KPH Hillcrest Site

Coast station KPH began life in in 1905 at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco.  In those wild and wooly days of early radio there were no radio regulations.  So when the station was completed and the operators realized they'd need a call sign one said, "We're in the Palace Hotel.  How about PH?"  "Good enough for me!" was the reply.  And they were in business.  But not for long.  We had a little problem in San Francisco in 1906 - an earthquake and fire that destroyed most of the city.  The Palace Hotel was burned.  PH was rebuilt on Green Street at a location that is unknown to us today.  The station didn't last long there either.  Just as today, neighbors and radio stations don't mix, especially when that radio station uses a powerful rotary spark gap as a transmiter!  PH moved to Hillcrest above Daly City south of San Francisco, by that time acquiring the prefix "K", forming KPH, one of the most famous call signs in the world.  But where was Hillcrest?  We set about finding out.


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KPH HIllcrest Exterior - 1916

KPH HIllcrest Exterior - 1916
KPH HIllcrest Exterior - 1916

This is the earliest photo we have of KPH.  It's a rare view 1916 of the station at Hillcrest above Daly City, south of San Francisco.  Take careful note of the terrain, the Pacific ocean in the far distance and Lake Merced in the middle distance.  The mid watch at KPH Hillcrest must have been a lonley job, especially on wind and rain swept nights.

 

KPH Hillcrest Interior

 KPH Hillcrest Interior
KPH Hillcrest Interior

Here's a wonderful view of the operating position at Hillcrest.  There's lots to see here.  Note the Marconi 106 receiver to the left on the operating table with a one stage audio amplifier to the right.  Overhead is the main antenna disconnect/lightning switch operated by ropes.  On the wall is another large antenna knife switch.  What are presumed to be the transmitter control panels are on the right.  But most notable to the modern viewer is the hard to see grip of a revolver in its holster nailed to the right leg of the operating table.  We wondered for a long time about the purpose of this pistol.  But Richard Johnstone, who was an operator at Hillcrest, talks about it in his wonderful book "My San Francisco Story".  It turns out it was used to control "our little black and white friends", the skunks that liked to hide under the building!

KPH Hillcrest

 KPH Hillcrest
KPH Hillcrest

MRHS members Mike Johnson and Richard Dillman set out to find the location of Hillcrest, using an old map and their best guesses.  Upon arriving at the location they were deeply disappointed to find the top of the hill occupied by an exclusive gated community, the occupants of which were doubtless unaware of the historic spot they occupy.

KPH Hillcrest

 KPH Hillcrest
KPH Hillcrest

Not being quitters, Johnson and Dillman bushwhacked around to the north side of the hill.  There they founf an indentation in the ground and antique concete foundations.  Could it be?

Hillcrest Site Today

Hillcrest Site Today
Hillcrest Site Today

It could.  Mike Johnson stands at the site of the Hillcrest station at it appears today.  Note the concrete pilings on which the wooden building stood, the Pacific Ocean and Lake Merced in the background, which match the 1916 exterior photo.