© 2024 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

KALW's History

KALW's History

In 2021, KALW celebrated 80 years on the air, making it one of the oldest FM stations in the country. From the beginning, KALW has been a pioneering broadcaster, and for the past 50 years it has played an important role in the development of public radio.

At 80, we look back at what this remarkable community has accomplished — and plan for the next 80.

The First FM Station
West of the Mississippi

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 1, regular broadcasts begin from studios at Gompers High School.

Training 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.

Did You Know...
We Did 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.

Introducing NPR
to Bay Area Listeners

KALW is one the first stations to introduce National Public Radio to listeners, and broadcasts from the BBC World Service follow soon afterwards.

Fresh Air Fans
from the Start

KALW is the first Bay Area 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 local debuts on KALW: Left Right & Center, Le Show, Snap Judgment, The Tavis Smiley Show, This American Life, The Daily, and Splendid Table.

Investing in
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 invested and built partnerships that created shows like Your Call, Philosophy Talk, Out in the Bay, and Music From Other Minds.


KALW began to develop its local news department from scratch in 2005. Three years later, the station launched daily local news magazine Crosscurrents. Now, the news department receives multiple regional and national journalism awards each year, and has launched the careers of the next generation of public media journalists.

The Audio Academy
is in Session

Training and education has always been part of KALW's mission. In 2014, we made it official and welcomed our first class of Audio Academy Fellows to our ten-month, tuition-free audio journalism program.

KALW Public Media
(KPM) Launched

KALW launched a nonprofit to make it easier to raise money and receive support.

Building on
Music Legacy

KALW begins a partnership with 25th Street Recording in Oakland and welcomes six new music programmers to the airwaves and our first music director Aaron Byrd

It's KALW Day
in San Francisco!

In honor of our 80th Birthday, Mayor London Breed proclaimed September 1, KALW Day in San Francisco.

The Next 80 Years
Start Now...

Longtime staff member (and former News Director) Ben Trefny named Interim Executive Director and sets out an ambitious plan for the future of KALW.