The Yakima Valley's pioneering radio station, KIT was established in 1929, though its roots trace to a predecessor station, KFEC (at 833 kilohertz on the radio dial) in Portland, Oregon. Former Seattle radio announcer, pianist, engineer, and station manager Carl E. Haymond (1897-1977) bought KFEC and arranged to move it north to provide communities there with radio service. KIT would grow from a little 50-watt station into a 5,000-watt commercial success that for many years rated as the area's top station. Among the notable on-air talents were Katherine Dean May – who went on to serve in the U.S. Congress – and Dave Etle, a one-time member of the Yakima City Council. In time, Haymond would sell KIT, and after passing through a few other owners it evolved into a conservative News Talk station featuring Fox Radio News programming among other sources. Today  the Yakima Valley boasts several dozen radio broadcasters, but KIT-AM remains the area's legacy station.
Radio Pioneer Carl Haymond
The Roaring Twenties craze for that rather new-fangled invention, the radio, got fully underway a century ago. Radio broadcasting had been around for a few years, but in 1922 the popularity of radio exploded. At the dawn of commercial broadcasting, it was common for stations to be founded as advertising adjuncts of other previously existing businesses. In Seattle, for example, the Rhodes Department Store owned KDZE, while the Fisher Flouring Mill company launched KOMO, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper founded KFC.
The latter station made a splash with its debut on July 2, 1921 – and this, even before it had acquired a formal broadcast license, or call-letters, from the U.S. Department of Commerce. It was on that day that a makeshift broadcast booth was set up on the roof of the Post-Intelligencer building at 6th Avenue and Pine Street. The occasion was a major boxing match between Colorado's William Dempsey and the French champion, Georges Carpentier, in Jersey City, New Jersey. Not many locals owned their own radios at that point, but radio shops all over town had placed radio loudspeakers on sidewalks to attract people, and crowds gathered to listen to what sounded like a live blow-by-blow report.
What was actually happening was that a reporter at ringside was dictating the action to a dot-dash-dot telegrapher whose signal went out nationwide. Then, the Post-Intelligencer announcer would read that information live, injecting as much gusto as he could muster. The crowds cheered as they heard about Dempsey's knockout victory, and the broadcast – and its excitable announcer -- were the talk of the town. His name was Carl E. Haymond.
Originally from Geneva, Ohio, Haymond had graduated from Cornell College at Mount Vernon, Iowa, in 1917. Enlisting in the U.S. Navy, and based at the Bremerton Navy Yard, he also took a course in radio at the University of Washington, and earned a third-class radio operator's rating. From there he spent a year and a half at sea sending and receiving Morse Code messages as a wireless operator. At the end of World War I he was discharged and took a job in Seattle as a piano salesman for the Rhodes Department Store at 2nd Avenue and Union Street.
Meanwhile, Haymond would recall, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, "ran an ad requesting some individual who had a college education, public speaking experience, and a license to operate a commercial radio broadcasting station to apply to them. I answered the ad, and got the job as the first regular announcer-operator on a broadcasting station in Seattle and, as far as I know, anywhere else in the West" (Harrison, 291).
Haymond opened the show each day with this announcement (as required by Department of Commerce rules): "Hello all ships and stations. Hello all ships and stations. Hello all ships and stations. This is KFC, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. This is KFC, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. This is KFC, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer" (Harrison, 293). From there he would read news segments and introduce interview guests, musicians, and the like, but was also soon serving as KFC's manager and engineer. Proud to have him leading the way, the Post-Intelligencer touted Haymond as a "man selected for the clarity and distinctiveness of his tones." Many years later Northwest radio historian David Richardson noted that Haymond "qualifies as the area's first professional announcer" (Richardson, 27).
According to Haymond, in May 1922, "I had a phone call from the manager of Rhodes Department Store asking me to come down and talk to him. I went down. They decided they wanted a broadcasting station, and since I was the best-known character in Seattle as a radio operator and had been at it the longest, they wanted me to come down and work for them. Well, finally I agreed to do it" (Harrison, 293). Haymond built a 50-watt transmitter, erected a 75-foot-tall antenna on the roof, and KDZE was born.
Haymond went on the air as an announcer, and as a soloist pianist, while also working a side hustle as a piano salesman for Rhodes. In May 1923 the call-letters were changed to KFOA and Haymond was promoted to station manager. "Whether performing, engineering or managing, he knew radio stations from the microphone right up to the antenna" (Richardson, 112). His expertise was so great, and interest in radio so keen, that he began thinking about buying his own station. Tacoma's top station, KMO, was available, but Haymond didn't have enough money, so he took on the well-paying job of installing Alaska's first station, KGBU in Ketchikan. Upon returning home in 1926, Haymond bought KMO and began serving as its general manager.
Meanwhile, in Portland, that city's biggest department store, the Meier & Frank Company, launched its own 5-watt station, KFEC (833 kHz), on October 3, 1922. The station was originally located on the fifth floor of the store's 16-story building located between SW 5th and SW 6th avenues and SW Morrison and SW Alder streets and its antenna was erected on the roof. By June 1930 KFEC frequency had changed to 1210 kHz, in 1927 that changed again to 1400 kHz, and in November 1928 it settled for a while at 1370 kHz.
By this time numerous additional stations had popped up in Portland and Meier & Frank's management was having second thoughts about the radio business. As Haymond recalled, they "had come to the conclusion that they either were going full blast on radio and have a top station in Portland, or they were going to get out of it. They finally decided to get out of it and sell the station. I bought it for $4,000" (Harrison, 305).
On March 18, 1929, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) acknowledged Haymond as the new owner of KFEC. But Haymond quickly deduced that the broadcasting competition in Portland was too stiff, and he began thinking about moving his station to a less-crowded locale -- one that would allow it opportunities to generate greater operating revenue from a new pool of potential advertisers. He selected the rural town of Yakima, where there was no station to serve the communities within of the entire Yakima Valley area.
KIT's a Hit!
Haymond filed the required FCC paperwork to change the station's location to Washington, and on March 22, 1929, the call-letters switched to KIT. He then upped and moved into a new studio and a 100-watt transmitter located at 109-1/2 Yakima Avenue in Yakima. Haymond well remembered KIT's earliest days: "We had a difficult time finding quarters for studios and offices. This was before the 1929 market crash, and Yakima was a busy little city. We finally got space on the second floor of an office building. We had two rooms and fenced off the end of the hallway for our transmitter, which was a tiny little thing, and for a little motor generator set. That was the operating room for the equipment. We had a studio, an office, and a staff of three people. That was the total staff" (Harrison, 305).
KIT made its broadcast debut at 7 p.m. on April 5, 1929, presenting an evening of dedicatory programming to celebrate its arrival. In time various new programs were produced at KIT, with an early popular one being James Nolan's kiddie show, Uncle Jimmie's Clubhouse. KIT's long-lasting news editor was Pete Wick, its chief engineer throughout the 1940s and 1950s was Ben Murphy, and in the rocking 1950s its late-night DJ was Joe Young, who spun records on his La Casa Jose show.
Haymond had been correct: KIT was welcomed by locals and was a quick business success – then again, it had no local competition until KIMA (1460 kHz) popped up in 1936. Along the way KIT experienced many changes. On December 21, 1929, its frequency was moved to 1310 kHz; then back to 1370 kHz; then to 1250 kHz in December 1937; and then to 1280 kHz in March 1941. The station's power kept increasing: from 50 watts up to 100 in 1931; to 250 in March 1935; to 500 in May 1936; and eventually to 5,000 watts. In addition KIT became an affiliate of the Mutual Broadcasting System from 1937 into about 1946. That same year Haymond's son, C. Dexter Haymond, joined the business and they went on to own numerous additional stations in California (San Bernardino, Stockton, and Bakersfield) and Arizona (Phoenix).
Catherine The Brave
KIT's most notable staffer was a native of Yakima, Catherine Dean Barnes (1914-2004). Her family was prominent in town as the owners of Barnes Grain and Feed Co. and General Merchandise Store as well as the Barnes-Woodin Fine Ladies Apparel shop. It was written that, "She was known for having a quick mind, and while still in grammar school she memorized the Bill of Rights and the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, a feat that earned her a silver dollar from her grandmother. She earned the nickname Catherine the Brave because of her athletic ability, as well as her outgoing and fearless personality" (Meyers).
In 1936 Barnes earned an English degree from the University of Washington, and then studied speech at the University of Southern California. Interested in the radio industry, she hired on at Tacoma's KMO in 1940, where she worked as an on-air host and their women's editor – a job that saw her dispensing cooking and child-rearing advice to housewives. After marrying a Fort Lewis soldier, James O. May, in 1943, they transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey, in 1944. She began working at NBC Radio in New York, and her claim to fame was having produced the first Betty Crocker radio show. After James was discharged in 1946 they moved to Yakima. He got into real estate and she hired on at KIT, hosting a daily program aimed at women.
Interested in local as well as national affairs, Catherine joined the Yakima County Young Republicans and in 1952 ran for office and was elected as Washington's first woman in the state House of Representatives. After three terms, she moved up and won a seat in the U.S. Congress, where she served on the House Agriculture Committee and the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. Representing the generally conservative outlook of the majority of her constituents, May opposed the public financing of schools because "it was a precursor to socialism" while also supporting the Vietnam War effort against "naked communist aggression" (Meyers). May also sponsored the creation the House Select Committee on Standards of Officials Conduct, and consistently supported the Equal Rights Amendment efforts. Her stubborn support for President Richard Nixon led Nixon to appoint her as a trustee for a new agency, Amtrak, and eventually she became the International Trade Commission's first female chair.
Over the decades KIT's studios and transmitters were moved a few times. By November 1936 the studio had been moved to 414 East Yakima Avenue; in 1959 the address was 414-1/2 Yakima Avenue; and around 1961 the studio was relocated to 114 South 4th Street. For Carl Haymond, KIT had enjoyed a successful run of nearly 40 years, and he had built up a solid crew. "Like most pioneers," Jack Clarke reflected, "Carl was a visionary, a quiet type of visionary. He had the ability to gather people around him who were intensely loyal. I think at one time he had the most cohesive and loyal group of any broadcaster in the West. Certainly, many of us stayed with him -- in a very transitory business -- for many years" (Harrison, 71).
On May 24, 1965, the Haymonds and Jack H. Goetz – who had served as station manager after Ben Murphy's death in 1956 -- transferred the ownership of KIT to Goetz Enterprises, Inc., and that same day it applied for an FCC license, which became effective on July 1. Carl Haymond had invested in numerous other stations in California and Arizona, and he eventually moved to Bakersfield, where he died on January 19, 1977.
Throughout the years KIT embedded itself deeply into the culture of the Yakima Valley, creating content that was relevant there, and providing reports on topics ranging from fuel prices, to frost warnings and other agricultural affairs, to crop insurance, tax refunds, beef exports, and assorted local goings-on. In the 1980s Al Bell served a long stint as KIT News Director, and other on-air personalities included Derek Allen, Dave Hansen, and Brian Teegarden.
Meanwhile, the broadcasting industry was under new pressures, and when the licensing fees to air recorded music began to rise, it caused stations such as KIT to scale back music and lean toward low-cost talk formats. The ownership of KIT flipped a few more times, with Clear Channel Communications acquiring it at some point. In 2008 Skip Weller's GAP Broadcasting firm bought KIT, and in 2010 it was snapped up by Townsquare Media, a corporation that operated radio clusters in 36 markets nationwide. In 2011 KIT-AM started simulcasting with a station that was renamed KIT-FM (99.3 FM) in 2012 until that station switched to a Classic Hits format in 2015.
In 2022, KIT-AM -- located at 4010 Summitview Avenue, Yakima -- features considerable content produced by Fox News Radio, ABC Radio, and Westwood One. Thusly did KIT continue evincing ever more conservative leanings. The station is marketed as "a conservative news talk station that covers news about the Yakima Valley, the Northwest and the nation. We also broadcast live commentary and public discussions with a variety of guests each weekday morning" (News Talk KIT 1280 AM). Most days begin with The Morning News With Dave and Lance – Dave Etle (who got his start across town at KIMA-TV in 1982, then joined KIT in 2001, and served for a period on the Yakima City Council), and Lance Tormey, a Yakima native who began producing news segments at KIT in 1992.
KIT is committed to its conservative content, with regular syndicated broadcasts by right-wing icons including Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. The station's website is robust, and seemingly tries to provide some comic relief from all the political wrangling, with humorous postings like one online feature titled "Rednecks Welcome – Here Are The Top 5 Most Redneck Cities in Washington." Tellingly, that list (5. Enumclaw, 4. Buckley, 3. Naches, 2. Monroe, 1. Aberdeen) didn't include the rapidly diversifying Yakima itself -- an area that can boast a Native American station and numerous Spanish language stations along with plenty of Top-40 pop, Classic Rock, and religious stations.