KTRB’s Bill Bates
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 who sent him to Mexico on President Obregon’s ship. He helped install radio equipment on Mexican navy ships.
In 1925 he came to Modesto and operated a radio store in the Hotel Covell building until 1928 when 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.
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.in Modesto.
Bill, and his fellow engineer C.E. Peack, built KTRB’s first transmitter in Oakland, CA. The station went on the air with 250 watts of power on 740 kHz limited to daytime operation only. The home brew transmitter was initially built for operation in the Amateur Radio band. In 1942 KTRB frequency changed to 860KCs when the station moved to new studios on 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 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.
→ Listen to the Bill Bates theme song (Beer Barrel Polka) heard by thousands of Central Valley residents each morning. You’ll hear the voice of Bill Bates in the middle of this clip.