Bill Bates was born October 18, 1900 in Whiskey Hill, California (near Watsonville) where he attended elementary school.   He was stricken with polio at the age of 10, which left him strapped to a board for 6 months and his right leg crippled for life.   His father was a major in the US Army who moved his family from the Bay area to Delhi. Growing up included picking prunes and chopping wood, which led Bill to the conclusion he must work with his head.

In 1916 at the age of 16 Bill took up radio as a hobby.  He became a licensed amateur radio "ham" operator with the call sign of  6KL, which was one of the first licenses issued in California. It was later changed to 6CF and then W6CF which he held until his death in 1969.

At the age of 17 he joined the US Merchant Marines as a radio operator.  After his tour of duty he went to work for RCA in Southern California who sent him to Mexico on President Obregon's ship.  He helped install radio equipment on Mexican navy ships.

In 1925 he came to Modesto and operated a radio store in the Covell building until 1928.

In 1928 moved to Los Angeles where he took a job with KGFH as an announcer/engineer.  A few months later he took a similar position at KNX in Los Angeles where he later became chief engineer. 

In 1931 Bill wanting to further his education returned to the Modesto area and enrolled at UC Berkeley in physics classes.  While there he worked as an announcer /engineer at KWBS, later KLS in Oakland. 

He and local businessman Thomas R. Mc Tammany, formed a verbal partnership to start a radio station in Modesto.  After much planning, haggling and appearances before the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, KTRB was granted a license to begin broadcasting on June 18, 1933. 

The station's call letters came from the initials of the partners. "T" and "R" from T.R. McTammany, and "B" from Bill Bates.  The FCC assigned the letter K that designated a station West of the Mississippi river. KTRB went on the air June 18, 1933 from studios behind the Sylvan Clubhouse on the northeast corner of Sylvan and McHenry Ave. in Modesto.  Bill and fellow engineer C.E. Peack  built the first transmitter in Oakland by modifying an old ham radio transmitter. KTRB went on the air with 250 watts on 740 KCs limited to daytime hours of operation.  The frequency was changed in 1942 to 860 KCs when the station moved to Norwegian Ave. and power was increased to 1,000 watts.  Over the years the power was increased a number of times finally ending up with 50,000 watts in the '90's.  KTRB was the only broadcast station in Modesto until 1948 which KBEE FM signed on the air. 

KTRB FM became Modesto's second FM station and Modesto's third broadcast station signing on the air in 1949.  KBEE-FM owned by the McClatchy newspapers became the second commercial broadcast station (first FM station) on the air in the market.  KTRB-FM simulcast the programming from KTRB-AM for many years thus the station identification of "This is KTRB AM and FM, Modesto.

Stations On Air Dates:

  1. June 18, 1933 - KTRB AM  740 KCs  250 watts
  2. January 1942 - KTRB AM   860 KCs  1,000 watts
  3. April 3 1948 - KBEE-FM  103.3 Mhz McClatchy Broadcasting
  4. Late 1949-  KTRB-FM  104.1 Mhz
  5. Oct. 7, 1949- KTUR  1390, Turlock  1,000 watts
  6. March 20, 1950-  KMOD  1360 KCs
  7. Nov. 1, 1951- KBOX  970 KCs.  1,000 watts
  8. Oct. 17 1963- KLOC AM  920 KCs Ceres (Chester Smith)
  9. June 6, 1966 KOSO-FM  93.1 MHz Patterson, CA
  10. January 15, 1979  KQKK 96.7 MHz, Manteca, CA 
  11. March 11, 1985.  KDJK-FM 95.1 MHz in Oakdale
  12. April 5, 1987. KPLA-AM  770 KCs Riverbank, CA
  13. January 13, 1995  KEJC-FM  93.9 MHz Modesto, CA
  14. July 10, 2006, KMPH 840 KHz, Modesto, CA  (Replaced KTRB Modesto)

On March 20, 1950, Modesto got it's fourth broadcast station when KMOD, 1360 KCs was put on the air by a group headed by local businessman Judd Sturdevant.  A year later on November 1, 1951, KBOX, 970 KCs hit the airwaves launched by a group headed by, then Assemblyman, Ralph Brown of Modesto.  No new stations entered the market until 1963 primarily because of a freeze on new licenses by the FCC.  In 1963 Chester Smith left KTRB and started KLOC licensed to Ceres on 920 KCs and 3 years later on June 6th, 1966 KOSO-FM came on the air licensed to Patterson. 

KTRB was very much involved with the  community back then including the following listener favorites:

  • Job listings
  • Auction block
  • Bill's "Old Time Tunes"  program with his Beer Barrel polka theme song.
  • The Man on the Street broadcasts from the downtown streets of Modesto.
  • Local news with Charles McKwen, Don Schneider's and Phil Barber's mobile news reports.
  • Weather reports gathered by ham radio operators.
  • Ski reports  from Ray Purdey at Dodge Ridge and high Sierra road reports phoned in by Ralph King.
  • Religious broadcasts with Rev. Don G. Weston and others.
  • Sunday church programs.
  • Country music with the Maddox Brothers and Rose, The Swanee Cowboys, Bob Wills  and his Texas Playboys and Chester Smith.

Bill was always interested in what he could do for the community. He initiated turkey giveaways at Thanksgiving and Christmas for the needy and issued pleas for help for people left homeless due to fires or floods.  He appealed for Afghans for servicemen at Oak Knoll Hospital in Oakland and hundreds of pairs of eye glasses for the Lions Club.  He gave many scholarships to students in the area who needed help.  He helped restart the 4th of July celebration in Modesto in 1934.

I came to KTRB in June of 1951 as a combination program director/operations manager. Bill taught me a lot, not only about radio but also about business practices.   I spent 39 years at KTRB,  18 years with Bill as my mentor.

Bill passed away on April 3rd, 1969 (Good Friday) while visiting his daughter in San Jose. One of the hardest things I have ever had to do in all my years of broadcasting was to report his death to our listeners .

Shortly after Bill's death, one of the station's long time sponsors, Irv Vrh of  Vrh's Furniture in Turlock and I organized the "Penny of Pines" memorial project just below Cold Springs in Tuolumne County.  Thirty  volunteers, all KTRB listeners, spent 2 weeks planting seedlings on the east side of the road leading off Hwy 108 down to a Boy Scout camp. This was Bill's beloved hill country where he spent as much time as he could at his cabins in Dardanelles and Bumblebee.

From 1969 to 1973 the station operated under the auspices of Bill's estate administered by the Crocker National Band when it was sold for $675,000 to a corporation headed by the Pappas brothers (Mike, Pete and Harry) of Visalia (formerly of Modesto). Other members of the purchasing group included Bob Piccininni (Save-Mart Super Markets),  and Mike Sturdevant among others. 

In 1981 Pete Pappas bought out all investors for $1,110,000 and operated the station until 1986 when he passed away of a heart attack while visiting in Price, Utah. The station was inherited by his wife Bessie who promptly sold KTRB-FM to a Sacramento based broadcast company for 6.5 million in cash.

In October, 2002  Bessie Pappas tired of the business and sold KTRB-AM to her brother-in-law Harry Pappas, the only surviving brother who owns many TV and radio stations across the country.  The local staff was let go at that time and the programming for KTRB came from Harry's news-talk station KMPH-FM in Fresno.  The microwave programming feed continued from Fresno until September 2005 when origination control returned to KTRB on Norwegian.  Satellite receivers were installed and the news-talk format continued.

In 2004 Harry Pappas applied for, and was granted, a permit  by the FCC to move KTRB-AM 860 KHz to San Francisco and to replace it with KMPH, 840 KHz in Modesto. 

In preparing for KMPH, in late September 2005,  workers began repairing and remodeling  the KTRB studios on Norwegian with the intent to return the building to it's original appearance and design in 1941.   Once completed, it was to house the new KMPH and the Modesto Radio Museum, which was the brainchild of Harry Pappas. However, the economic downturn resulted in Harry Pappas being forced in bankruptcy and becoming unable to provide a home for the museum.  The KTRB building and land on Norwegian was put up for sale in 2009. (Asking price $800,000)

On June 18, 2006,  KTRB in Modesto went off the air and was replaced on July 10, 2006 with KMPH on 840 KHz.    

Bill Bates in 1942.
Bill Bates in early 50s
KTRB and Bill Bates History
By Cal Purviance

KTRB Modesto on Norwegian Ave.
Bill Bates in early 60s
Courtesy of Eric Braun