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KSMR Radio and the Railroad

The following information about KSMR, the radio station whose history is intertwined with the Santa Maria Valley Railroad's history, was graciously provided by Jim Hilliker, a longtime radio historian now living in Monterey but who grew up in Santa Maria. If anyone has pictures of the antenna on the roof of the railroad office building, or of musicians jamming inside, we'd love to share them here...

KSMR Radio
by Jim Hilliker

It appears that KSMR was not related to today's KSMA-1240 AM, which was first licensed and went on the air around 1945 to 1947. (I was on the radio on KSMA in 1962 and '63, a tape-recorded Christmas program of songs our school classmates performed).

KSMR started out as KFXC, licensed to the Santa Maria Valley Railroad, Santa Maria, CA on September 2, 1925. 100 watts of power on 1430 kilocycles. During February of 1926, the station changed call letters to KSMR to better identify with the owner/licensee of the station, Santa Maria (Valley ) Railroad.

The Federal Radio Commission (FRC, predecessor to the FCC) moved KSMR and other stations around the AM band dial to avoid interference from other stations. KSMR was moved from 1430 to 1060 and then 1100 kilocycles on the AM band radio dial during 1927. Still 100 watts of power, fairly typical for a local radio station in those days.

KSMR was finally assigned to operate on 1200 kilocycles with 100 watts of output power on November 11, 1928, still owned by SMVRR in 1929 and 1930. In 1931, the FRC list shows that possibly the railroad had sold KSMR, as the licensee/owner was now listed in June of 1931 as Santa Maria Radio.

Sometime in either 1931 or 1932, KSMR radio was sold to a group in Bakersfield. They took possession of the license and broadcast equipment, moved the radio station to Bakersfield and changed the call letters to KERN-1200 kilocycles, station of the Bakersfield Bee newspaper.

KERN is still on the air today in Bakersfield, a news-talk station on 1410-AM, but it began its radio life in 1925 in Santa Maria...

I don't know why Hancock sold the station... Maybe hard to make it operate at a profit in a small town during the Depression??

KSMR, first as KFXC was Santa Maria's first radio station.

The very first radio station in Santa Barbara County, according to the old FCC files (including FRC and Dept of Commerce, Radio Division files 1922-1932), was a small broadcasting station, KFHJ owned by the Fallon Company in Santa Barbara, and it was licensed in December of 1922, beating out KFXC/KSMR by 3 years or so.

Looks like KFHJ went out of business and off the air for good between 1924 and 1925, but haven't found the exact date yet.

Radio was quite the new fad in the 1920s, and KFXC/KSMR came along during radio's first tumultuous decade, when radios were either crystal sets or battery operated and difficult to use, and finally, the easier to use, one-dial all-electric radios came along, starting in 1927 and 1928.

It was a big part of Santa Maria for around 6 years or so.

I found a couple of listings for times/hours KSMR was on the air in 1928, only 1 to 3 hours a night, usually off the air Sundays.

By the way, I was checking on history of the old KDB radio, 1490-AM in Santa Barbara. That station started out as KFCR radio in December 1926 for Fallon Company Radio. Came on the air only one year and 2 months after KSMR.

So, the 1490-AM license in S.B. is the 3rd oldest station overall in Santa Barbara County and the oldest continuously operating radio station in the county.

KFCR changed call letters to KDB in January of 1929. Was on 1500-AM from 11-11-28 until it moved to 1490 on 3-29-41.

KDB changed call letters to KAPN on 10-12-69, but changed back to KDB 10 days later, 10-22-69.

But, the historic 3-letter call sign of KDB disappeared for good from 1490-AM after 61 years, when KDB-1490 became KSPE and is now KBKO radio. Station has broadcast in Spanish for some time. I believe the old KDB call letters are now on FM in S.B., for a classical music station.

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