Radio Broadcast, July, 1928, page 150:
Broadcast Station Calls With a Past
By WILLIAM FENWICK
THROUGH the years that broadcasting has been with us, the listener has interested himself, among a multitude of other things connected with a station, in the biography of practically every member of the personnel and the contributing performers. Occasionally, in the beginning of radio the former rôles the transmitter and other instruments had played elsewhere were disclosed and eagerly absorbed by the radio devotee, but this ceased as the practice came into being of making the radio broadcasting equipment to order. Few, though, have ever paused to think of what might have been the past of their favorite station's call letters, a reflection, as will be seen, that revives the memory of many heroic deeds and horrible occurrences.
A search through old records will bring to light several calls now popular in broadcasting that once were well known in shipping circles, the original owners of many of which have met with disaster. The reason the greater number of these were not reassigned to other vessels is due mainly to a seamen's superstition that is at variance with the idea. WGR, as an instance, was at one time a familiar steamship call all along the Pacific coast when it was being used by the passenger steamer Governor previous to its allocation to the widely known Buffalo broadcasting station of the Federal Radio Corporation. The Governor sank following its collision with the freighter West Hartland in April of 1921, resulting in the loss of eight lives.
WSB TWICE WRECKED
Another quite famous call and one which has twice been the central factor in perilous episodes of the deep, is WSB, now of the Atlanta, Georgia, Journal. The S. S. Francis H. Leggett was first possessor and, after foundering off the Oregon coast on September 18, 1914, taking a toll of two of the 67 lives aboard, it was reassigned to the Firewood, the name of which forms a grim coincidence with its fate, it being burned off Peru on December 18, 1919, with 28 persons on board, all of whom were saved. [NOTE: According to multiple entries in the official List of Merchant Vessels of the United States, this ship's name was actually the Firwood.]
KLZ of the Reynolds Radio Company of Denver, Colorado, presents an even more exciting life story. It belonged to the Speedwell in 1920 when the vessel on September 29 of that year found itself suddenly amidst the sweep of a tropical hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. An idea of the severity of the storm may be had from the report that upon the flashing of the SOS and the ship's position, the engine room became flooded, disabling the dynamo, and the only other source of power for the station, storage batteries, became useless when the whole afterdeck was torn off and swept away by the sea. Nine of the 25 people on board were lost in this tragedy.
The most sorrowful memories, however, lie behind the letters KRE now of the Berkeley, California, Gazette and formerly of the Florence H. which was wrecked by an internal explosion April 17, 1918, in Quiberon Bay, taking a toll of 45 lives of the 77 present in the catastrophe. The greatest monetary waste to the sea of those mentioned was in the case of the Princess Anne, carrying the call KOB, subsequently given to the radio station of the State College of New Mexico. The Princess stranded on February 2, 1920 on Rockaway Shoals, Long Island, and though she broke in two and all of the 106 passengers and crew were saved, the cargo valued at $500,000 was practically a total loss.
Another call sign which has its past marred with tragedy is the now familiar WHN of New York City. This call was at one time assigned to the ill-fated steamer Hanalei. Later it was passed to the steamer Santa Isabel, which vessel was
subsequently sold to Chile. In cases of this sort where a ship is bought by a foreign country, the letters are changed to those given by the government having jurisdiction over the purchaser. A few other examples of this where the calls are now in use in broadcasting are: WWJ, well known as the Detroit News, was formerly of the steamer Peru which was sold to France. KLS, familiar now as the Oakland, California, station of Warner Bros., was once possessed by the steamer Kermanshah, transferred to Hungary. Likewise KNX of the Los Angeles Express was the signal of the vessel Susana, which was later purchased by an Italian company.