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Looking back at:

Early Radio -
Window to the World

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

On May 5, 1933 someone inside the Leo J. Blanchard Sporting Goods Store in Fredericksburg (located in the old Dietz Bakery building) threw a switch. I've probably watched too many Frankenstein movies, but I like to think that the lights dimmed and sparks flew. There was a faint but noticeable humming sound followed by the smell of something burning. Seconds later Fredericksburg's first radio station was on the air.

The 1930s were depression years, but they were also radio's golden age. Stations were popping up all over the country. At the same time radio sets were becoming smaller and more affordable.

Radio was the gin and tonic that helped many Americans forget their economic troubles. Radio brought music and laughter and lessened the feeling of isolation in rural communities like Fredericksburg.

People who had never been out of Gillespie County could, with a radio and a little imagination, have box seats at Wrigley Field or be front row center at Radio City Music Hall.

Americans loved radio. Every town, large and small, wanted its own radio station.

Fredericksburg's first station, call letters WTTH, reached Kerrville, Harper, Mason, Llano and Johnson City. The station operated during the daylight hours. A lot of the programming was live music and local news.

But the early radio business was precarious, and by 1937 radio station WTTH was gone. John Segner's opened a watch and jewelry repair shop in the vacant space.

For 9 years Fredericksburg had no local radio station. Then in 1946 the Federal Communications Commission approved the plan of the Gillespie Broadcasting Company to build a 250 watt station in Fredericksburg. Stockholders in the company included local businessman Walter McKay, attorney Arthur Stehling and Jerry Fisher, an experienced radio man who doubled as station manager.

KNAF in Fredericksburg Texas
Alene Fritz at the microphone at KNAF. Behind her are DJs Jimmy Dunne and Curtis Short. Photo taken February 5, 1959.
Courtesy Gillespie County Historical Society.

The studio, control room and office complex of the new station were located in 4 former Plaza Hotel rooms on the second floor of the Security State Bank building at the corner of Main and Crockett Streets. The 150 ft. transmitting tower was 2 miles to the northwest.

Work on the new station began in September 1946. At the studio and office complex, technicians installed soundproofing, a Gates console with 2 turntables and an Associated Press teletype machine. The teletype operated 24 hours a day transmitting news from all over the world at 60 words a minute.

Workers completed all remodeling and construction in November. After testing the system and getting final approval from the FCC, station KNAF, "The Voice of the Texas Hills," 1340 on your radio dial, began broadcasting on November 26, 1946, 2 days before Thanksgiving.

The broadcast day at KNAF began at 6:30am and ended at 10pm, Monday through Saturday, with slightly shorter hours on Sunday. Programming featured a fascinating lineup of music, drama, sports, comedy and news.

Music programs, in 15 minute segments, included Kate Smith. Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters, Two-Ton Baker The Music Maker, The Texas Drifter (real name Goebel Reeves) and Polka Time.

Thirty-minute dramas featured Sherlock Holmes, Tom Mix, True Detective and Superman.

One of the most popular local shows was the Trading Post where listeners could "buy, sell or trade anything."

On January 23, 1959 KNAF increased its power from 250 watts to 1,000 watts and transferred its frequency from 1340 to the now familiar 910. At the same time an addition to the tower took it to a height of 245 ft. allowing signals to reach listeners in San Antonio, Austin and New Braunfels.

KNAF became a part of daily life in the Hill Country. DJs Jimmy Dunne, Curtis Short and "The Girlfriend" Alene Fritz were like family.

There were worries that television would kill radio, but that never happened. There is something about radio that is still powerful and relevant today.

Radio is intimate and personal. With radio you can be all alone and still have a friend in the room. Close your eyes and it's easy to imagine you are at Carnegie Hall, Broadway, Yankee Stadium, the Ryman Auditorium or Woodstock.

The magic of radio comes in through the ears. The listener supplies the video with his own imagination.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" August 1, 2022 Column
"Station KNAF Begins New Era In Radio Broadcasting," Harper Herald, January 30, 1959.
"Segner's Jewelers Celebrating 40th Anniversary With Sale," Fredericksburg Standard, October 12, 1977.
"KNAF Fredericksburg Begins new Era," Llano News, January 29, 1959.
"Fredericksburg Radio Station Being Installed," Fredericksburg Standard, March 24, 1933.

Related Articles:
The Magic of Radio by Michael Barr
George Roy Clough Invents Call-in Radio by Bill Cherry
Radio Days by Mike Cox

"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

  • Making House Calls with Dr. Keidel 7-15-22
  • The Johnson Treatment 7-1-22
  • Robert Penniger: Early Editor of the Fredericksburg Standard 6-15-22
  • Checking In With John Ostrow 5-29-22
  • The Nimitz Hotel - Amazing Hospitality 5-10-22

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