When my family moved to Napa in 1942, some 73 years ago next month, Napa did not have a radio station. Locals relied on the few stations in San Francisco for music, news and nighttime entertainment. For most, television was still a few years in the future.
Right after World War II, in 1946, the word around town was that Napa was getting its very own radio station and those involved in the startup were presenting an informational program about it at the Napa High auditorium. Curious, and with nothing better to do, several of us Napa High students attended the program.
Recently, I became curious about our longtime radio station and decided that I would try to put together an article about what became known as “KVON, The Voice of Napa.”
I remembered attending the informational program and was curious about when the station actually began broadcasting and who was involved. I did some Internet research and found a publication titled Broadcasting, dated Dec. 15, 1947. It reported that KVON would begin broadcasting Wednesday evening, Dec. 17, 1947, and that Napa Mayor S.J. Cinnamond would “throw the switch.” Thursday, Dec. 18, 1947, was to be the first full day of broadcast.
The publication reported that the 500-watt AM station was housed in a Basalite building, that there were two 200-foot towers on the property and that its broadcast frequency was 1440 KC. Col. Elwyn Quinn, a former military officer and radio station executive, was the general manager. Other people, all with prior radio experience, were also mentioned but none of the names were familiar.
Skip now to the present and a recent discussion with my good friend Ron Greenslate, a onetime resident of Paso Robles who later became the general manager of KVON.
Ron told me that, in 1966, Art Youngberg, who owned radio station KPRL in Paso Robles, had purchased KVON, which was reportedly in financial straits, and Youngberg asked Greenslate to be the Napa station’s general manager. Greenslate accepted and he and his family became longtime Napa residents.
Greenslate hired many of the old-time personalities such as sales manager George Karl, news director Pat Stanley, sports director Ira C. Smith and program director Jay Goetting. Greenslate says that, during his tenure, the only holdover employee of the former owners of KVON was Millie Voyles, the station’s administrative staff of one.
Greenslate served as general manager until 1973. He also did a weekday broadcasting gig with a 9 a.m. program called “Rambling With Ron.”
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In 1971, Tom and Ita Young bought KVON from Youngberg and the Young family moved to Napa from Iowa where Tom had been involved in the fledgling television industry.
Tom Young immediately became involved in the local community and over the years was personally involved in virtually every charitable and nonprofit organization in town. He and I have served together on many of the local boards of directors and both have been members of the Napa Rotary Club since the 1970s.
KVON did outreach to the community and my daughter Debbie, a student at Justin-Siena, was a part-time intern to the station in 1972.
Young worked hard at growing the radio business and added KVYN FM 99.3. The two stations exist today as KVON-KVYN and occupy the original KVON location on Foster Road but in a building that has been greatly expanded during its lifetime.
Young even added a television studio that presented local programming. I was once asked to be a guest on a startup TV quiz show with Nelson Bettencourt Jr. Nelson and I were pitted against George Karl and another station employee. Tom Young was the quizmaster. The questions were on current events and I don’t think Nelson and I got one point because George Karl, who was exposed to the news on a daily basis, knew all of the answers and was faster at pressing the button.
The TV venture was abandoned shortly after that.
After almost 68 years of broadcasting, what was once a small 500-watt radio station in a small Basalite building in a small town now broadcasts with 10 times the power (5,000 watts daytime, 1,000 watts at night) in a much larger building in a town that has increased in size, and, along with its younger sister station, continues to serve our community with news, music and talk.
Wine Country Broadcasting is the current owner of Napa’s KVON-KVYN.