KZN: The Birth of Radio in Utah (1922-1924)

by ANNA LOLA HATTON

“Hello, hello, hello!  This is KZN. KZN, the Deseret News, Salt Lake City calling. KZN calling! Greetings!”

These enthusiastic and welcoming words were the first to break radio silence in Utah on May 6, 1922. They might not have been the most awe-inspiring or motivating words to be uttered over the air, but H. Carter Wilson, an engineer contracted by the LDS Church-owned Deseret News, was rejoicing for having his self-built transmitter actually work. Nate Fullmer and Elias S. Woodruff, the business manager and general manager for Deseret News, took a chance on what could have been a fleeting medium of a new invention. (Ison)

Ison gives a brief history on how the station came about. Fullmer and Woodruff both saw the genius in having a station in Salt Lake City, but the Deseret News lacked the funding and Heber J. Grant, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as the Deseret News, disapproved as well.

"Opening Night of KZN on the top of the Deseret News Building.” Photo courtesy of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah. Photograph Number p0111n01_01_02, May 8, 1922. Included on the back was a personal note from Nathan Fullmer to his mother.

These innovative men, Fullmer and Woodruff, never lost sight, though, and decided to build a transmitter from scratch with Wilson’s help. They selected a spot on top of the Deseret News tower and within a year had it working. They invited Grant as well as other Deseret News leaders to their initial broadcast. All invited were extremely surprised and unanimously agreed that this was the future of news. Their risk resulted in the formation of KZN radio station, which would help shape the future of broadcasting in Utah.

Nathan Fullmer wrote a personal note to his mother about the event and a photograph taken of it saying, “Yes – Mother this is none other than your darling boy… This is a flash light picture taken on the roof of the Deseret News Building… It being one of the most wonderful things of the age. Our station will send messages of all kinds thro the air with no wire connection of any kind, but only on the ether waves of the atmosphere, far from 1500 miles to 2500 miles. The Opening program was one of the greatest events of my life.”

Although researchers Larson and Avery point out that KZN was not the first radio station in Utah, it definitely has proven to be the most successful. KZN breathed new life into the state of Utah. The Davis County Clipper reported in May 1922 that Henry Bartholomew, age 70, was regaining health just by listening to the radio. “It is predicted he will continue to grow young if he listens to the radio being sent out daily by the Deseret News and other radio broadcasting stations.” KZN was providing the antidote for hundreds of Utah residents suffering from a lack of culture and boredom. The City of Parowan held a grand celebration outdoors for the Fourth of July in 1922, with food and fireworks, but the main event announced in the Parowan Times was the radio broadcast that would be played for the whole town to enjoy.

“William Jennings Bryant at the Radio Station.” Photo courtesy of Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, The University of Utah. Photograph Number p0111n01_01_01, October 25, 1922.

All over the state of Utah, people were purchasing radios and tuning in on the dial. It brought a sense of community and unity that branched out farther and longer than anyone could have expected. It even attracted leading political figures of that era, such as William Jennings Bryan, who was photographed outside the station and spoke on the air October 25, 1922.

Now known as KSL, KZN has a 90-year-long history of providing entertainment, religious enrichment and culture. The Box Elder News in December 1924 reported how many Brigham City listeners were entertained by their local singers who had gone to Salt Lake City to perform over the airwaves.

Bigger cities across the nation already had popular stations, but at the time, the majority of the nation could not understand the value of radio broadcasting. It was a risky move and with the Deseret News lacking the funds to fully support this quest, it would be up to Woodruff and Fullmer to build their transmitter from scratch. They found engineer H. Carter Wilson, and in the summer of 1921 began building the station on top of the Deseret News Building in downtown Salt Lake City. Years later, Ison tells us, their efforts would carry the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to be heard all across the U.S. on NBC broadcasting Music and the Spoken Word. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put it to use to deliver messages of faith and hope to their members spread throughout the state.

In the present time we get a daily bombardment of media from all over the world that we would probably find it hard to comprehend how excited and connected to each other these early radio listeners must have felt. “It is understood that the Salt Lake paper will send out speeches, music, weather reports, baseball scores and various bits of important news broadcasting these to the intermountain country. Radio receiving sets are being installed in this state at a rapid rate and such service will be of great value,” mentions The Eureka Reporter in May 1922.

We take these reports maybe three or four times a day now with radio, television, newspapers and the Internet. To the residents living in Utah in the roaring ’20s, this information meant the world. Not only could they connect to other cities in Utah, but also they could receive transmissions from other states on clear days.

The News-Advocate in July 1920 reported, “The radio outfit at C.H. Stevenson home is now working splendidly and past few clear nights have brought messages from all over the country. The Pacific coast, Denver, Kansas City and points at similar distances are easily heard and much music and other entertainment features have been enjoyed.” The Advocate would publish little tidbits of what the city folk would be doing, anything from visiting a relative to local political drama. It gives us a deep insight into how the KZN and Deseret News Media could really reach individual lives throughout Utah. The news that C.H. Stevenson could pick up stations from outside of the state was cause for printed mention in the paper.

The early 20th century was full of inventions, like radio, that bridged the gap of the United States and the world. Very soon after, and some at the same time of KZN, other stations were popping up all throughout Utah. The Kiwanis Club in Price, Utah, saw to it that that city council met to discuss the options of getting a radio station there. The News-Advocate also mentioned in September 1922 that the Club knew it would be a way to “divide its entertainments with Salt Lake.” This divide would allow an even more centralized audience and listenership and would provide Price with a voice of its own.

It is by studying our rich history of radio that we can grow to understand our predecessors a little better. Based on my research, there were not many negative reactions, if any, to radio being in Utah, which tells me that Utah embraced the advances in technology. The Deseret News also used it to establish a greater sense of community across the state as a whole. Radio today offers similar feelings in communities across the country. It is our duty to keep those stations alive that do all they can to uphold those values and support their own community. Many say that the radio industry is a dying breed, but the argument stands for good strong community radio. Utah has a long history of providing a voice for the people and that should be cherished and continued.

Anna Hatton is a senior at the University of Utah majoring in mass communication. She has worked as station manager of K-UTE student radio since 2011.

Sources

“Radio Radiating Youth Into Boys of Seventy,” The Davis County Clipper, May 12, 1922, 4.

“Salt Lake Paper Now Broadcasting Reports,” Eureka Reporter, May 12, 1922, 9.

“Will Be Real Celebration!” The Parowan Times, July 19, 1922,1.

“Just About Folks,” The News-Advocate, July 20, 1922, 2.

“Radio Address is Kiwanis Feature,” The News-Advocate, September 7, 1922, 4.

“Local Singers Broadcast at Salt Lake,” The Box Elder News, December 12, 1924, 4.

Yvette D. Ison, “Radio in Utah Began in May 1922 on Station KZN,” Utah History To Go, State of Utah.

Tim Larson and Robert K. Avery, “Utah Broadcasting History,” Utah History Encyclopedia, The University of Utah.

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