KALW 91.7 FM is a pioneering educational and community broadcast service licensed to the San Francisco Unified School District. On-air since September 1st, 1941, it is the first FM station west of the Mississippi. — a full thirty years older than NPR.
KALW created the first FM broadcast training program in the country and it trained women in radio broadcasting during World War II. KALW continues this tradition with the Audio Academy, a 10-month, tuition-free journalism training program, as well as its summer podcast academy for teens and its Uncuffed radio training program inside San Quentin and Solano State Prisons.
KALW has a track record of programming innovation: it was the first station in the Bay Area to air Fresh Air, This American Life, Snap Judgement and The Daily. It was also the first station to air the BBC in the Bay Area, and was for decades the BBC’s station of record in San Francisco. KALW is also the birthplace of 99 Percent Invisible and Radio Ambulante, and Snap Judgement’s Glynn Washington recorded his show’s demos at KALW’s studios. The origins of Ear Hustle can also be traced to KALW’s volunteer program at San Quentin State Prison.
The station has been at the forefront of high-quality, socially minded radio from its inception. It remains deeply rooted in the Bay Area and its culture. The expansion into KALW@25thStreet in Oakland for the new DJ lineup is a testament to its dedication to all nine Bay Area counties where it broadcasts. KALW believes in creating and broadcasting stories that are social-justice minded and solutions-oriented.
With its diverse leadership and staff, and the voices centered in the station’s on-air reporting, KALW is on a mission to inspire audiences and tell the human story in all its breadth and richness. Justice, equity, and community creation are at the heart of everything KALW does. The station is shaping public media’s future by building upon its legacy for innovation and what’s next, as well as by training, nurturing and amplifying local voices and makers. The station will continue to seek out and showcase the best from around the globe, and serve as an essential and trusted source for news, music, culture, podcasting and digital media.
The History of KALW: 80 Years of Innovation
In 2021, KALW celebrates 80 years on the air, making it one of the oldest FM stations in the country. From the beginning, KALW was a pioneering broadcaster, and for the past 50 years it has played an important role in the development of public radio. At 80, KALW continues to experiment and innovate, reflecting the spirit of this remarkable community.
1941: SF’s First FM
After demonstrating its experimental “frequency modulation” radio technology at the 1939-40 San Francisco International Exposition on Treasure Island, RCA sold its equipment and transmitter to the San Francisco public schools. In March of 1941, the FCC licensed KALW to go on the air as the first FM station west of the Mississippi. On September 1st, regular broadcasts begin from studios at Gompers High School. Early programs included "Operetta Gems," "Where To Go in San Francisco," "Luncheon Music" and "Know Your City Government."
1942: Women in Broadcasting
When World War II reduced the ranks of available radio and communications technicians, KALW took the lead in pioneering women's classes in code work, radio operation, and broadcasting. By 1942, ninety women were enrolled and involved in all aspects of radio. General Manager Kenneth Dragoo prophesied that the time would come when "people will think nothing of seeing women tinkering around with home radio sets, not to mention our juke boxes and pinball machines."
1952: TV, Too
KALW started training in television operations at its Gompers facility, which would become the first broadcast studios of KQED-TV in 1954. The KALW staff and the students in the training program were an important part of KQED's operations until that station moved to its own facilities in 1956. Then, KALW happily left TV behind.
1972: Introducing NPR
KALW is one the first stations to introduce National Public Radio to listeners, and broadcasts from the BBC World Service follow soon afterwards. (Enjoy the 1970s logo.)
1980: A Link to the World
KALW becomes the first noncommercial station in San Francisco to receive programs via the Public Radio Satellite System, making it possible for the station to air a much larger range of national and international programming.
1988: Fresh Air
KALW is the first San Francisco station to broadcast Fresh Air with Terry Gross. What is now one of the signature programs in public radio was at first distributed only on a weekly basis. Other programs that made their Bay Area debuts on KALW: Left Right & Center, Le Show, Snap Judgment, Sound Opinions, The State We’re In, The Tavis Smiley Show, This American Life, To the Best of Our Knowledge, and World Have Your Say.
2001: Local Public Radio
General Manager Nicole Sawaya makes the development of high-quality original programming a top priority. At a time when most broadcasters were cutting back on local production, KALW made investments and built partnerships that created a remarkable range of new shows, including Your Call, Philosophy Talk, Then & Now, New America Now, Out in the Bay, Music From Other Minds, and Explorations in Music.
KALW began to develop its local news department from scratch in 2005, and it grew step-by-step, culminating in the launch of the daily local news show Crosscurrents in August of 2008. In 2009, SF Weekly named Crosscurrents the Bay Area’s “Best Local News Show”. Now, the news department receives multiple regional and national journalism awards on an annual basis, and it's also become a training ground for the next generation of public media journalists.