The San Francisco Chronicle’s Andrew Ross has looked into what’s going on at Cumulus’ KGO-AM San Francisco, in the midst of changes aimed at getting ratings back on track: “If you’ve enjoyed listening to my Chronicle colleague C.W. Nevius on KGO Radio for the past 15 months, be sure to tune in Friday. It’s his last day after more than a year of “Open Mic With C.W. Nevius” on 810 AM. No reflection on Chuck, nor on other contributors being let go with little warning. They simply got caught up in the latest changes at what was once the Bay Area’s top radio station.”
“We looked at a list of features and decided we didn’t need all of them, but will focus instead on putting on a good news program,” a KGO exec told him. The executive denied reports that staff layoffs were also planned.
However, with ratings continuing to decline, there’s considerable anxiety in the newsroom about the future, Ross was told by insiders.
In January, News and PD Paul Hosley, who had been brought in to help turn the ship around two years earlier, was let go. Hosley engineered the shift from mostly talk to mostly news soon after longtime President and GM Mickey Luckoff abruptly quit in late 2010 with a blast at KGO’s former owner Citadel Broadcasting.
When the station was bought by Cumulus in 2011, it oversaw the shift to all-news format, resulting in the departure of a number of popular Bay Area radio personalities.
Listener displeasure, which was loud at the time, washed over into the ratings. The No. 1 station in the Bay Area for 27 years, KGO was overtaken by all-news KCBS-AM in 2010, a slide that has gathered momentum since.
In late 2001, protesters demonstrated outside the studios of KGO for dropping their News/Talk format for all-News. Listeners at the “Occupy KGO Rally” say they can get news from other sources, but they can’t replace the talk shows they’ve listened to for years.
The transition included the dismissal of eight staffers, also including PD/Ops manager Jack Swanson and talkers Gene Burns and Ray Taliaferro. Ronn Owens kept his 9AM-Noon show and Brian Copeland kept his weekend show.
KGO has since slumped to 16th in the Bay Area with a 2.6 audience share, according to an Arbitron survey of listeners 12+ published in January.
KCBS-AM is now second in the market.
Despite rumors that Cumulus is contemplating a return to KGO’s all-talk format, the exec told Ross said no major programming changes are in the works now “or in the foreseeable future.”
RBR-TVBR observation: The live and local talkers KGO had behind the mic kept it at #7 in the market, according to PPMs from late 2011. Talker KSFO-AM, its sister station, meanwhile, was 17th back then. Now it’s at #20. KQED-FM, with its news and informational NPR feed, is #1. So the switch to all-news was probably based on the irrefutable evidence that all-news formats get high ratings in that market. But if they’re going to stay all-News, the best bet would be to infuse their local news product with more staffers (some could be volunteer/intern on-the-street reporters) and be better at it than KCBS.