On Sept. 1, 1947, at 6 a.m., the voice of station manager Harry Lantry announced a new Spokane radio station over the airwaves.
“It’s a new day! This is KNEW,” Lantry said.
Back then, Burl Hagadone was the owner. A little more than a decade later, the station’s ownership shifted to Frank Sinatra and entertainer Danny Kaye.
“Seldom has a document filed in the office received such general attention,” The Spokesman-Review reported on Nov. 14, 1959. “Signatures of Sinatra and Kaye, as well as of Mrs. Sylvia Fine Kaye, Kaye’s wife and secretary, and other persons, were noted with interest.”
But this wasn’t the document that recently caught the eyes of Tim Villard, city of Spokane recording specialist. The same signatures appeared on a quitclaim deed that came across his desk, a document that will be 55 years old Sunday.
“We run across famous people’s names occasionally,” Villard said, mentioning he’s seen signatures from Ronald Reagan, Robert Redford and Johnny Carson.
“Never before have I actually looked at a document, like Frank Sinatra’s, and saw the signature and thought, ‘Hmmm, I wonder if this is really him.’ ”
Another name on the document Villard discovered was Jack Entratter, named as a “partner and co-trustee” of Sinatra Radio. Entratter was a business executive known for management positions at both the Copacabana nightclub in New York City and the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Entratter’s signature was notarized in Clark County, Nevada.
Sinatra did not last long in the Spokane radio business, and not for nothing.
Kaye-Smith owner Alex Smith said his father, Lester Smith, told him a story about Sinatra. Lester had been the general manager of the radio stations when Sinatra was still an owner, and he went to the opening of the Cal-Neva Lodge – which straddles the Nevada and California borders on the shores of Lake Tahoe – with Kaye, where Sinatra was the headliner.
“They noticed in the room there were a lot of guys from Brooklyn and back East that were part of the let’s just say Cosa Nostra, etc., ” Alex Smith said. “Dad and Danny weren’t naive, they were both Jewish kids from Brooklyn.”
Cosa Nostra (“Our Thing”) is how members of the Sicilian Mafia refer to themselves. Alex Smith said Kaye and his father didn’t need Sinatra’s capital any longer and were concerned about the Federal Communications Commission.
“You own the asset of the station, but the FCC owns the license and they essentially allowed you to receive that license,” Alex Smith said. “They could take it away.”
In 1963, the Nevada gaming control board took away Sinatra’s gaming license for Cal-Neva because he was entertaining Sam Giancana, a Sicilian-American mob boss from Chicago, from July 17-28.
Sinatra was out, but Kaye stayed, forming Kaye-Smith with Lester Smith. In 1966, the radio station changed its call letters to its modern iteration: KJRB. Today, KJRB is “The Bear: The Rock You Know,” and current assistant program director Felix Lasin said he had not heard of the station’s history. Kaye-Smith sold the radio stations in 1999.
Over the years, Alex said Kaye became a close family friend. They went on to become managing partners of the Seattle Mariners together from 1977 to 1981.
“Instead of staying in a hotel, he stayed in our modest guest room,” Alex Smith said of Kaye’s visits to their house in suburban Bellevue, Washington. “I think our household was a refuge of his Hollywood life.”
Kaye, the United Nations Children’s Fund ambassador for decades, visited Spokane International Airport’s runway in that capacity on Halloween in 1975. He also received a humanitarian award at the opening ceremonies for Expo ’74.
In 1985, Lester Smith purchased Kaye’s portion of the company because Kaye’s health was failing. On March 3, 1987, Kaye died at 76. President Ronald Reagan awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom “for his contributions in the fields of arts and entertainment and other significant public endeavors.”
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