A friend recently told me her radio in the kitchen used to be on all hours of the day tuned to KGO. Now she is grieving because there is nowhere to go for anyone interested in hearing about and discussing the news. It is a void she can't fill and the silent radio reminds her constantly of her loss.
I have never run a business, but I'm told the key to success is the relationship between supply and demand. If you sell something a lot of people want, you make money. If you are the only one selling what they want, you make a lot of money. The recent decision by Cumulus to go to an all-news format on KGO violates the basic supply/demand principle. The public has been told they were bleeding money. Yet, the switch violates good business practice and will result in losing more money. What are they up to?
San Francisco is a tough city to open a new restaurant. It is foodie central and a high percentage of new restaurants go belly up within a year. As the 4th largest media market, the San Francisco Bay Area had 2 radio stations which were interactive, and listeners could talk about the news, but only one station was all local...KGO. (Yes, I Know Dean Edel was syndicated but he was still local and I know Bob Brinker was and wasn't) Green 960 is gone. There is no talk station out of San Jose. There is a small one in Santa Cruz and a sort of one in Santa Rosa. KGO had the genre to itself. Yet, instead of replacing or improving hosts, Cumulus dumps a format that has no competition and adopts a format with huge competition. Once again, what are they up to?
KGO's all-news format competes directly with KCBS. KCBS and KGO have been rivals for over 30 years. During morning and afternoon drive the competition raged and KCBS won some and lost some. The rest of the day KGO creamed KCBS. Why? Once you have listened for about 20 minutes, you have all KCBS has to offer. On KGO, you got the news, but then you got entertained and informed about it. You were encouraged to call, email, tweet and get interactive about it. You turned on Ronn, Pete, Gene, me or Ray to hear our take. The talk advantage is how we always beat KCBS. So along comes Cumulus and what do they do? They get rid of the one advantage they have over one of their chief rivals and go head to head against their biggest strength. They opened an Italian restaurant right next to the North Beach Restaurant but wont serve Ravioli, Gnocchi or anti-pasta. It's like they are trying to go out of business before they start. By killing talk and going all-news, they guarantee fewer listeners and less revenue. It will then allow them to justify what they have been wanting to do which is bring in all syndicated talk. They make less money, and have fewer listeners, but with almost no overhead they still make a profit. It's the model media corporations have been following for over 15 years.
The fly in the ointment is the airwaves are supposed to be owned by the public. An FCC license is supposed to guarantee a radio station will serve the local community. One of the ways the community is served is by local coverage of local events and local news. When Cumulus is done with KGO, there will be a 2-3 minute newscast at the top and bottom of the hour and that will be it. Ironically, there will be more local, live talk on KNBR then on KGO or KSFO. Cumulus will preserve local sports talk around the three franchises, whose games they broadcast, while abandoning the community with its castration of KGO. Sports we talk about...presidential elections, the economy, war, peace, corporate responsibility, income inequality, these we see no need to expand upon or update. God, I love corporate America.
Another way the community is served is through charitable campaigns. KGO raised over $20 million for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society over the years. The Cure-A-Thon was an annual tradition. An entire 24 hours of programming devoted to raising money for research. It isn't a coincidence the first thing Cumulus did was dump the Cure-A-Thon. Can you imagine them trying it without Ray and Ronn and without all the other hosts who worked it over the years? KGO raised over $5 million through the Thanksgiving Charity Drive. The money went to 4 Bay Area organizations serving the area's most vulnerable residents. Between just these two campaigns, KGO returned as much as $1.5 million a year back to the community. KNBR has an auction each year in which they offer sports memorabilia. If they raise $75,000 it is considered a stellar year. The Cure-A-Thon is gone as is the Thanksgiving Charity Drive. Yet, Cumulus' license is in no jeopardy.
KGO went beyond these two campaigns. Over the years, on the spur of the moment, KGO listeners contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to help someone out. When a little boy in the East Bay was attacked by a pit-bull, KGO raised over $400,000 for his care. A dog was killed at the San Jose airport and listeners sent in thousands to the owner because of the circumstances. When Dwayne Garrett committed suicide, listeners contributed over $85,000 to help his family cope with the devastating economic and personal losses they suffered. In Richmond, a health clinic for the poor was going to have to close due to a lack of doctor and nurse volunteers. A wonderful woman and advocate, Susan Prather, called and appealed on the air and within a day had enough volunteers to keep the clinic open. One Christmas season, a water pipe burst at Sacred Heart Community Services in San Jose. The water destroyed all the Christmas presents intended for distribution to children of economically distressed families. The director called KGO one week before the day the toys were to be given out and asked for help. The response was overwhelming and they ended up with more toys than had been lost. With the change in format, and the abandonment of the community by Cumulus, all of these types of opportunities are lost. Yet, their license is not in jeopardy.
The "Occupy" movement heightened awareness in this nation to corporate and government collusion, which has resulted in more money in the pockets of corporate managers and investors and less in the pockets of average Americans. The 1% have brought about a radio environment where they have their message propagandized across the nation not because of its superior content, but because any competitive view has been wiped out. The average American has no place to challenge and few outlets to obtain information about what the real state of play is in the country today. The movement is criticized for a lack of specific solutions to solve the problem of the 1% vs. the 99%. Here is one specific solution. It is time to pressure your elected representatives, the White House and the FCC to issue a new regulation. No one can have a radio license unless a majority of the programming is locally created and broadcast. A "local content" rule would have stopped Cumulus in its tracks. It would also be nice to re-regulate radio and TV and force the divestiture of hundreds of radio stations by big corporations and see them owned by local community entities. It can all be done.
I don't know how many kitchen radios or radios in bedrooms, garages, back porches and cars are silent. I suspect the number to be quite large. If you stay silent, and defeated, they may never be used again. Pass it on.