio supervisor of the Western States for the Department of Commerce; Harry Chandler, owner of the Los Angeles Times; "Uncle John" Daggett, announcer of the Times radio station KHJ; Brook Hawkins, builder of Angelus Temple; Dr. J. Whitcomb Brougher, Pastor Temple Baptist Church and many others.

So draw up your chair, attach your loudspeaker and listen in. Three times daily (except Monday), you may hear Angelus Temple and the great revival sermons, song and prayer. Twice weekly, Tuesdays and Thursdays, a message will be broadcasted for the shut-ins. May God grant that the radio prove a mighty blessing to old and young, rich and poor, to sick and well, to one and all."

The first words ever spoken over KFSG were taken from the Bible, John 3:16. They were spoken from the "Gray Studio" by Aimee Semple McPherson, at the start of the station's dedicatory ceremony that evening. Programs during KFSG's early years that originated from the main studio were listed in the newspapers and magazines as "Gray Studio" programs.

When KFSG first began broadcasting, a group of Christians formed a Radio Missionary Society for the station. Each member took a day to pay back the pastor, making it a tribute to a loved one, a cherished event or in appreciation for the broadcasts. In this manner, KFSG was sponsored for many years, solely by its listeners and was non-commercial. Sister Aimee also decided to get word out about KFSG and broadcasting her church services in a unique way. Since not every household had a radio at that time, she set up tents around various Southern California communities, where large groups of people gathered to hear KFSG. For some, it was also their first time listening to a radio.

KFSG'S EARLY SUCCESS

image of KFSG Letterhead

KFSG Letterhead
© Jim Hilliker Collection

Within a few weeks, KFSG was as popular as any Los Angeles radio station at the time, and there were only 6 stations on the air regularly in the area then. By the middle of 1925, there were still less than a dozen stations on the air in the L.A. region! During the first few months on the air, KFSG's staff included Gladwyn N. Nichols, the station announcer, who also was the Musical Director at Angelus Temple; Essie Locy acted as station hostess, and K.G. Ormiston who was KFSG's operator-engineer.

There were no Arbitron ratings or any other ratings services at this time. The only way radio stations could determine if their signal was getting out and get an idea who was hearing them, was from listeners either calling the radio station on the phone or by sending the station a card, letter or telegram reporting reception of the station. In March of 1924, The Bridal Call reported that mail was pouring into Angelus Temple from throughout the United States and outside the country, in response to the messages sent out over KFSG. All the mail was "answered by a competent staff of church members who had volunteered for the work." The March 29, 1924 KFSG schedule in Radio Doings magazine had a note at the bottom of the page that showed the growing interest the public had in radio at this time. It said that souvenir programs containing photos of the Temple, studios and operating plant of KFSG would be mailed without cost to those writing for them.

During the week of April 6, 1924, the KFSG program schedule in Radio Doings showed KFSG on the air every day except Monday. The station never went on the air before 10:30 a.m., and in those first months, didn't go on the air until 3:30 p.m. many days. Like many stations in those days, KFSG went on and off the air as many as 4 or 5 times a day, between broadcasts of church services, and organ recitals or studio programs. The last broadcast of the evening during its first year was usually no later than 9 or 10 p.m., and in 1925 there was a Sunday night organ recital at 11 p.m. By 1927, the station remained on the air more frequently until 11 p.m. or later. Besides the church services and sermons by Aimee, there were children's stories hosted by her daughter Roberta that were broadcast, along with the regular organ recitals by Esther Fricke Green, and concerts performed by the Temple Silver Band, Orchestra and Choir. Co-operative programs were also to be given by "men and women active in the welfare of Southern California." By August of 1928, Radio Doings magazine featured a photo of Fricke Green seated at the Temple organ. The caption said she had broadcast more than 825 organ recitals over KFSG in four years for her West Coast listeners.

LISTENERS FROM NEAR AND FAR

image of KFSG QSL card

KFSG QSL card ca 1940
© Jim Hilliker Collection

Before the nation was connected by network radio, the early radio fans sat up into the late night hours, tuning around to see what stations they could hear. Areas outside large cities typically weren't served by radio during the daytime hours then. The AM band had only 500-600 stations, not the congested band of nearly 5,000 AM stations today. There also wasn't any of the man-made interference from televisions, computers, light dimmers, fluorescent lights, etc., that we have today that plays havoc with AM reception. It's hard to imagine now, but with many people then using outdoor copper wire antennas hooked up to their radios, it was possible for them to "pull in" a 500-watt signal from KFSG, since that was the average power then, and few stations transmitted with more than 5,000 watts.

After its signal had "skipped" out into the night sky for several hundred miles, (especially in the cold winter months), letters were sent to KFSG from listeners in North Dakota, Kentucky, Florida, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and other states. Dedicated listeners and radio hobbyists told KFSG how well or poorly the station was heard. Many others also wrote about how the Angelus Temple church services and music affected them, and how the broadcasts were inspiring and appreciated. Sometimes, the station was even heard in far off places such as the Cape Verde Islands and New Zealand!

Here are a few examples of letters sent to KFSG from some of those listeners long ago. The first one is from 1925, sent from Illinois:

We would be very unappreciative not to let you know we heard your Birthday Program this morning (Feb. 6, 1925, first anniversary of KFSG). I must tell you how we happened to tune in. My husband, being quite a radio fan, dreamed that he had your station on the air. The dream was so real he awoke and dashed out to the radio about 2 a.m. The first thing I heard was your announcer saying, 'KFSG, Angelus Temple'. I did not remain in bed long then, for it came in loud and clear on the loud speaker. We sat up here in the chilly morning hours, wrapped in robes, listening in until 4 o'clock. We wish to convey our appreciation to all who took part, for indeed it was food for our souls and spirits. We do hope to hear you soon again.

Mr. and Mrs. V.E. Richardson
Zion, Illinois

From November of 1924, this came from a listener in Indiana:

The service broadcast by KFSG was heard and enjoyed from 11:00 till 11:45 p.m., Sunday night. Central Time. Reception was exceptionally clear and consistent. Would like to know who the woman preacher was who delivered the message and what is the denomination of the church?

Francis EuDaly
Seymour, Indiana

This is from the winter of 1925:

Just a word of appreciation of your organ program which I heard here and enjoyed greatly. You must have a very fine transmitter out there, as I received you on a home-made single tube set. I tuned in on your wave at about 1:20 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, and heard and understood every announcement, and held you until you signed off at 1:49, E.S.T.

George D. Walter
Easton, Pennsylvania

And finally, from October of 1927, this item from Aimee's The Bridal Call magazine:

New Zealand is a long way off—but not too far for the Gospel messenger of KFSG to wing its radiant way. And if the Sunday evening program here happens to be Monday over there, the Gospel words are just as true and the Gospel music just as sweet. Mr. George A. Munro, a listener at Clevedon, South Auckland, reports in a letter to Esther Fricke Green, Angelus Temple's accomplished organist, that besides tuning in the musical hour with which she delights radio land in this country every Sunday night, she is the first lady announcer whom he has ever heard from the United States. His letter states, 'I tuned you in on Monday evening, September 5th', Mr. Munro wrote, 'which would be late Sunday night with you. Using a four-tube receiver, reception was good phone strength and very clear, though fading was rather noticeable because of the extreme distance. I heard a song and two organ solos, then the hymn, Safe in the Arms of Jesus. Another organ solo followed, which I recognized as the well-known hymn, Abide with Me. Your station then closed down, the New Zealand time being 6:31 p.m.

The letters from Los Angeles area listeners of the 1920s are just as fascinating, thanking KFSG for broadcasting the church services for shut-ins, the Sunshine Hour program every morning, or simply the sounds from the Angelus Temple choir and band. These are just a few of the many thousands of letters received by KFSG during its early years. It was fairly typical then for other radio stations in L.A. and across the U.S. to also get flooded with letters and cards reporting reception of their signals in those days, from fairly great distances.

image of Jim Hilliker

Jim Hilliker

Jim Hilliker is a radio historian and former broadcaster. He has written a number of articles on the history of broadcasting in Los Angeles. He currently lives in Monterey, California.

This article is © 2003 - Jim Hilliker

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