Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bilingual Battle Royale at KFUN

Currently 1230 KFUN-AM is owned by Baca Broadcasting, LLC, and airs mostly country music, but carries a fair number of local shows including Spanish and oldies music programming. They don't appear in the Las Vegas ratings book today, but they were the center of a bilingual battle royal back in 1943. The Office of Censorship took an interest in these bilingual broadcasts. That agency was an "emergency" wartime measure set up on on Dec 19th 1941 just a week before KFUN began broadcasting on Christmas Day. The Office of Censorship closed in November of 1945. KFUN has continued to broadcast for another 74 years

For the record, the station has always broadcast Spanish programming. The station was built by Ernie and Dorothy Thwaites who moved to the area in 1941. They built and operated KFUN, and lived in a house next door. KFUN began with a 250 watt transmitter. As early as 1943, the station was broadcasting in both Spanish and English and according to the book Audrey of the Mountains by Dorothy Audrey Simpson they derived 20% of their revenue from their Spanish programs. In WWII they even broadcast Office of War information bulletins in both languages.

The Office of Censorship disliked that KFUN broadcast in two languages and that their Spanish announcers weren't scripted. They asked Thwaites to script and monitor all Spanish broadcasts. He said no. The Office of Censorship was clearly over-reaching at least a little. Their charter was to aid in the censorship of all communications coming into and going out of the United States. KFUN was deeply landlocked. It was over 800 miles to the pacific ocean, and more than 275 miles from the Mexican border. KFUN's  250 watt signal was not leaving the borders of the United States.but enforcement had been thorough.  Between 1942 and 1943 the number of foreign language stations dropped from 210 to 128. Only KFUN picked a fight.

To his credit, their Director Byron Price did try to avoid the fight. His agency reached out to a friend of the Thwaites, Harry Burdick at KGGM in Albuquerque to get him to try to persuade them. Instead Ernie Thwaite sent a letter to Price accusing his agency of infringing upon freedom of speech. No one had done this before. Then the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) acted on the government's behalf to pressure KFUN-AM to obey by conveying a threat to suspend their license. Thwaite changed tactic and stopped all Spanish broadcasts in August, and began instead airing messages that explained their plight. Price sent a personal letter to Ernie and asked them to resume Spanish broadcasts... but monitored this time. The Thwaites grudgingly complied.