KXO Radio is a piece of living history in the Imperial Valley and the station celebrates its 92nd birthday this month.
Co-owner and radio personality Carroll Buckley said, “The AM station opened in 1927 next to Boatwright’s in El Centro. It was originally a radio parts and repair shop. The owners figured they could sell more radios if people had a local radio station to listen to.”
The station broadcasts an oldies/news format on 1230 AM and adult contemporary/soft rock on 107.5 FM. It is located at 420 W. Main St. in El Centro.
Buckley pointed above his desk to a historic picture of the original building from the collection of famed Imperial Valley pioneer photographer Leo Hetzel.
“Earl Irey and Frank Bowels received a license from the city to open a station in 1927. The station was originally named KGEN and changed to KXO in 1929.”
KXO maintains an extensive history of the radio station, some of which those familiar with the station might find surprising:
In 1936, the station invited a hotly contested political candidate to speak and a mob stormed the station and escorted the candidate to the train depot.
A huge flood devastated the Imperial Valley in 1939 for four days and KXO stayed on the air to report news.
An earthquake hit in 1940 and again the station stayed on the air.
Buckley explained the FM side of the station has its own history.
“FM was developed in the late 30s but didn’t catch on until the 60s. AM means amplitude modulations and FM stands for frequency modulation. Most people don’t know television was around in the 30s. The problem was there were no stations to watch.”
Explaining the origin of the FM station, he added, “FM 107.5 went on air July 4, 1976. The station had been dark but the KXO owners bought the station and put it back on air.”
KXO tells something about the station’s history just in its name. Stations that can use three letters (like KXO) are pioneer stations, which were among the first 500 radio stations in the nation. Later station have four letters.
Sharing the story about his career, Buckley said, “I got into radio in high school in Kalamazoo (Mich.) and moved to California to work in a station in San Bernardino.”
He continued, “I came to the Valley to work at Channel 9 (television). I worked part-time for KXO and I knew radio was where I wanted to be. Gene Brister (station co-owner) and I bought KXO a few years later.”
Tracy Lyon Ramirez, a station radio personality, and Jared Anchondo, a sales executive, laughed as they spoke about what it is like to work in the front office of the station.
“I started at KOZN in Imperial 30 years ago,” Ramirez said. “It’s a Spanish station now. A few years later I moved to KXO. Now I’m the office manager and keeper of the hyenas. Everyone who works here wears many hats. The station is on air 24/7. Almost everyone who works here goes on air.”
Radio has remarkably transformed over the years and KXO was there to see it all.
Ramirez explained, “Oh yeah, I was spinning 45’s when I started. We were real DJ’s. Now we are radio personalities. The computers are doing everything for you now.”
Anchondo spoke about what makes KXO unique and explained, “Most stations are not live and local. We keep it hyper-local. Local news and weather every hour.”
Working as a radio personality comes with its own brand of fame, explained Ramirez.
“People recognize our voices more than anything. Most people get to see what we look like at our fair booth,” she revealed. “My son flips out when people recognize my voice at the grocery store. We’re all pretty humble about all that at KXO.”
Buckley grinned and said, “In this market, it’s not an issue. Local celebrity is tongue and cheek. Everybody knows Tracy. We appreciate it but we get more of a kick out of it than anything. There’s no room for ego.”
Buckley spoke with great excitement about the future of radio, which has survived competition from television, video and the Internet.
“You may be surprised to learn this. There are more people listening over the radio than ever,” he said. “Millennials have rediscovered radio because local news does something that podcasts, Pandora, or other streaming services, can’t do. We let them know what’s going on in their neighborhood.”
Buckley concluded, “Local radio is the most social media. We do birthdays every day and we let people know which roads are closed. KXO is always live.”