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Blog: Redwood City was once home to the only radio station broadcasting to GIs overseas

During WWll, KGEI served as the 'Voice of America' for soldiers stationed in the Pacific

During WWll, television had yet to become the great medium it is today. Instead, Americans were kept informed and entertained by radio, a platform so popular that many Americans purchased radios rivaling today’s large-screen TV’s in size. They became furniture for many households.

In an effort to promote patriotic material to eager listening audiences, General Electric launched a short wave radio station at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in 1939. The call letters were W6XBE. Soon after, in August the letters were changed to KGEI, referring to General Electric International.

In 1941, at the conclusion of the Exposition, KGEI’s 50kw transmitter was relocated to the bayside marshlands of Redwood City—now Redwood Shores.

In addition to being a platform for General Electric to promote its products, KGEI was the only voice from America for GI’s who were stationed overseas in the  Pacific during WWll. General Douglas MacArthur’s famous “I Shall Return” (to the Philippines) speech from Australia in 1944 was broadcast over their airwaves.

After the war, KGEI continued to broadcast programming which eventually became known as Voice of America.

However, some programming invited a bit of controversy. Here is an interesting account of something that took place during the 1962 Cuban missile crisis:

In July 1962, a curious letter was received from a Cuban listener, detailing the exact positions and descriptions of Russian missile launching sites. Since nothing had yet appeared in the world press about any such threat, KGEI's parent organization decided to reproduce the letter, as a curiosity, in one of its fund-raising letters to the donors. It was then KGEI learned that the CIA was on the donor mailing list! The phone rang, a meeting was arranged. The agent implored KGEI to bring such letters to their attention before making them public. No similar letters were ever received.

KGEI changed ownership after the war but continued broadcasting.

Changing times and evolving listener taste reduced the audience over the years. Eventually, in 1994 it went silent.

Today, the building with its original extra thick concrete walls, designed to withstand a bomb blast, still exists. The antenna is long gone, and the current occupant is a private business, unrelated to radio or media.

On a personal note, my late father was stationed at Midway during WWll and most likely listened to KGEI.

Everything else is just history

Dan Calic

About the Author: Dan Calic

A product of Goodwin (JFK), Henry Ford, Roosevelt, Sequoia High and Canada College, Dan has deep Redwood City roots. He’s witnessed Redwood City transform from a sleepy peninsula town into a thriving high-tech hub.
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