Originally from San Francisco, Don Lee was a pioneer in S. California broadcasting. He owned and operated the first radio station, KHJ-AM (1050) in Los Angeles. He was also the west coast distributor for Cadillac and LaSalle cars. The transmitting tower for KHJ stood atop his dealership at the corner of Seventh and Bixel in downtown Los Angeles.
Don Lee was a pioneer in broadcasting and formed the Don Lee Broadcasting Network by including his KFRC-AM in San Francisco with KHJ and other stations along the Pacific Coast (in Washington, KOL in Seattle and KVI, then in Tacoma). When Pirate was built, Lee owned the schooner Invader. When the Columbia Broadcasting System extended their lines west, Lee took CBS President William Paley for a sail aboard Invader to measure the cut of the easterner's jib while discussing a merger. Thinking it a day sail, Paley lost patience on the third day when no talk of combining networks had begun. Lee returned to port, signed Paley's contract with little haggling, and the largest broadcasting network in the country was created.
When California Yacht Club revived the Transpac race in 1926, Invader won the event with Pirate designer Ted Geary aboard as sailing master. Earlier the same year, Lee had set a record for sailing from Catalina to L. A. harbor in 1hr. 50 minutes.
In 1927 Lee donated an elaborate gold cup as a perpetual trophy for the R-boat winner at Los Angeles Mid-Winter Championships. It later came to be known as the Don Lee Trophy. Sadly, this cup was stolen several years ago. There is a smaller, substitute Don Lee Trophy at Los Angeles Yacht Club today.
In 1931, Don Lee obtained the first television license in California for experimental TV station W6XAO (later KTSL for Thomas S. Lee). With the help of the young engineer Harry Lubke, they published plans for building receiver sets at home and as many as a hundred "lookers" built them as commercial sets were still unavailable.
To reach a larger audience, Lee ultimately relocated his transmitter to a mountain top just east of Griffith Park. Known as Mt. Lee it is easily spotted from below by the "HOLLYWOOD" sign in large white letters on it.
Landmark events attributed to W6XAO are the first live talent broadcasts on the coast in 1932, the first dramatic TV serial "Vine Street" and the first live broadcast of a natural disaster when aerial images of the damage from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake were aired to viewers.
Don Lee died suddenly on August 30, 1934 at the age of 53 leaving son Tommy as sole heir.