In the beginning, Radio was almost an instant success. During and after the depression, the days of vaudeville and very popular stage performer’s acts such as Red Skelton, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Steve Allen (no relation), Edwin Wynn, Jack Benny and Bob Hope all were seeing smaller audiences. People couldn’t afford to venture out of their homes and pay to see entertainment. These people and their families were ripe for a new form of entertainment and radio was coming of age.
Almost an overnight success, radio started gaining huge listening audiences right from the start. Most of the vaudeville performers were both very talented and very resourceful and the migration to radio was fairly easy for them. What were once live performances of comedy and music like the big bands and solo singers on a stage took to the air waves.
More and more people started buying radios for their living rooms. The radio took its place in the living room along side the sofa and grandfather clock. Rather than sit in the living room after supper exchanging stories of the day, people were gathering around the radio to listen to the broadcasts. The radio became a welcome member of the family and had the appearance of a nice piece of furniture. Fancy radio sets were covered in fine wood veneers of Cherry wood, Mahogany, Oak and other exotic materials. Name brands like R.C.A. and Philco were standard fare. Like the automobile, your radio had a certain degree of status. The radio programming at first was merely the vaudeville acts being “acted out” on the radio. A recent PBS documentary interviewed Red Skelton who said, “You had to adapt and develop the skill of portrayal that enabled the radio listener to visualize in their minds the character you personified on the radio.” Skelton said he quickly developed a series of characters to get his comedy across. Similar techniques were eventually used by almost all the radio performers.
As radio literally exploded in popularity, the huge corporations that manufactured the radio sets like R.C.A. created their own broadcasting units. It wasn’t long before networks like Columbia Broadcasting Service (CBS), the Mutual Broadcasting Network, the American Broadcasting Company (ABC), the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) and RKO (Radio Keith Orpheum and merged with RCA in 1909). I think if you look at some of these corporations you realized that many of them had close ties to the movies studios. RKO was a theater chain that was very successful dating back to the 1880’s. Eventually, stage performers became radio performers then became film actors and the opposite also happened where film actors became radio personalities. The film actors appeared on radio because they were on contact with the movie studios and the radio provided a publicity outlet.
So where does KFXM fit in the overall history of radio broadcasting in Southern California? Well, again the movie industry and the actors working in the movies spent a lot of their leisure time in the Inland Empire. Places like Soboba Springs near Hemet and San Jacinto was a hot springs retreat frequented by celebrities. Also, the Arrowhead Hotel and Resort in San Bernardino and Lake Arrowhead were also places where actors and movie industry people came to relax. The fact that the Inland Empire was 60-75 miles away from Hollywood and the gossip columnists like Hedda Hopper, gave the movie industry people some privacy. The other fact was that the movie studios used the Fox Theater in Riverside and the California Theater in San Bernardino to preview their new movies. Believe it or not, these two theaters were the actual “premiere” locations for many movie studio films. The quaint bedroom community appeal drew many celebrities to the Riverside area. I dated a girl in high school (Riverside Poly) and her next door neighbor was Broderick Crawford. A number of visitors to the area where very successful business people and they were always looking for investment opportunities.
I’m in the process of researching the FCC databases and files to try and determine who started KFXM originally and on what date. EDITORS NOTE: I have discovered that KFXM was started in Pomona, Ca. in 1929. KFXM was one of the earliest F.C.C. liscensed commercial broadcast radio stations on the West coast. Shortly after that the station was bought by the Lee Brothers. The station was moved to San Bernardino. Early reports indicated that the antenna was atop “Little Mountain” in North San Bernardino. Later the station was based out of the California Hotel located at 5th & E streets.
Also, when Howard Tullis purchased the KFXM and then he became a partner with John Hearne. John Hearne was a lawyer specializing in FCC law who graduated from Stanford University. I will update this information when it possibly becomes available. I do know that at the Tennessee Ernie Ford Web site, they say, “Tennessee Ford was hired to work at KFXM in 1947 after he left the military in Victorville.”
Howard Tullis was very connected with advertising and media people in Hollywood and Los Angeles. He ran his own advertising agency in LA and Hollywood and handled prestigious accounts such as; Cutty Sark Scotch and Marc C. Bloom Tire stores. He had also represented several other large car dealerships like the Kelley Motor Co. I think he also booked radio spots for the car dealerships. Howard Tullis was a dynamo when it came to work. I’m not sure if he was being frugal (cheap) or he just valued his clients and the very generous income they provided but he did many things by himself. As an example, Howard would arrange for billboards for Cutty Sark all across the country and rather than rely on the words of others, he would personally go to the cities and locations to verify that he got what he paid for. Sometimes he would fly to New York after being assured that “the boards are up and where you wanted them” only to find that they were not in place or were in the wrong locations. I’m sure there was many a billboard company owner who was shocked that a client (Howard Tullis for Cutty Sark) would fly across the country to check out the situation.
I think that Howard’s hands-on approach to almost every aspect of a business venture was misconceived as obsessive or fanatical. Most people are uncomfortable with a hands-on and in-your-face style of management. Howard was very outspoken and straightforward and not afraid to tell you his opinion or decision. I honestly feel today in retrospect that the success of KFXM both in audience ratings and advertising revenue is greatly due to Howard Tullis’ drive and commitment that he instilled in Al Anthony and my Dad. Howard Tullis did NOT like to loose and he had the financial resources, tremendous negotiations and bargaining skills, intestinal fortitude and a whole lot of luck.
Howard earned everything the hard way and as I understand he was born in Iowa and endured the depression. Like many other men who survived after the depression, they have a different outlook on life and tend to do what ever it takes to succeed. There have been some very remarkable success stories from the depression era and the stock market crash.