W6XBE at the Golden Gate Exposition, 1939

Station broadcast to Europe and South America from the Electricity and Communications Building in San Francisco
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Station broadcast to Europe and South America from the Electricity and Communications Building in San Francisco

The Golden Gate Exposition was one of a long line of world’s fairs celebrated in various U.S. cities in the 20th century. It was held in 1939 to commemorate the completion of San Francisco’s two major bridges: the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge. It took place on Treasure Island, in the middle of the Bay Bridge span across San Francisco Bay.

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One of the many features of the fair was General Electric’s operating shortwave station W6XBE. The station was licensed to operate with 20 kW on 9,530 and 15,330 kc, and broadcast regular programs to Europe and South America from the Electricity and Communications Building.

GE operated two more shortwave stations in Schenectady at a time when there were just a handful of international shortwave stations on the air in the country, all in private hands and operating under experimental FCC licenses with ham-style call signs. The government issued standard four-letter call signs to all shortwave stations late in 1939, and so W6XBE became KGEI.

GE hired chorus girls from the Folies Bergère and held a call-sign changing ceremony at the fair.

When the fair concluded in 1940, KGEI was moved to property adjoining the KPO (now KNBR) transmitter site on the Redwood Peninsula near Belmont and the power was increased to 50 kW. At the start of World War II, the government took over all international shortwave stations to form the Voice of America, and it was KGEI’s transmitters that beamed General Douglas Macarthur’s “I will return” message to the Philippines.

Control of the station was returned to General Electric after the war; GE operated it for many years before selling it to Far East Broadcasting Company in 1959. FEBC continued to operate KGEI as one of the few private shortwave stations in the country until 1995.

In the photo we can see the W6XBE transmitter and control room. Spanish-speaking announcer Carlos U. Benedetti is on the air, broadcasting a program to South America. The original transmitter seen in this photo was still operational as a standby transmitter when the station signed off for the last time in 1995.

For more information about KGEI, see Jim Bowman’s history of the station at users.adams.net/~jfs/kgei.htm.

John Schneider is a lifelong radio history researcher. Write the author at jschneid93@gmail.com. This is one in a series of photo features from his collection; see more at the Roots of Radio tab under Columns at radioworld.com.

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A Fabulous Home for KOA

This is the beautiful home that General Electric built for KOA in Aurora, Colo., in 1932. KOA was built by GE in 1924 as part of the company’s three station network planned to cover the United States (the other stations