Recalling KYAK Yakima & Don Gardner

Pitch to advertisers to buy time on Robert McCaw’s KYAK Yakima & sister station KALE Richland, 1950.

1400 KYAK Yakima began operation in 1947 with a power of 250 watts.  It was owned by Robert S McCaw & J Elroy McCaw – two pioneers of broadcasting in Wash. state & later major players in the cellular phone industry. The station was a long-time affiliate of Mutual.  In 1954, KYAK changed frequency to 1390 with 1 kW day power, 500 watts night power.  In 1956 the station changed call letters to KLOQ, and over the years has changed calls several times:

KYAK (1947-1956)
KLOQ (1956-1963)
KBBO (1963-2004)
KJOX (2004-2012)
KTCR (2012-2013)

KBBO (2013 – current)

It now programs ESPN sports & is known as “The Fan” running 5 kW day power & 390 watts nights.  Today, the  KYAK call letters belong to Tom Read’s Christian talk station on AM 930 in Yakima. At the original KYAK & KLOQ, the station was the ‘launching pad’ for numerous budding broadcasters, eager to advance their careers after learning the ropes in small market radio.  Among others, these include Paul Berg, who would get recruited by Seattle top 40 station 1150 KAYO & change his name to Pat O’Day,  & H. Louis “Frosty” Fowler well-known personality at MOR/Adult hits 1090 KING.

Don Gardner Sr. was employed by KYAK 1948-1956 primarily as station engineer, but also was a part-time DJ on air. As a young boy, his son Don Jr. has many memories of spending time at the station with his father while working on air or handling technical duties.  As a primer for this story, we suggest you first read Don Jr. ‘s  “In The Mailbox”   letter to QZVX to read about his father’s tenure at KYAK. These are the words of Don Jr. as told to Mike Cherry:

Don & Marie Gardner at home in Yakima – 1950’s

“My father, though not as near as I could tell, wasn’t particularly enraptured with radio. Still, when spinning records knew the music and the artists. He had been a trumpet player in his younger years playing for dances in the Spokane area where he grew up. As the story goes he met my mother at a dance he was playing at in the late 30’s. So he knew music and the artists that created it. It was only after I came home from school one day in the early 50’s and announcing to my mother I wanted to play trombone in the school band did she share with me that my father had been a trumpet player in his younger years. There were numerous afternoons when he would have a shift at KYAK and call me up requesting I turn on the radio because he was about to play a Jack Teagarden, Glenn Miller trombone tune on his program. I guess the attempt to inspire on his part worked because I still am playing today.”

“I remember listening to him on the radio and watching him numerous times at the station as he cued records, described the music and the artist, read the news, announced the stations call letters with just a really comfortable flow. His time there preceded “personality” radio and though my recollection of him was of a very competent on air broadcaster, that was not his passion but more just part of the job. I can still see him, immediately after cueing up a record and the “on air” light bulb going off, swiveling around in his chair to continue some previously unfinished conversation with radio staff or my mother or maybe me. And of course the light going off gave me permission to breath again! “

KYAK main on-air studio, circa 1950’s

“Pictured is the main on-air studio which most broadcasting was done from. There were two additional broadcast studios that can be seen through the two windows to the right of the control console and to the left. The room to the left as I remember was where the “Farm Report” was broadcast from. I believe the gentleman that reported the farm report was station General Manager Richard “Dick” Passage who as I recall lived in Selah, Wash. and was good friends with my father. The large records in the rack including the “red” one were, as I recall “Acetates” that were cut at KYAK for a variety of program material. I have three or four of them still though no way of playing them as they are too large for a conventional turntable and  have been recorded at 16 rpm versus 33 rpm. I still remember being in the studio when he was working and when the light bulb above the console would light up to indicate he was “on” I would hold my breath so as not to make a peep. I thought maybe my not having a FCC license might cause my father to get into trouble if I was inadvertently heard on the air. Directly behind where he would sit were extensive shelves that held the station’s records.”

KLOQ live remote – summer 1956.  Note the clever ‘clock’ imaging reflecting the new call letters

“The Remote broadcast picture reflects the call letter change which was in 1956. I’m pretty sure this setup was for the Yakima Central Washington Fair the Summer of 1956. The Electro-Voice Horns, one pictured on the pole, and the 35 watt Allied Radio PA amplifier were owned by my father and he would rent the system to the station when they did remotes. I think he sold it to them when he left the station. My father is not in the picture but behind the camera taking the picture.”

“The photo of the 1952 Ford station wagon was the family car. Look closely and you will see the front ‘license plate’ is a promo for the station. That would be me in the driver’s seat and my younger brother alongside for the ride.”

“I’m not certain if he worked with my father or was just an acquaintance in the business in Yakima but he knew “Brakeman” Bill McLain back in the day. In 1956 with the station in the process of altering its format, changes in personnel and their call letters changing to KLOQ my father decided to come to Seattle to look for a change. He initially applied at radio stations here and was offered employment though as I recall it would have necessitated a move to Vashon Island where the towers and transmitters were located. He ultimately accepted a position at Boeing and retired there in the 80’s.” Don Gardner Sr. passed away in 2009.

Don Gardner Jr. tells us a little about his own experiences with radio & television:

“I never made it onto the air at the radio station back then, just held my breath, but I did make two appearances on the only Yakima TV station back then which was KIMA-TV. I played a trombone solo on some locally produced show and again appeared with a 9 piece trombone ensemble on the same program. I did not follow my father into radio but I did do some work back in the 80’s doing a couple of commercials for the Auburn Auto Dealers Association that played on numerous Seattle stations. I have a friend who worked back then in radio sales and audio production and he used my voice for a few creations of his. In the late 70’s, early 80’s I owned a music store and was recruited by the same radio sales person to provide sound systems for concerts that were being sponsored by country station KAYO. This friend was in sales at KAYO at the time. I remember one event being held at Pacific Raceways and another at a park in West Seattle. KAYO did not pay me but would allow me to go to merchants, advertisers on KAYO, and take merchandise in trade for my services.”
1400 KYAK logo & letterhead – 1952



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Author: Mike Cherry

retired broadcaster: on-air, MD, PD, asst PD, Prod Mgr, IT, station technician/engineer, pioneer Internet webcaster, station installation/maintenance; 12 years in commercial radio, 17 years volunteer in campus/community radio in B.C., Alberta & Wash. Amateur radio operator & "DXer" specializing in AM night-time DX, short-wave DX/listening & remote SDR DXing/listening
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3 thoughts on “Recalling KYAK Yakima & Don Gardner

  1. What a cool post. I remember the Taft family was involved in the early stages of KALE, in my recent memory, they were owned by SRO, a company that owned theatres and bowling allies throughout Washington. They were also something of a “farm club” for DJs wanting to work in Seattle. KYAK is a great set of call letters for a Yakima station along with the TV station KIMA.

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