On October 30, 1925, KHQ radio made its Spokane debut in an extravagant four-hour broadcast. KHQ had existed since 1922 in Seattle, but owner Louis A. Wasmer (1892-1967) moved the transmitter to Spokane in the summer of 1925 in order to revive the station at 1,000 watts. It’s a strong signal for this era, and Spokane embraces the prospect of a station that can reach the entire Northwest. Wasmer spent several months building a broadcast room, antenna and studio. The station’s highly anticipated launch features speeches from dignitaries, music from local bands and orchestras, and vaudeville-style comedy sketches. Listeners pick up the signal from as far away as Minnesota and California. KHQ immediately became Spokane’s first radio station and later became the region’s NBC radio network affiliate. In 1984, the call sign KHQ will only exist on television.
Front Page News
The impending arrival of KHQ Radio had been making headlines in Spokane since August 1925, when Wasmer and his partner, Frank (Sparkplug) Buhlert, announced the move from Seattle to Spokane. Wasmer was one of Seattle’s best-known radio engineers and Buhlert one of the best-known radio voices. They described their move to Spokane as an opportunity to relaunch KHQ at 1,000 watts in a prime geographic location.
Spokane gave KHQ a reception that bordered on delirium. Five days before the launch, The Spokesperson’s Review published a special 10-page section devoted to KHQ and the “most modern” radio station “on the continent” (“KHQ, the new Spokane radio station”). The broadcast room was on the top floor of the seven-story Peyton Building, with the antennas on the roof above, on two 70-foot masts. The main studio was across the street in suites 427 and 428 of the luxurious Davenport Hotel.
The town’s merchants – especially those who sold radios – were even more enthusiastic in their praise. “WELCOME KHQ STATION!” trumpeted the Tull & Gibbs department store in an ad as an adult. “With the raising of the masts above one of the greatest broadcasting stations on the Pacific coast, a means is unleashed by which the news of the Inland Empire and its advantages will be broadcast to greater distances – 1000 watts of power will be the voice of our community, a melodious, friendly, HUMAN voice… KHQ undoubtedly opens the doors to greater goodwill – it will be a new force in education – thousands and thousands and thousands of homes will resound to its sounds – thousands and thousands will dance to its music” (Tull & Gibbs advertisement).
The launch extravaganza ran from 8 p.m. to midnight. It began with a message from Governor Roland Hartley (1864-1952), who said he wished he could have been in the studio in person, shaking hands “with those men whose energy and spirit of company brought Spokane and the Inland Empire to the forefront.” aerial map” (“KHQ’s Debut Big Success”). A long list of dignitaries followed with remarks, including Lieutenant Governor Lon Johnson, the president of Gonzaga University and the president of the Spokane Chamber of Commerce.
The Spokane Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leonardo Brill, performed a Viennese waltz and other classical pieces. Spokane’s resident theater company, the Maylon Players, performed two ensemble numbers. The Gonzaga University and Haskell Institute football captains gave brief remarks on the upcoming game between the two teams. Many solo pianists have performed. The Davenport Hotel’s 11-piece jazz band played dance music.
During an intermission, Buhlert made a tempting offer to distant KHQ listeners. He said anyone who sent a telegram – detailing where they were listening and the quality of the signal – would receive small souvenir bags of lead ore from the Bunker Hill & Sullivan mine in the Coeur d’Alene district. More than 300 telegrams poured in, proving the signal had been picked up all over Washington and Oregon, and as far away as St. Paul, Minnesota. This was despite the first broadcast only coming out at 500 watts – it would take a few more weeks to hit 1,000 watts.
“Unique in its perfection”
Buhlert had sworn to make the debut “a memorable event in Spokane radio history” and he evidently kept that promise (“New Radio Will Make Bow Tonight”). The title in The Spokesperson’s Review the next morning, read “KHQ’s debut is a big success”. One reporter said the reception was “unique in its perfection” (“KHQ’s Debut Is Big Success”). It would be the first of many triumphs for the fledgling station. In fact, on its one-year anniversary, KHQ held an even more elaborate event, an unprecedented 10-hour, all-night live broadcast.
In 1927, KHQ became one of the founding affiliates of NBC Radio’s Orange Network, which linked major West Coast stations to the national network. KHQ would subsequently broadcast many famous programs from the golden age of radio, including Orphan Annie, Amos ‘n’ Andy, the Jack Benny Show, and The Fred Allen Show.
However, when television came along and blunted the power of network radio, KHQ radio went into a slow decline. It would eventually convert to an adult contemporary music format and change its call letters to KLSN. The station then went through a succession of owners, formats and call letters. Today, only KHQ-TV, Spokane’s NBC television affiliate, carries the call sign KHQ.
“KHQ, the new radio station in Spokane, is the most modern” The Spokesperson’s Review, October 25, 1925, sixth part, p. 7; “KHQ Station, Peyton Building”, a photo in The Spokesperson’s Review, October 25, 1925, sixth part, p. 4; announces Tull & Gibbs, The Spokesperson’s Review, part six, p. ten; “The new radio will curtsey tonight” Spokane Daily Chronicle, October 30, 1925, p. 3: “KHQ’s First Big Hit” The Spokesperson’s Review, October 31, 1925, p. 1; “KHQ Station, Peyton Building”, a photo in The Spokesperson’s Review, October 25, 1925, sixth part, p. 4; Bill Harms, “Spokane Radio History,” at Philcobill.com, a radio history website, accessed December 17, 2021 (https://spokaneradio.philcobill.com).
Licence: This essay is distributed under a Creative Commons license which encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit must be given to both HistoryLink.org and the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more information. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies only to text and not to images. For more information on individual photos or images, please contact the source listed in the image credit.
Major support for HistoryLink.org provided by:
Washington State | Patsy Bullit Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum of History and Industry | 4Culture (King County Accommodation Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Fishing Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, other public and private sponsors and visitors like you