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KFQA - The Joe Btfsplk of St. Louis Radio Stations

Anyone who remembers the Dogpatch characters created by the late cartoonist Al Capp will probably remember Joe Btfsplk. He was the poor soul who walked around with a black cloud hanging over his head. For him there was never much chance of basking in the sunshine of good fortune.  So, it seems, was the fate of radio station KFQA in St. Louis.

Owned and operated by The Principia, KFQA hit the airwaves May 9, 1924. In those days The Principia was not at Elsah, Illinois as it is now. It was located in St. Louis’ West End at 5539 Page. A bill of sale from Western Electric Company shows the entire equipment package cost less than $5,000, installed. In fact, the school paid to bring in a special radio engineer from Chicago to handle the installation, and he charged them $1.90 to cover expenses for two meals. All these costs were paid by a benefactor, Clarence Howard, chairman of the board of General Steel Castings in Granite City. Two 62’ masts were constructed atop Howard Gymnasium 85’ apart and the aerial was strung between them. The studio was built in a 12’X12’ room, and the first transmitter had a power of 50 watts. There were unconfirmed reports of reception of KFQA along the Eastern seaboard.

It is clear from all documents in the Principia archives that the primary raison d’ĂȘtre for the station was to broadcast local Christian Science church services and lectures.

In radio’s early days two or three stations were often required to share the same frequency, and when KMOX signed on in December of 1925, it was given the same frequency as KFQA. Along with KFQA’s new neighbor came a new, powerful transmitter, 5,000 watts. The Principia station would be allowed to broadcast, without charge, over the frequency 104 hours a year. This arrangement had a two-year life span, and then KFQA had to start paying for broadcast time, which totaled about 64 hours a year. The cost, including remote line charges, would be $5,327.00.

Soon the Federal Radio Commission began to question whether The Principia should be allowed to continue operating a radio station. KFQA had been forced to change frequencies in 1927, from 1150 Kc. to 1210 Kc. (shared with WMAY), and later to 1280 Kc. (shared with KWK and WMAY). In May of 1928 the station was ordered to leave the air, but they were back on in October of that year, again sharing a frequency with KMOX.

It was an interesting arrangement. KMOX was obligated to broadcast the Christian Science church services. KFQA was obligated to buy shares of the corporation owning KMOX and pay the station the equivalent ad rates for the broadcast time. And KMOX would be identified as KFQA during those broadcasts.

This arrangement, convoluted as it was, stayed in place until July of 1930, when the Federal Radio Commission deleted the call letters of KFQA from its active files.

(Reprinted with permission of the St. Louis Journalism Review. Originally published 04/01)

Photos courtesy of the Principia Archive, Elsah, IL. All Rights Reserved.