I was fortunate to have two tours of duty at the old KOL/KMPS building on Harbor Island. The 1st time was in 1965 when I was a vacation relief announcer at “Kolorful KOL.” That was in the heyday of Top-40 KOL with The Mag-7 deejay lineup including the likes of Rhett Hamilton Walker I, Danny Holiday, Buzz Barr, Dex Allen, B. R. Bradbury, Dave McCormick, Tommy Vance, Don January, Lee Perkins, Robin Mitchell, etc.
The 2nd time was in the latter part of the ’70s. I had joined the air staff of KMPS-FM and was at “Compass” on the final day the station broadcast from the old facilities on Harbor Island. KMPS AM&FM were moving to their new digs on Western Avenue, at Pike Place Market, where they remained during the 1980s while I was a member of their staff.
My lasting and indelible memory of the old Harbor Island facility was the massive KOL transmitter, which seemed to take up a good three quarters of the available space in the building. Situated behind a glass partition, the transmitter featured glass tubes the size of a chubby 6-year-old boy! My memory may be faulty and exaggerated, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
KOL first went on the air in 1922 as KDZE, but by 1924 the calls were changed to KFOA and then KOL in 1928. It became Seattle’s first CBS affiliate beginning in 1930 thru ’37, when they switched to the Mutual Broadcasting System. At that time KOL broadcast from the Northern Life Tower in downtown Seattle at 3rd and University. Then in 1934 the transmitter and new tower (at 490 ft., at the time the tallest of its type in the US) were moved to the long-time Harbor Island location. The broadcast studios eventually moved to the Island site in 1952. In 1975 the station became a Country Music station, with the calls becoming KMPS.
As the KMPS staff prepared to vacate the Harbor Island facilities and move to Pike Place Market, they were told the building would be totally razed. Anything in the old building that would not be part of the move to the new location, the staff was welcome to. Because I had always been enamored by that magnificent grand old transmitter I managed to acquire the transmitter rectifier and power unit plaques … plus plaques for the master control switch and water pressure. I was originally attracted to their graphics style, which definitely reflected the era from which they came.
In the end, what I found I prize most about these bits of memorabilia from the old KOL/KMPS Harbor Island facility is that they’ve been saved from the scrap heap of time. These 90-year-old Seattle radio artifacts did not vanish in the rubble resulting from the total demolition of that building and I personally find that satisfying.