From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Broadcast areaSan Francisco Bay Area
Frequency91.7 MHz (HD Radio)
FormatNews/Talk (Public)
OwnerSan Francisco Unified School District
First air date
March 10, 1941
(82 years ago)
Technical information
Licensing authority
Facility ID58830
ERP1,900 watts
HAAT280 meters (920 ft)
Transmitter coordinates
37°45′17″N 122°26′48″W / 37.754639°N 122.446639°W / 37.754639; -122.446639
Public license information
WebcastListen live

KALW (91.7 MHz) is an educational FM public radio station, licensed to the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), which serves the San Francisco Bay Area. Its studios are located at Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High School off Mansell Avenue in San Francisco, and its transmitter tower is on Twin Peaks.

KALW programming is also webcast with live streaming audio.


Old logo

KALW is an independently operated National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate, carrying content from NPR, American Public Media, Public Radio International and the BBC World Service. KALW also produces its own local news, music and interview shows, including the live weekday call-in program Your Call, the morning news magazine Crosscurrents, and the weekly two-hour live variety program West Coast Live!, which was broadcast each Saturday morning, and ceased production in December 2018.[1] National shows produced at the station include Inflection Point with Lauren Schiller.

As a part of its affiliation with the San Francisco Unified School District, KALW carries broadcasts of its monthly board meetings plus daily listings of school lunch menus, which are occasionally read by celebrities who have come to the station for interview shows.[2]


In the late 1930s, San Francisco was a major center for radio development for the western United States. In 1939, General Electric established a powerful shortwave station in conjunction with the opening of the Golden Gate International Exposition on San Francisco Bay at Treasure Island.[3] In August 1940, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) gave a demonstration of the then new technology of frequency modulation (FM) broadcasting at the National Association of Broadcasters convention being held in the city.[4]

In May 1940, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that effective January 1, 1941 it was establishing a broadcast band for FM stations, operating on 40 channels spanning 42–50 MHz, with the first five channels reserved for educational stations.[5] That same month the San Francisco Unified School District filed an application to construct a new educational FM station, operating on 42.1 MHz with 1,000 watts. The original station application, filed May 24, 1940, specified use of General Electric transmitters, but this was changed in January 1941 to specify an RCA FM-1-B transmitter.[6]

KALW was constructed at Samuel Gompers Trades School and began test transmissions on March 10, 1941,[7] becoming the first FM station to operate on the U.S. west coast,[8] and the second U.S. educational station to begin broadcasting on the FM band.[9] The station entered general service providing instructional programming on September 1.[10]

In 1945 the FCC announced that, due to interference concerns,[8] it was reallocating the current FM "low band" frequencies to other services and existing FM band stations would be relocated to 88–106 MHz (later expanded to 108 MHz).[11][12] In July 1946 the FCC directed that FM stations currently operating on 42–44 MHz would have to move to new frequencies by the end of the year,[13] and KALW changed its frequency from 42.1 to 44.3 MHz as an interim step.[14] The station's initial assignment on the new FM band was 91.3 MHz, and a subsequent reallocation in the fall of 1947 reassigned it to its current frequency of 91.7 MHz.[15]

KALW was instrumental in helping KQED television sign on the air in 1954 as one of the first non-commercial educational television stations in the country, by providing technical training, studio space, and engineering advice to the KQED founding staff.

KALW provided Chinese-language simulcasts of KGO-TV newscasts in the 1970s, before local Asian language newscasts became established. During the 1970s and 1980s KALW also aired live coverage of SFUSD sporting events, the last such regular live coverage of high school sports in San Francisco broadcasting.

While KALW's original transmitter had not been used since the switch to the modern FM band in the late 1940s, it was still located at John O'Connell Technical High School until the school was demolished in the mid-1990s.

In late October 2006, KALW suffered an antenna malfunction. The station continued to transmit with only three percent of normal power, causing many listeners to think the station had ceased broadcasting, although the audio stream was still available via the website. Fellow public broadcaster KQED-FM allowed KALW the use of their backup transmitter on San Bruno Mountain during the repair process. On November 2, 2006, station general manager Matt Martin posted an update on the station's website explaining the problem and expressing his appreciation to KQED-FM for its technical assistance.[16]

The City of San Francisco recognized "KALW Day" on the station's 70th anniversary on September 8, 2011.[17] Ten years later, on the station's 80th birthday, San Francisco mayor London Breed declared September 1 to be "KALW Day".[18]

License renewal challenge[edit]

In 1997, a group of full and part-time KALW employees filed a petition with the FCC to deny renewal of KALW's broadcast license, alleging that station management had covered up violations of hiring rules and had lied about required record keeping. The case was inactive for several years and, according to KALW's website, the group that filed the petition, known as Golden Gate Public Radio, was defunct.[19]

In July 2004, the FCC resurrected the case. While it issued only a warning to KALW about its employment practices, the commission determined that there was sufficient evidence supporting misrepresentation allegations to warrant formal hearings.[20] The hearings concluded in June 2005, and FCC Chief Administrative Law Judge Richard Sippel ruled in April 2006 to grant a limited two-year license renewal for KALW, while reducing a fine for public file violations from $300,000 to $10,000. In its defense to the FCC, KALW management showed evidence of its meritorious service to the community. The school district also argued for a hardship case, saying it was incapable of paying the $10,000 fine. (For instance, local school programs for children had recently been cut from the district's budget.) The judge disagreed with that assertion, however, and the SFUSD was given two years to pay the fine.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "KALW Program Guide". KALW. 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-07.
  2. ^ "Meet Your Neighbors: Cooking up three decades of school lunch". SFGate. 2010. Retrieved 2021-06-07.
  3. ^ "International Broadcast Station KGEI: 1939–1994" (theradiohistorian.org)
  4. ^ "RCA to Display FM at Convention", Broadcasting, August 1, 1940, page 122.
  5. ^ "FCC Order No. 67", Federal Register, May 25, 1940, page 2011.
  6. ^ History Cards for KALW (Federal Communications Commission)
  7. ^ "Interesting New School Installation" by K. L. Dragoo (Chief Engineer, KALW), Broadcast News, September 1941, pages 10–11.
  8. ^ a b "FM Skip Reports", Broadcasting, December 16, 1946, page 22.
  9. ^ "Listening to Learn", Radio Guide, November 26, 1938, page 14. WBOE (now WCLV) in Cleveland, Ohio was the first FM educational station, with regular service that began on February 3, 1941.
  10. ^ "San Francisco Experiment in Radio Education" by George G. Mullany, California Journal of Secondary Education, October 1941, pages 336–340 (extract reprinted in "San Francisco: 1941 to Date", Public School Broadcasting to the Classroom, by Carroll Atkinson, 1942, pages 138–141.)
  11. ^ "FCC Allocates 88–106 mc Band to FM" by Bill Bailey, Broadcasting, July 2, 1945, pages 13–14.
  12. ^ "FCC Allocations Order Text", Broadcasting, July 2, 1945, pages 64–68.
  13. ^ "Filling in the Spectrum", Television Digest and FM Reports, July 20, 1946, page 1.
  14. ^ "FCC Orders Cessation of FM Broadcasts in Low Band", Service Bulletin of the FREC, January 1947, page 3.
  15. ^ "New Frequency Assignments for FM Stations in the United States", Broadcasting, June 23, 1947, page 38.
  16. ^ Matt Martin (2 November 2006). "Update on our Transmission Problems". KALW. Archived from the original on 2006-11-02. Retrieved 2010-01-07.
  17. ^ "KALW Day Celebrated" by Ester Harris, The Guardsman, September 26, 2011.
  18. ^ "2021: It's KALW Day in San Francisco!" (kalw.org)
  19. ^ "KALW Mission\History". NPR. 2012. Archived from the original on 2008-08-28. Retrieved 2010-05-07.
  20. ^ "In the Matter of San Francisco Unified School District for Renewal of License for Station KALW (FM)" (MB Docket No. 04-191), July 16, 2004, FCC Record (Vol 19, No. 16), pages 13326-13340.
  21. ^ "In the Matter of San Francisco Unified School District for Renewal of License for Station KALW (FM)" Federal Communications Commission April 6, 2006

External links[edit]