On May 9, 2011, KPRC-AM marked its 86th year on the air.
If it hadn't been for an untimely 1924 death, it might actually have been on the air more than a year earlier.
According to published accounts, Ross Sterling Jr., son of the largest shareholder of the Houston Post Co., took a 1923 course in broadcasting at the Houston YMCA. Noting his son's interest in radio, Ross Sterling Sr. met with the course instructor, Alfred P. Daniel of Houston station WCAK, to discuss starting a station to be associated with the Post-Dispatch newspaper.
Former Texas governor and president of the Post, William P. Hobby, was also eager for the younger Sterling to launch a station, so a 500-watt transmitter was ordered from the Westinghouse Electric Manufacturing Co. Before it arrived in Houston, however, Ross Sterling Jr. died, and his grieving father ordered the transmitter put in storage without ever having it uncrated.
More than a year later, Daniel again approached Sterling about proceeding with the original plans. In addition to having announcing and programming skills — and knowing how to build broadcast equipment — Daniel was apparently a pretty good salesman. Sterling agreed and ordered the station set up. A major advertising convention was scheduled to be held in Houston that spring, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover was to be one of the speakers. Just three weeks before the convention — on Sat., May 9, 1925 — KPRC signed on at 8 p.m. with Daniel as its first announcer and program director.
"Hello, folks, everywhere," were the first words spoken, according to the official account. The station had just four employees. The call letters stood for Kotton Port, Rail Center.
Interestingly, although May 9 was the date of the first broadcast, indications are that the federal license to broadcast was not issued until May 13.
The Post-Dispatch ran a front page story about the sign-on, giving the line-up of dignitaries and entertainers that were to be on hand. They included bands from Mexico City and St. Petersburg, Fla. — both in town for the advertising convention — and the Humble Oil and Refining Co. Band from Baytown. A regular nightly feature was to be a talk given by Houston Poet Laureate Judd Mortimer Lewis.
The station's first studios were in the Post-Dispatch building on the southwest corner of Polk and Dowling. The newspaper had just moved into the building in March and, since no plans had been made to house the station, improvised space had to be created. The studios were set up in the fourth floor "morgue" or clippings library, a very cramped space.
In the early years of broadcasting, radio frequencies were described in "meters," which referred to the length of radio waves. Then, the term "kilocycles" became common, abbreviated as "kc" for "kilocycles per second," a measure of the frequency of the signal. The Commerce Department officially adopted the term kilocycles in 1923, but as late as the 1940s radio listings in the Houston papers still included meters for the convenience of Houstonians with older sets. KPRC first operated at 1010 kc (296.9 meters) with 500 watts, and the paper claimed the signal could be heard for 9,000 miles. One mast atop the Post building and another in an adjacent field supported the flattop antenna.
In 1926, the KPRC studios moved to the new 22-story Post-Dispatch "skyscraper" on the southeast corner of Texas at Fannin, for many years the home for Shell Oil Co. before the present One Shell Plaza was built in the 1960s. The Post-Dispatch plant on Polk and Dowling has long since been demolished, but the building on Texas has recently been renovated and opened as the Magnolia Hotel.
By 1929, the KPRC transmitter had been relocated to Sugar Land, and in 1934 the studios moved to the mezzanine of the Lamar Hotel where they stayed until 1953 when they were moved onto Post Oak Road near the present Williams Tower. In the '30s, KPRC and KTRH shared a transmitter plant at Deep Water on the La Porte Highway. In later years, the studios moved to the Southwest Freeway, the Katy Freeway, then to Lovett Boulevard. They are now located in state-of-the-art digital studios on Loop 610 at San Felipe.
If you've ever worked at KPRC, or have a relative who has, let us know. We would like to add your story and photos to our history section.
Coming soon: stories from former talk show hosts and announcers.
For their help with history and photos, we would like to thank Bruce Williamson at Houston Radio History, Pat Schwab at KPRC TV, and Charlie Pena at Clear Channel Radio.