Jack Oscar Gross

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Jack Oscar Gross

Birthdate: (79)
Birthplace: St Louis, Missouri, United States
Death: May 01, 1985 (79)
San Diego, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Harry Solomon Grosberg and Dinah Gardner Grosberg
Husband of Loretta Glazer Gross
Father of Jack Herbert Gross and Laurence Gross
Brother of Frieda Kaplan; Julia Rudman and Sylvester Gross

Occupation: Broadcast pioneer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Jack Oscar Gross


Founder of KFMB, the first television station in San Diego.

OBITUARY - San Diego Union - May 2, 1985 at B1

Radio, TV pioneer Jack O. Gross dies

By Robert P. Laurence

Jack O. Gross, 79, the man who put San Diego's first television station on the air, died yesterday at Hillside hospital.

He had suffered more than a year with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, called Lou Gehrig's disease.

Gross, who managed his first radio station at age 14, applied for a television license when the medium was in its infancy, and put KFMB-TV on the air at 8:01p.m. May 16, 1949.

He also scooped the nation in reporting on the NBC radio network the shooting of outlaws Bonnie and Clyde.

Broadcasting was his life, and he loved it.

"I can truthfully say," he once told an interviewer, "that never, where radio and broadcasting were involved, did I ever regret getting up and going to work. It was something I wanted to do. It was the excitement of creating."

He operated San Diego's first FM radio station, was one of the first applicants for a UHF television license, and took part in the installation of two of the nation's first cable television systems.

Gross also was a partner in the San Diego Padres when the club played in the Pacific Coast League and briefly owned San Diego radio station KSON.

Among his many friends and business associates, he was known as much for the cheerful, enthusiastic style in which he did things as for the deeds themselves.

"He was a tough act to follow," said Gross' son Laurence, now critic at large on KCST-TV Channel 39.

"He was a visionary, and an open person. He was probably the most democratic man I've ever known in my life. He didn't care what people did or who they were. A parking lot attendant got as much of his time as the head of a corporation.

"He was always ahead of his time. He was in to FM radio before anyone knew what it was, he was into cable before anyone knew what it was, he was in to TV before anyone knew what it was. That's all I can say."

"Jack Gross was really the pioneer of television in San Diego," remembered G.E. Vinson of the Buchanan & Vinson & Co. advertising agency, and a friend since World War II. "He was the guy who started it here. He was the guy who had the guts and vision to do things people said couldn't be done.

"I had a tremendous amount of respect for him not only as a broadcast executive but as an individual."

Vinson called Gross "probably the best salesman of radio and television time who ever hit the streets. My life has been a whole lot better for having known that man. Whenever I was feeling down, I'd call him up and say "Jack, sell me something". He could make the gloomiest day seem beautiful."

Jack Gross saw the future early.

He was 14, working behind the silks counter of a department store in his native St. Louis, when he heard that the store had installed a radio station in its top floor, and that it was sitting idle. he got permission from the management to open it up and operate it after working hours.

"We'd bring talent on, and if they didn't come in, then I'd go on," Gross recollected during an interview, "I'd play the violin and ukelele and sang. Anything to pass the time. I knew that's what I wanted to do in life, and I never left it."

After a couple of years, Gross, who never attended school past the eighth grade, went out in search of more radio adventures, and landed in Denver. There, he founded another idle radio station, this one in the back room of a hilltop restaurant and illegal gambling casino.

He took over the station, and recruited traveling vaudeville stars from local theaters, people like George Burns and Gracie Allen and Jack Benny. They performed for free in return for the chance to plug their shows.

"They (the station owners) didn't pay me at the start, " Gross said. "But they'd throw me a couple of dollar chips, and as time went on, they got to be $5 and then $10. They thought I would gamble the chips away, but I cashed them in, And that was a lot of money in 1924."

He soon moved on to Chicago and a 15-minute nightly program of his own, just before a show by a comedy duo called Sam and Henry. "They later became better known as Amos 'n' Andy."

In 1926, he moved again, this time to Dallas, then on to Fort Worth, where a radio station offered him his first real paying job. He also married Loretta Glazer, despite the doubts of her father, a Pepsi Cola bottler who did not like to see his daughter wedded to a young man in a business as shaky as radio.

The couple had two sons, Laurence and Jack Jr., a Los Angeles area real estate investor.

By 1934, Gross was the sales manager of a pair of radio stations owned by the Shreveport Times in Louisiana.

"We got a call from someone who understood that Bonnie and Clyde had been cornered by the police. It was about 50 miles from Shreveport. I got in my car and went down there directly. That was before the days of tape recorders, and the only thing I could do was make notes.

"When I got down there, I heard shots, and there were Bonnie and Clyde in the car and about 20 policemen and sheriffs firing at them. I soaked it all up, and I got in the car, came back, wrote it up and put it on the air. We got a call from NBC in New York, and I gave them the story and NBC broke it out on their entire network."

In 1943, after managing stations in Los Angeles for several years, he bought San Diego's KFMB. Four years later, Gross kicked off this city's first experiment in FM radio, with a studio and transmitter at the North Park Theater.

"FM was nothing then, " he remembered. "It was something that was starting and I felt it was something I should do. The programming was entirely different, with classical and semiclassical music.

"My FM station was the only one, and it was a complete failure. So I made a gift of the transmitter and everything else to San Diego State College (now SDSU)."

The transmitter, in fact, was later used when San Diego State put KPBS-FM on the air in 1960.

Gross, who dreamed of getting into television when he saw a demonstration of the new marvel at the 1939 World's Fair in New York, applied to the Federal Communications Commission for a license. It was 1947 and there was no fee. he spent just three cents for a stamp.

The station went on the air with a splashy inaugural program that began with Mayor Harley Knox throwing the switch that turned the transmitter,

Crowds began collecting in front of department store television sets two hours before the long-awaited event, and about 500 people gathered in front of two sets at one downtown music store. About 1,500 San Diegans owned their own sets.

"I was so engrossed with broadcasting, " he said later, "it was the natural thing for me to do. I saw a great future for it."

Programming in early television ran heavily to variety, with every afternoon at Channel 8 dominated by a three-hour country music and variety show. But live newscasts were getting started, and to handle the job, Gross hired newspaperman Harold Keen, who became San Diego's preeminent television journalist.

Still, the station was not a financial success. Gross could not get a bank loan to finance such a risky venture, and at the same time television drew advertising away from radio.

"I had depended on the revenues of the radio station to support the television station's growth," he said. "But television ruined radio for a number of years. And the revenues on KFMB radio dropped. So as an individual owner, it was impossible for me to hold on."

In 1951, he accepted an offer of $1.5 million for the radio and TV stations. Gross turned to real estate and other interests, in 1952 buying a 40 percent interest in the Padres, which he maintained for four years.

In 1955, he joined a partnership pioneering cable television, wiring up Cedar City, Utah and Miles City, Mont. But he stayed with the enterprise only a short time, and in 1957 traded a radio station he owned in Chico for KSON in San Diego. He owned it for three years.

He applied for Channel 51 on the ultra-high frequency band in the early 1960s, just a few days after UHF tuners were made mandatory on television sets, but later bowed out. Channel 52 went on the air in 1982 as KUSI.

Gross was a member of Congregation Beth israel, B'Nail B'rith, and the Guardians. He was also a charter member of the San Diego chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Services will be at 3 p.m. tomorrow at Cypress View-Bonham Brothers Chapel of Prayer. Burial will be at the Home of Peace Cemetery.

Gross is survived by his widow, Loretta, his two sons, five grandchildren, and a sister, Julia Rudman of St. Louis.

The family suggested contributions to the ALS Society of America, 15300 Ventura Blvd, Suite 315, Sherman Oaks, Calif. 91403.

1930 census: https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-9R8F-97RC?i=26&wc=QZF4-J6D%3A648808001%2C651068501%2C651176801%2C1589282400%3Fcc%3D1810731&cc=1810731

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Jack Oscar Gross's Timeline

August 22, 1905
St Louis, Missouri, United States
February 4, 1929
Age 23
Ft Worth, Texas, United States
October 6, 1931
Age 26
Waco, Texas, United States
May 1, 1985
Age 79
San Diego, California, United States