KPRC wraps up historic 95th year of broadcasting

KPRC-AM 950, Houston's longest-operating radio station, begins its 96th year on the air in 2021.

The station can trace its roots back to 1923 when 16-year-old Ross Sterling Jr., intrigued with the emerging idea of broadcasting, took a YMCA course in radio from Alfred P. Daniel, owner of Houston station WCAK. Sterling's father, Ross Sr., who was board chairman at the Houston Post-Dispatch newspaper, took note of his son's interest and persuaded Daniel to help the young man start a new station to be associated with the paper.

(L-R) Ross Sterling Sr., Ross Sterling Jr., Alfred P. Daniel

A 500-watt transmitter was ordered from the Westinghouse Electric Manufacturing Co. in Pittsburgh, but before it could arrive in Houston, Ross Jr. died suddenly. His grieving father had the transmitter put in storage without even unpacking it.

A year later, Daniel approached Sterling about going ahead with their original plan. Daniel had announcing and programming skills and knew how to work with broadcasting equipment, so Sterling agreed. On Sat., May 9, 1925, KPRC signed on at 8 p.m. with Daniel proclaiming, "Hello, folks, everywhere." The station had just four employees, including Daniel serving as its first announcer and program director.

First Department of Commerce history card for KPRC

Interestingly, although May 9 was the date of the first broadcast, it appears that the federal permit to broadcast was not actually issued until May 18. At the time, the U.S. Department of Commerce issued radio station licenses.

The station's call letters stood for Post Radio Company, but they also referred to a 1920s Houston business and tourism campaign, "Cotton Port - Rail Center," with the government-required "K" replacing the "C." The slogan was inspired by Houston's leading role in cotton production and rail transportation.

The Post-Dispatch ran a front page story about the sign-on, listing dignitaries and entertainers on hand for the occassion. They included politicians and pastors plus bands from Mexico City and St. Petersburg, Fla. - both in town for a big advertising convention — and the Humble Oil and Refining Co. Band from Baytown.

Regular daily programming consisted of live musical and comedy performances, sermons, children's shows, poetry readings, time signals, weather and news. In 1927, scheduled programming was interrupted to broadcast dispatches for the Houston Police Department.

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, and no plans had been made to house the station. Improvised studio space had to be created in the cramped fourth floor "morgue" or clippings library. A mast atop the newspaper building and another in an adjacent field supported a horizontal transmission antenna.

Polk Street (LEFT) and Texas Avenue Post-Dispatch buildings

In 1926, the KPRC studios moved to a new 22-story Post-Dispatch building on the southeast corner of Texas at Fannin, today the Magnolia Hotel. The Post-Dispatch operation on Polk and Dowling (now Emancipation Avenue) was demolished long ago and is today the site of some townhouses.

Sugar Land transmitter site

In 1929, the KPRC transmitter was 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 shifted onto Post Oak Road near today's Williams Tower. In the 1930s, KPRC shared a transmitter site with KTRH at Deep Water, a now-defunct town between Pasadena and Deer Park on the La Porte Highway. In later years, the studios moved to the facilities of co-owned KPRC-TV on the Southwest Freeway, to a building on the Katy Freeway where it was operated by the local Sunbelt Broadcasting Company, then to Clear Channel Broadcasting's Lovett Boulevard facility. Today, KPRC broadcasts from the state-of-the-art iHeartRadio digital studios on Loop 610 near San Felipe. The modern-day transmitter sits in northeast Houston along Liberty Road near the North Loop.

In the early years of broadcasting, radio frequencies were referred to in "meters" - the length of radio waves. Later, the term "kilocycles" became common, abbreviated as "kc" for "kilocycles per second," a measure of the frequency of the signal. The U.S. Commerce Department officially adopted the term kilocycles in 1923, but as late as the 1940s many newspaper radio listings still included meters for the convenience of listeners with older sets. The modern equivalent of kilocycles is kilohertz (kHz). KPRC first operated at 1010 kc (296.9 meters) with 500 watts, claiming the signal could be heard for 9,000 miles. In 1941, the station moved to its current frequency of 950 kHz, transmitting at 5,000 watts.

On Dec. 24, 1946, KPRC-FM signed on for the first time. Over the years, it evolved to become today's KODA-FM - SUNNY99.1

You'll find lots of vintage photos and more great KPRC memories at Bruce Williamson's Houston Radio History.

Listening Family: Getty Images

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