The Thursday night massacre, which occurred at KGO, was not about ratings or people meters or a company bleeding money. What happened at KGO is the logical conclusion to a process started in 1996 when Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. De-regulating radio opened the door to companies like Clear Channel and Cumulus to own hundreds of radio stations and to dominate local markets. The Bay Area survived as long as it did because of the strength of KGO and the commitment of General Manger Mickey Luckoff to strong local programming (and because Mickey bought KSFO to give regressive talk a place to go). Over 50,000 jobs have been lost in this industry, not because local radio wasn't profitable, but being able to control hundreds of stations and put syndicated product on enabled these corporations to sell the overall listening tonnage which was even more profitable. As he did with NAFTA and GATT, Clinton gave no consideration to the local community...no consideration to the public good...no consideration to diversity of opinion and no consideration to the public airwaves and the obligation of radio stations to give back to the community.
This move by Cumulus was not about ratings. I heard Karel, and have been told Ronn Owens said the same thing, saying this is about declining ratings and a company bleeding money. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Karel pointed out the key demographic which stations are interested in is people between the ages of 25-54. He says he is getting good ratings in this demographic and has a lot of female listeners, which is also desirable to station management. If Cumulus' move was due to ratings, why not move Karel into an everyday slot? The precedent for such a move is well established at KGO. For KGO, weekends and late nights were places to grow new talent. It was intended to produce a bench to draw from in the future. Ronn Owens was on 10p-1a for years and then moved to days when Owen Spann left. Michael Krasny was replaced by me. (who started doing Godtalk on the weekends) I was replaced at 7p-10p by Gene Burns, who came to KGO to substitute for Ronn when he was out on strike. Ronn's contract dispute also led to the development of Dwayne Garrett who eventually moved to the 7p-10p slot replacing Lee Rodgers. Jim Eason was replaced by Gene Burns; and when that didn't work out, they brought in Pete Wilson. Shawn Nix was the first full time woman on KGO from 10p-1a and she came from weekends as well. If Cumulus wanted to boost ratings, they could have moved Karel and Pat Thurston and Christine Craft into weekday slots. Why didn't they do this? It's because this was never about ratings.
A company like Cumulus, which owns KNBR, KSFO, KGO and a number of FM stations in the Bay Area, doesn't sell ad time based on individual program or station ratings. They sell tonnage. They tell a local business if you advertise with them, your message will be heard across the entire swath of their stations and reach a huge audience. They will sell the raw numbers not ratings. This is the model which has been adopted ever since Clinton sold out local communities across the country. Since Hanbaugh et. al. came on the scene, they never had better ratings than any show on KGO. Local programming trumped syndicated every time. We were #1 for 29 years, the last 15 facing syndication constantly. The irony here is Hanbaugh, Beck, the Winer and others succeeded not because they got better ratings and beat the competition, but rather it was because their competition was eliminated in every market in the nation. If regressive radio had to compete against local talent in every market, it would lose 9 times out of ten.
This move by Cumulus isn't about a company or station bleeding money. Cumulus was able to buy KGO because Citadel Communications went bankrupt. They went bankrupt because they took on too much debt as the depression hit and ad revenues, and station values, plummeted (the whole ABC/Citadel sale was a tax scam to begin with). Citadel didn't want to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in capital gains taxes for the appreciated value of ABC's holdings and ABC had to come up with a way to mitigate that or there wouldn't be a sale. ABC sold 49% of the radio network to Citadel so it could take over but avoid the taxes. You have to love corporate America's patriotism) KGO was still making money, but Cumulus had a problem. It could make more money by getting out of local talk, but face a firestorm of criticism. They decided on a two-step process to achieve their goals. First, fire all the full-time hosts (they would have fired Owens too except for the fact he was smart enough to have a contract which didn't allow it...I bow to his negotiating skills) and pretend to change to an all-news format. Keep some talk on the weekends where niche shows do well. In about a year or less, they will contend they are still losing money and cancel the all-news format and move to syndicated programming. By this time, the passionate listeners who could cause them licensing problems will have moved on. They will abandon any pretense about the local community and bring in shows with no local concerns whatsoever. Cumulus' Thursday night massacre was a bloodletting disguised by a format change in order to get where they really want to go.
If you want proof of my theory, watch and listen. News will be constant from 9am-midnight. Up until now, the news blocks were 5a-9a and 4p-7p. With an increase in news coverage one would suspect KGO would hire a number of new reporters and anchors. They will re-open a bureau at San Francisco City Hall and the Hall of Justice (this was my beat for many years). They will have a Sacramento bureau staffed full-time (this was done by Pat Davis for years) They will have and East Bay bureau (formerly staffed by Greg Edmonds) and an expanded South Bay bureau. (once dominated by Gene Rusco) If they are serious about going all-news, they will spend money, sending reporters to breaking news stories all over the world and nation. (Greg Jarett went to Iraq. I went to Kosovo and Macedonia. We won national awards for our coverage of the L.A. riots and the East Bay Hills fire) The test of the sincerity of the new owner's intentions will become obvious as they spend money on investigative journalism. (Susan Kennedy won a Peabody for her series on Muni and she and I won the Scripps Howard national investigative journalism award for our series on the Catholic Church in the Bay Area.) The reality is almost none of this will be done. They might hire a new anchor, but more reporters, new bureaus, investigative stories and national coverage will never happen. Instead the news product will lighter and fluffier and will involve ripping and reading more than anything else. (This is no knock on the KGO news. It is still a great department with wonderful people who are very talented. However, they will get no help expanding the product and will be hamstrung by lack of resources) This wasn't about ratings or people meters or loss of money. This is about a corporate model which takes advantage of the public airwaves (owned by you) to make a huge profit while ignoring any commitment to the local community. (It’s no accident the new owners dropped the Leukemia Cureathon and tried to get their hands on the money from the Thanksgiving Charity Drive)
The Bay Area is the 4th largest media market in the nation. It will soon be without any place to talk about the issues of the day. (to quote Gene Burns) This was the last market to have local programming. You can't go to New York, Chicago, L.A. or most large cities and find local Monday through Friday local talk, and if you can it is regressive only. This is not an accident. Hanbaugh et. al. aren't great at what they do. They have no competition. Progressive thought has no access. Imagine if, instead of a Fairness Doctrine, every radio license demanded a percentage of programming be locally originated. Hundreds of talk shows would pop up across the nation. They would span the entire political spectrum. Where the hosts were good, they would always beat syndicated product. A diversity of ideas and viewpoints would proliferate. Women and minorities would increase their presence. It would be a tonic for a nation bogged down by a media which starts every debate somewhere near the middle and then regresses.
What happened at KGO is exactly what the Occupy Wall Street movement was trying to highlight. What happened at KGO was designed to benefit the 1% at the expense of the 99%. You watch. There will be syndicated programming overnight. (Red Eye Radio...really? Have you listened to it? It is regressive pabulum at its worst) Oh, you will hear some say the new all-news format will still take calls when there is an earthquake etc, but you and I know the truth. They will take calls on soft, inane topics. (How 'bout them Kardashians?) They will have phone opinion polls on whether Christmas decorations go up too soon? They will conduct interviews and in the end, the Bay Area will be ill served.
There are those who say what happened to KGO was inevitable. It wasn't. They will say it was the natural course of events. It isn't. What they won't say, at least no one who still has a job, is this is corporate greed crushing the needs of the local community. (Oh and KCBS must be laughing and breaking out the champagne)
So what do you do? Seek out local content. Peter B. Collins has daily podcasts and you can listen. Much of this is going to have to done on the Internet and other devices. That is the wave of the future and you can create a local marketplace for content if you are willing to subscribe. I know for me, it will be possibly the only avenue available and I intend to pursue it vigorously even as I fantasize about pulling funding together for another station, staff it with great local talk and kick ass.
What happened at KGO was corporate rape disguised as a change in format, and it was done to maximize corporate revenues for companies who already don't pay their fair share of revenue to support the inner workings of this nation. I have told you deregulation is always designed to hurt the consumer and fill corporate coffers. What happened at KGO is just further proof of the accuracy of this observation.
P.S. Please pass this on to any KGO listeners you know so they too can understand what has really happened.