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Born in Fulton, Illinois, Herrold grew up in San Jose, California and attended Stanford University where he studied physics and astronomy. When his electrical manufacturing company in San Francisco was destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake he moved into teaching, and opened the Herrold College of Wireless and Engineering at 50 W. San Fernando St. in San Jose in 1909 to educate wireless operators. Interested in radio to transmit voice signals, he began broadcasting music and entertainment on a regular basis between 1912 and 1917 to fellow radio enthusiasts, using the callsigns FN and SJN. He had the world's first regularly scheduled broadcasts, allowing listeners to tune in at a known time. However, in 1917, the US government ordered non-military radio transmissions to cease.
After World War I, Herrold obtained the license for KQW in 1921, but he was unable to maintain the financial requirements, and the station was sold several times. In the 1940s, CBS attempted to buy its then-affiliate in San Francisco, KSFO. KSFO refused to sell, so CBS purchased KQW, moved it to San Francisco and changed the call letters to KCBS.
However, Herrold did not profit financially from his pioneering work, and later became a repair technician in the Oakland, California school district, and a janitor in a local shipyard. He died in a Hayward, California rest home, aged 72.
On the September 27, 1965 episode of the TV game show I've Got a Secret, Charles Herrold's former student, Ray Newby of Stockton, California, made an appearance as a contestant. Ray's "secret" was that he had been the first radio disk jockey in 1909. Host Steve Allen displayed a photograph of Newby and Herrold in the small broadcasting studio.
In May 2006, KCBS and KPIX-TV moved their San Jose news bureau to the Fairmont Tower at 50 W. San Fernando St., the address of Charles Herrold's original broadcasts. Although CBS management was not aware of the history of the San Fernando Street address when the move was planned, they quickly recognized and embraced its significance when informed at the bureau's opening celebration, giving long-overdue credit to the man who invented broadcasting.
- A Charles Herrold biography by San Jose State professors Mike Adams and Gordon Greb
- The Charles Herrold Story -- By John F. Schneider
- Arcane Radio Trivia Biography