Frederick Robinson was an inventor, artist and businessman who purchased land in the Crescenta Valley in the 1920s.
â€œHe did a million cool things, including putting on elaborate mechanical shows at various world fairs, doing artwork for movie sets and building race cars,â€ local historian Mike Lawler said. â€œHis claim to fame up here was that he built his own radio station in his backyard that was listened to nationally.â€
Fred Hoeptner, who is writing a book on Robinson, said KGFH began at Robinson's New York Avenue home, about where Clark Magnet High School now stands.
Hoeptner's interest in early radio led him to the story.
â€œSince I was retired and had a bit of time, I looked into the matter,â€ he said.
His initial goal was to write a short essay, but when he found a substantial profile of Robinson in a 1934 Ledger, the essay evolved into a book.
As a young man, Robinson worked for a New York business that built carnival attractions for expositions and amusement parks. The 1915 Panama-California Exposition in San Diego brought him west, where he took up car racing. He got a job in Hollywood and drove his own racing car in a series of films.
He and his second wife, Formosa Henderson, who was the daughter of the U.S. consul to China, moved to his 10-acre property on then-unpaved New York Avenue.
According to Hoeptner, Robinson became obsessed with the idea of â€œputting La Crescenta on the air.â€
It took more than a year, two trips to Washington and several trips to San Francisco to accomplish his goal, but in February 1927, the Glendale Evening News announced that at 9:30 that night, KGFH would go on the air with a feature program.
Some 200 people gathered for a dinner before the grand opening, and another 300 people (who didn't have a radio) were invited to listen via a receiving set and loudspeaker installed by La Crescenta Hardware.
Formosa Robinson coordinated scheduling of performers and public relations for the fledgling station, which was well supported in the community. In the early days of radio, most local stations broadcast only a few days per week or for a few hours in the evening, sharing frequencies with another station.
Performers ranged from Dr. Roy S. Lanterman to the Swami Paramananda of the nearby Ananda Ashrama.
The station's remote location proved inconvenient, and the Robinsons decided the growing city of Glendale had more potential. They leased space in the new Hotel Glendale and hired a contractor who installed two 80-foot-tall antenna towers on the roof and built a studio on the lower floor. Broadcasting began June 1, 1928. Hundreds of callers complimented the excellent reception, according to the next day's Glendale News-Press. However, the new station was an expensive venture, and the Robinsons eventually lost it.
Later, Frederick Robinson joined forces with David Cannon and Reid Callister when they began KIEV. According to Hoeptner, he designed and built the new transmitter that replaced the old KGFH equipment. Ironically, KIEV's 1933 debut attracted little newspaper coverage, indicating how commonplace radio had become in just five years.
?KATHERINE YAMADA is a Glendale resident and historian. To contact her, call features editor Joyce Rudolph at (818) 637-3241. For more information on Glendale's history, visit the Glendale Historical Society's website: www.glendale historical.org; call the reference desk at the Central Library at (818) 548-2027; or visit the Special Collections Room at Central (open by appointment only).