KOL Memorabilia

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KOL – Harbor Island facilities in the late ’60s.
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.
How many ways can you say KOL?
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.
Little boy with big tube • Old radio vacuum tubes. 
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.
Early KMPS logos from the late 70s. 
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.
The 90-year-old KOL transmitter plaques. 
 Decades old Memorabilia from Seattle’s KOL
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.

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Author: Jay Hamilton

Jay Hamilton is a veteran disc jockey, program director, music director and radio programming consultant. In the Pacific Northwest, he is best remembered for his time at KMPS AM/FM during the '70s and '80s. Jay is now retired and lives on the Olympic Peninsula. Music, of nearly every genre, has always been an important aspect of his life and he frequently contributes opinions, articles and "Collectibles" to Puget Sound Media.

12 thoughts on “KOL Memorabilia

    1. It was my personal inclination that the KOL building was originally meant for nothing more than to house the transmitter. When they eventually moved the broadcast studios there it appeared that perhaps their budget, at that time, was such that only minimal improvements and additions could be made to that original utilitarian building. Small improvements were made over the years by new ownership, but it didn’t appear that was ever a priority.
      Those of us who have worked small market radio and were required to do transmitter readings at remote transmitter locations can verify that architecture was never a priority with these facilities.
      That said … that’s all just supposition on my part.

  1. I wish I could find a copy of a newspaper article about the KOL building being destroyed by ex jocks. I understand that even Lan Roberts made a special trip to grab a sledgehammer.

  2. I don’t know about the tall tower part. My recollection was that both towers were short because they were in a common airspace for seaplanes.

    1. Kirk ~ That self-supporting 490 ft. tower was erected in 1934. My personal inclination would be that nobody was yet concerned about airspace at that time. The type of aircraft attempting to land at Boeing Field in the early 30s shouldn’t have been hampered by towers. It wasn’t until 1941 when Boeing had a paved runway. SeaTac wasn’t constructed until the late 40s. Even the Space Needle is at 605 ft. … 115 ft. taller.
      If my recollection serves me correctly, among the considerations for vacating the Harbor Island site (at that time) involved issues with the tower. KMPS moved their transmission to towers on Cougar Mountain.

      1. It has always bothered me a little that I neglected to emphasize, while responding to Kirk’s inquiry, that the unusual aspect to the KOL tower wasn’t so much its height at 490 ft., but the fact it was “free standing”. There were no guy wires for extra support, as with most radio towers at the time, and to this day. Therefore, in 1934, it was “the tallest of its type” (self supporting) in the US. That tower had an amazingly wide base, compared to other radio towers. Nearby aircraft to the KOL tower didn’t become an issue until many years later.

  3. Jay sez: —>At that time KOL broadcast from the Northern Life Tower in downtown Seattle at 3rd and University.<—

    Wow–I had no idea. The Northern Life Tower was–still is?–one of the coolest buildings in Seattle!

    So from a super-cool building to….mudflats. I'd heard jokes thru the years about the Harbor Island facility–never saw it. In fact, Harbor Island was something of a mystery to me…

    Guess it's now called "The Seattle Tower." Paul Dorpat has an article about it from his Seattle Now+Then series:

    https://pauldorpat.com/2013/02/16/seattle-now-then-the-northern-life-aka-seattle-tower/

    1. It’s interesting that you should bring up the “Tower”. In my original draft for this piece I had planned to go into a little more detail about the Northern Life Tower … as KOL originally broadcast from the ground floor of that wonderful deco masterpiece in downtown Seattle. But in the end it was more about the schlock architecture of the old KOL building. Thanks for doing a great job covering that aspect for me.

  4. Wow lots of fun to remember KOL, my fav station growing up, thanks for article!

    I remember in the early 70’s that KTW AM & FM (later to be KZOK) had offices/studios in the Northern Life Tower. Seems to me I took an elevator to get to them so they must not have re-used the old KOL facility on the ground floor.

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