The story of Bill Bates and KTRB

By Cal Purviance

Bill Bates was born October 18, 1900 in Whiskey Hill, California (near Watsonville) where he attended elementary school. He was stricken with polio at the age of 10, which left him strapped to a board for 6 months and his right leg crippled for life.


His father was a major in the US Army who moved his family from the Bay area to Delhi. Growing up included picking prunes and chopping wood, which led Bill to the conclusion he must work with his head. In 1916 at the age of 16 Bill took up radio as a hobby. He became a licensed amateur radio “ham” operator with the call sign of 6KL, which was one of the first licenses issued in California. It was later changed to 6CF and then W6CF which he held until his death in 1969.

At the age of 17 he joined the US Merchant Marines as a radio operator. After his tour of duty he went to work for RCA in Southern California.   RCA sent him to Mexico to work on President Alvaro Obregon’s ship. He helped install radio equipment on Mexican navy ships.

Bill Bates became the Chief Engineer of KNX, owned and operated by CBS, Los Angeles.

In 1925 he came to Modesto and operated a radio store inside the Hotel Covell building until 1928. That year he moved to Los Angeles where he took a job with KGFH as an announcer/engineer. A few months later he took a similar position at KNX in Los Angeles where he later became chief engineer. In 1931 Bill, wanting to further his education, returned to the Modesto area and enrolled at UC Berkeley in physics classes. While there he worked as an announcer /engineer at KWBS, later KLS in Oakland.

He and local businessman Thomas R. Mc Tammany, formed a

The “T” in KTRB was for Thomas McTammany, Bill Bates’s partner.

verbal partnership to start a radio station in Modesto. After much planning, haggling and appearances before the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, KTRB was granted a license to begin broadcasting on June 18, 1933.

The station’s call letters came from the initials of the partners. “T” and “R” from T.R. McTammany, and “B” from Bill Bates. The FCC assigned the letter K that designated a station West of the Mississippi river. KTRB went on the air June 18, 1933 from studios behind the Sylvan Clubhouse on the northeast corner of Sylvan and McHenry Ave.

KTRB on McHenry Ave
KTRB first studios at McHenry and Sylvan in Modesto from 1933 -1942.

in Modesto. Bill and fellow engineer C.E. Peack built the first transmitter in Oakland by modifying an old ham radio transmitter.

KTRB engineers, Cliff Price and Joe Rice doing some antenna work.



KTRB went on the air with 250 watts on 740 KCs limited to daytime hours of operation. The frequency was changed in 1942 to 860 KCs when the station moved to Norwegian Ave. and power was increased to 1,000 watts.   Over the years the power was increased a number of times finally ending up with 50,000 watts in the ’90’s. KTRB was the only broadcast station in Modesto until 1948 when KBEE FM signed on the air.

KTRB studios on Norwegian Avenue.

KTRB FM became Modesto’s second FM station and Modesto’s third broadcast station signing on the air in 1949. KBEE-FM owned by the McClatchy newspapers became the second commercial broadcast station (first FM station) on the air in the market. KTRB-FM simulcast the programming from KTRB-AM for many years thus the station identification of  “This is KTRB AM and FM, Modesto”

Derek video clip of Solid Gold radio show.





7 thoughts on “The story of Bill Bates and KTRB”

  1. Great article. Does KTRB have archives of their on air recordings of interviews and public events in the 1950s era?

    1. Hi Ross. I am so sorry for the late response. In answer to your question KTRB does not have archives of their on air recordings aside from an occasional aircheck or recording that surfaces from time to time. The KTRB studios in Modesto were demolished some years ago and KTRB radio under new ownership is now located in San Francisco.

  2. My cousin, June Rigney sang on KTRB 860 AM in Modesto. Could have been in her senior year at Modesto High School. She was born circa 1932. She sang on KTRB radio numerous times, but my mother noted on Oct 21, 1944 in her diary. Please check the archives for interesting tid-bits and profile. Her parents were Everett E & Jessie Parhan Rigney. June had two two younger brothers, Charles and Ryan Rigney. Thank you very much.

  3. My grandmother Carmela, an immigrant from Spain living in Escalon, listened to Bill Bates every morning to help her learn English. After rigorous testing, she became an American citizen and continued listening to KTRB. My mother, Mary, carried on the tradition. Cal Purviance was our school alarm clock each morning.

  4. My first radio appearance was on KTRB when I was a student at Roosevelt Jr. High. I played piano and had a trumpet player. We played one song on a Sat. live program. We were awful and couldn’t even keep the tempo. But, we were only 13 so it was our start in entertainment. I still have a recording of that appearance. I think it’s a 78 rpm.

    When I was 18, I began working for KFIV Radio as a weekend disk jockey and also did some sales. I later moved on to radio stations in Lodi and in San Jose. In 1965, I made my big move to Hollywood, where I became the youngest Associate Producer in network television history on an ABC show called “Where the Action Is” produced by Dick Clark. I also was the talent coordinator for American Bandstand. I was also a full time UCLA student so balancing my time was difficult.

    It all started in Modesto!

    Larry Larson

    1. Larry, Your career looks like a story worth telling. If you’re interested, let us know.

  5. This fascinating article features Bill Bates, W6CF, co-owner of KTRB. I was a preteen kid, riding my old bike from Sherwood Forest to Norweegen Ave many times a week just to learn about radio. I met Bill and his crew and enjoyed hours of engaging stories of their lives around the backdrop of Modesto radio.
    I became a Technical Director after college and spent 36 years wonderful years with CBS Television Network at Television City, Hollywood. I also became a “ham radio operator” thanks to the early exposure by Bill Bates, with the call sign NQ1S.
    I sadly drove by the last remaining vestiture of KTRB a few years ago, the old station was crumbling amidst a sprawling subdivision where three huge towers once stood.
    Those were fond memories of my life in Modesto!
    Frosty Oden

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