Los Angeles Radio Stations with Full Orchestras
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Thread: Los Angeles Radio Stations with Full Orchestras

  1. #1

    Los Angeles Radio Stations with Full Orchestras

    I was just reading that 100 watt KGFJ, back in the day also employed a full 22 piece Orchestra. I know KHJ had one and I'm pretty sure KFI did as well. There must have been many more over the years. Do we know how many musicians worked in Los Angeles Radio?

  2. #2
    Interesting back story here. Radio stations were basically prohibited from playing records until 1938. So if they wanted to play music, they had to hire live musicians. The Musicians Union would sue if a radio station played records. There was even a time when "Not For Broadcast" was printed on some record labels. In 1938, Paul Whiteman was hosting a radio show for NBC with his orchestra performing from a club in Long Island. At the same time, a local radio station, WNEW, was playing Paul Whiteman records. So Paul and his label sued, (Paul Whiteman vs WNEW) and lost. From that point on, radio stations were legally allowed to play records.

  3. #3
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheBigA View Post
    Interesting back story here. Radio stations were basically prohibited from playing records until 1938. So if they wanted to play music, they had to hire live musicians. The Musicians Union would sue if a radio station played records. There was even a time when "Not For Broadcast" was printed on some record labels. In 1938, Paul Whiteman was hosting a radio show for NBC with his orchestra performing from a club in Long Island. At the same time, a local radio station, WNEW, was playing Paul Whiteman records. So Paul and his label sued, (Paul Whiteman vs WNEW) and lost. From that point on, radio stations were legally allowed to play records.
    Surrounding the demands for radio station orchestras is the story of James Petrillo, the head of the American Federation of Musicians from the later 30's to the early 50's. There are a number of reports and books about him at

    https://www.americanradiohistory.com/Petrillo.htm

    Stations in markets as small as Chatanooga had to have orchestras and they were used to "earn" the right to also play recordings. Petrillo also fought with the recording industry, as he believed records to be displacing musicians. When negotiations on union payments from the record labels broke down in the early 40's, Petrillo stopped union musicians from playing in recording sessions and, when labels ran out of pending releases, there was no new music being issued on records.

    As an overview, I recommend the Time Magazine article which is the first item listed on that page, and which was written in the style of the moment. But a more complete and less flowery narrative is provided by Jim Ramsburg, the second article on the list. Jim's piece covers Petrillo from his first union positions to his retirement and eventual passing in 1984.

    While much of this occurred 65 to 80 years ago, the influence of Petrillo has had an effect in the industries he affected directly or indirectly ever since then: "If a disc jockey and a radio station collect revenue from the commercial use of the product, why not the men who made it?"
    Last edited by DavidEduardo; 09-08-2018 at 06:17 PM.
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    The more things change, the more they stay the same. DJs and records replacing musicians, automation replacing DJs.

  5. #5
    I once heard that before radio started playing records, the sale of music was a multi-thousand dollar industry! Somewhat related to the main topic, KOIN Portland discontinued its orchestra in 1972. I wonder if that's the latest any station had one. I'm really sorry I didn't listen at least once when I was a teenager.
    Last edited by semoochie; 09-09-2018 at 02:54 PM.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by semoochie View Post
    KOIN Portland discontinued its orchestra in 1972. I wonder if that's the latest any station had one. I'm really sorry I didn't listen at least once when I was a teenager.
    Semoochie: That sent me digging. By at least 1956, KOIN was the only station west of the Mississippi that still had a live orchestra. Can't find much about the others, or who was the last.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by semoochie View Post
    I once heard that before radio started playing records, the sale of music was a multi-thousand dollar industry!

    Airplay was to have a significant affect on sales. Four years after the Whiteman decision, songwriter Johnny Mercer started Capitol Records. They became the first label to actually encourage radio airplay of their records. Their records started to outsell the major labels, and that led all labels to promote their records via radio.

  8. #8
    I believe WSM in Nashville was the last station to have a full time orchestra like band. They had a live music show called The Waking Crew that continued using a 10 piece big band for about another year after the station went country in 1979. In 1980, they negotiated with the musicians union to change the 10 piece into a much smaller country band.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by briancraig View Post
    In 1980, they negotiated with the musicians union to change the 10 piece into a much smaller country band.
    It was easy to do, since the company that owned the radio station also owned the Grand Ole Opry, with its own house band. Plus they also owned a theme park that hired lots of live musicians. Probably the only radio station with such resources.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Hot Hits View Post
    I was just reading that 100 watt KGFJ, back in the day also employed a full 22 piece Orchestra. I know KHJ had one and I'm pretty sure KFI did as well. There must have been many more over the years. Do we know how many musicians worked in Los Angeles Radio?

    KHJ's Don Lee sister station - KFRC San Francisco, also had a full orchestra in the 1940's. For a time, their featured singer was a young Merv Griffin, who grew up in nearby San Mateo. Reportedly, in those days, he was obese, and had a "great face for radio," as the saying goes...lost the weight in his 20's.

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