Making Radio History: Past and Present

Visitors to our ranch often hear the story behind those concrete objects in our pastures. Yes, they are definitely favorite play-structures for our lambs, but their history goes back to the early days of the last century, in the early days of radio, when our ranch was owned by the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company, and was the site of a major receiving station for radio transmissions from the Pacific. The sister facility that transmitted out to the Pacific was in Bolinas, and is still functional to this day; local radio enthusiasts fire it up at regular intervals and put it through its paces. During WWI, Marconi interests in the U.S. were nationalized, and that was the beginning of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). The receiving equipment on our ranch became obsolete some time between WWI and WWII,  and RCA created a new receiving station on Pt Reyes, sold off the ranch land, and kept 60 acres down on Highway 1 where their buildings were located. Today it is the Marconi Conference Center, owned by the state of California, and  is home to a radio museum. 

Guglielmo Marconi, Inventor of Radio

Back around 2012, we were approached by a group called Common Frequency, who try to keep radio frequencies in local hands. They told us that 91.5 was a vacant frequency in our area, potentially at risk of being snatched up by a national radio conglomerate, and asked if they could put a little low-energy radio station on our ranch, to keep the frequency in use. We said OK, and KXCF began broadcasting from the pump house in our hilltop pasture. Their format was progressive rock, and frankly we never listened to it. Eventually it was abandoned, the equipment fell into disrepair and it was off the air again. Then in 2019 we were contacted by Jeff Cotton, who operates Jive Radio, a handful of small radio stations in California. 

Jeff asked if he could rejuvenate KXCF as a Jive Radio station and we agreed. 

Jeff set up new equipment on a shelf in our little pump house and put up a bigger antenna. Still the 10-watt radio station had quite a small radius and could really only be tuned in within a few miles of our ranch. 

Nevertheless, people began to notice it, mostly because of its wonderful programming. It is an eclectic and funky assortment of music, mostly mixed on Jeff’s home computer, ranging from the 40s to current, which the Jive Radio website refers to as “Schizoeclectic.” Listening in the barn, I constantly find myself using “Shazam” on my phone to find the artist I’m listening to. You will rarely hear anything that was ever listed on the Top-40.

Shortly after KXCF started broadcasting, David Briggs, photographer and co-owner of the Point Reyes Light newspaper, discovered it when driving around to photo shoots in our area. He asked if the paper could do an article about the new KXCF, and came up to the ranch to take a photo for the piece.

At the ranch, he encountered our ranch-hand Lisa, who is a big fan of old-timey things and always has a transistor radio with her when she works on the ranch. Lisa was KXCF’s first big fan (I think David Briggs was the second) and he got this great photo of the back of her pickup for the article. 

Lisa is a VERY low-tech person, but her love of our little radio station has resulted in a special role for her. Jeff lives a few hours away, but when he has a technical problem with the station and needs something checked or adjusted up at the pump-house, it is Lisa he emails with instructions for what to do. She enjoys her newfound role in local broadcasting.

Jeff Cotton, who is also a very serious devotee of radio, really loved the link to the radio history of our ranch, and the fact that our pump house that houses the station is right next to a set of the old Marconi radio-tower footings. It was Jeff who put the above photo of Guglielmo Marconi in our pump-house next to his radio equipment. 

Jeff applied to change the call letters of KXCF to KDAN, in honor of Dan Hicks, a Marin native, whose music is typical Jive Radio fare (as is that of Marshall resident and our next-door ranch neighbor, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott). 

We have KDAN playing most of the time in the barn, and I still get a kick when the call-sign announcement comes on, saying “KDAN, 91.5, Marshall, California.” 

Jeff has some other broadcast sites now so KDAN has a wider radius, but it’s real reach is by streaming on the web, either through Tuned-In, or directly from Jive Radio’s web site. We receive fan mail from KDAN lovers from all over the U.S. and even Australia! And we’ve had a few requests to make a pilgrimage to the pump-house home of this big little radio station. 

We love our KDAN, our fun partnership with Jeff, and the full circle this little station completes in our ranch’s  unique relationship with radio. 

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