KFI Shares IT’S Most

Special Event

Jimmy Vandiveer

(We see his headset pushed up off his ears.)

60 Years ago, Jimmy Vandiveer ‘climbed’Mt. Palomar with the Historic 40-ton Pyrex jewel and KFI spoke to the world each step of the way.

By Newcomb


Vandiveer came to KFI as Dir. of Special Events, Nov.1937. Mr. Vandiveer came from KHJ, where he was publicity Dir. Jimmy took the KFI mike and it’s listeners, onto ships in the harbor, racecars on the track, planes in the air. We have sound bytes of Jimmy aboard a Chinese Junk. This time he takes us a mile, actually 5608 feet, up Palomar Mountain.

Note: Several books tell of The Journey of the 200-inch, 16-½ foot single piece, glass reflector that is the ‘eye’ of the Mt. Palomar Observatory.

I will only mention, in passing, the Corning Glass, new Pyrex, strong enough to bear its own weight. The three car, train that slowly moved the precious load from N.Y. to southern California. A three day trip that took nearly three weeks.) The anticipation and delays charged to WW2. The combinations of secrecy and publicity that stretched from one generation to the next. Sons whose fathers didn’t live to see how it all played out.

This project was large and costly enough to bring together for the first time, public and private entitys to pool skills and machine shops, with the diverse disciplines necessary for real, success.

As the giant glass was hand polished to a precision parabolic reflector, the mountain was carved to provide a perfect path for the outsized load. Switch backs were made that would allow the combination of tractor/trailers to make wide turns for the wide load to move up slowly, smoothly and safely.

The standing rider is sensing the vibration of the big box. He is the pilot. (Taking his half out of the middle.)

Notice the vapor billowing from the exhausts. They remind us of tent camping on these slopes. Often we wake to a silent, heavy fog, closing us in.

This careful Trek was planned to be non-stop. The slow tractors would change gears, in unison.

(Trucks may have transfer cases and transmission combinations that provide triple LOW speeds.) This very, very low gearing was sometimes called “Grand- Maw.” A slow plodding movement that is like a slow walk.

Part way up the 5,000 ft. Palomar grade, blinding fog hid the roadbed from the drivers! Walking men paced the edges of the twisting path so that the climb could be continuous.

Those fateful days June 4,5/6 1948, brought us a number of heroes!

Details from the KFI, KAIH LOG.

Here and following is the KFI story of the engineering used to provide the equipment and radio signal that Vandimeer used to feed his story to the 50,000 W KFI, 150 miles away.


Earle C. Anthony maintained a Design section for the

KFI 141 Vermont shop. George Curran, Seymore Johnson and others were assigned there.

Machine parts were fabricated at the Buena Park shop.

There, was. and is to this day the power drill press, milling machine and engine lathe, also power grinder and air-compressor. There was a paint shop and AC welder available. Much of the assembly and wiring was done by KFI engineers on transmitter watch.


Most KFI radio and test equipment, tone arms, speaker baffles audio amplifiers and portable transmitters came from our own shops. The studio mixers were made on the site.


The KAIH transmitter operates in the 2-3.5 KH Band.

It is licensed to radiate a 25-Watt am signal.

It is battery powered and intended to be used as a remote pick up device to relay program to the main broadcast transmitter.

This allows the mike to become wireless and frees the

Announcer to move with the event, and to become part of it.

KAIH is a send only unit. KFI engineers used another

like, unit, KAXA as a cueing signal. Also a HQ-1298 Hammerlund, communication receiver. This was a multiband receiver with band-spread and a signal level meter. This receiver was well made and engineered to the State of the art in 1947..But it was heavy, used a lot of power, and It required a 130 foot antenna. Not handy for moving remotes and working outside. Also it had a number of faults shared with today’s mobile equipment. Cell phones still find dead spots. Can’t see around corners, over hills. Batteries fail and lose charges.

Think 1948

60 years ago Mt Palomar was selected as site for the big Reflector. Because it was remote, dark at night, rural and only visited by a few campers. It follows that it had few facilities for such an observatory or its people. It needed a good road, electricity, telephone, service stations, food and emergency supplies, sanitation, first aid and temporary housing.

News Papers and radio stations waiting to cover this historic story had to bring everything with them, and they did! They brought crowding, radio interference, Noise, garbage and waste.


The big MOVE - IN was to be the first week of June 1948. May 201948, KFI began its preparation for the special event!

Below: Partial Transcript of the KAIH Log. nw

Page 64


5/20/48 On air with test at Nth Budy & Stanley Sts in

Escondido, Calif.

Called KAXA on 1606 KC 5:pm

Setup gear 1/2 mile north of former location 8:15pm

Fair signal fm Kaxa But local pwr disturbances. Heavy Recorded 2074 kc test. 9:15 pm

Moved receiver West ¼ mile

Pwr noise some static 9:35 pm

On Duty 5pm Ernest Wilmshurst

Off Duty 9:40p Ernest Wilmshurst

Page: 66 Location and Notes

At Ranch of Tom Eckford- - - - -East End of Grand ave

Escondido, Calif.

Antenna 130 ft. flat top. Rns NW by SE at right angles to Palomar.

KAXA test sig X Palomar

  1. full 9

2102 full 9 4:15 pm

  1. swings 9-8 n.g.

  1. at 6:45 full 9

Sun almost down

  1. 7:45 med static occasional single heavy

Kaxa Carrier is full off scale. Sun below horizon

7; 52 PM Static occasionally hits same level of voice.

Voice is R 10 static spike R7

On duty 12>30 pm E Wilmshurst & McCloud

Off Duty 8:10 pm E. Wilmshurst & J Mc Cloud.

Note: This log’s following entry is on page 68 and is dated 11/16/48(Five months after the Giant reflector had found its home)

HOWEVER Vandiveer did cover the famous story and I have seen the KFI disk recording. I had come to KFI in 1947 and met most of the men signing this log. I have bench tested this KAIH transmitter in the 141Vermont shop, Newcomb

EPILOG: Probably you are very close to a cell phone, right now. Not even Army men had access to such a helpful device. Cell phones could have replaced almost all of the equipment that KFI was using on these special events.

These engineering notes (above) represent hours of work with clumsy instruments. Sometimes the men failed when static spoiled the messages.

130 feet, is a lot of wire to stretch out for an antenna. a very tiny one smaller than your little finger replaces that antenna now..The small cell phone transmitter uses a watt or less, but is more readily heard than our 25-watt KAIH.

The dramatic improvement during these 60 years is in the available sensitivity and selectivity of the radio receiver.

We no longer use battery power to heat radio tubes. A great saving of weight and space for portable devices.

Great changes have come to observatories too. No longer will a 200 inch reflector need to weigh 40 tons! Nor will the world want to watch it being trucked up the mountain.