Following last week’s massive cuts at Cumulus News/Talk 810 KGO and AAA 104.5 KFOG, I was willing to give the company the benefit of the doubt pending the reveal of the new lineup. After seeing what Cumulus has come up with for KGO, it is very easy to see what this is. A way to cut costs and let the station continue on the path to irrelevance.
KGO was the longtime powerhouse in the Bay Area holding the top spot in the Arbitron ratings for 27 years straight until 2010. While many pundits will quickly point to owners Citadel and later Cumulus Media as the cause of the demise of KGO, the chips in the armor could begin to be seen as Talk Radio aged in the later days of ABC’s ownership of the station as the station dominated with audiences out of the sellable demographics. The true end of that era of KGO came in December 2011 when many of the station’s talk show hosts were let go and replaced by 12 hours of News blocks in an attempt to compete against CBS’ All-News 740 KCBS/106.9 KFRC.
The transition to PPM did KGO no favors, but neither did the split format. You can’t try to out-News KCBS when you’re still dedicating half of your air time to Talk shows, nor can you push your Talk product against the multiple other stations in the market when half the time you’re station is News. There is a reason why no other station in the country attempted such a hybrid up against one of the heritage All-News stations.
Now that KGO was blown up and is stunting in preparation of the “Next Generation of KGO” launching on Tuesday morning. But is what Cumulus is building really something that will resuscitate that station? KGO ranked 21st in the San Francisco market with a 1.8 share in the February PPMs with four spoken word based stations ahead of it. To anchor the new format Cumulus raided the regionally syndicated Armstrong & Getty for mornings from iHeart’s 910 KKSF. Three things stick out by the selection of the duo for the important morning drive slot. 1) KGO’s heritage in the market is by being a balanced if-not liberal leading station, is putting a syndicated morning show based in Sacramento really going to help? 2) Especially when one of the stations you’re looking to both compete against and protect is sister Conservative Talk 560 KSFO led by local Conservative Brian Sussman in mornings. 3) KKSF, with a mostly local lineup including KGO cast-off Gil Gross is in worse shape that KGO with a 0.8 share.
On Thursday, KGO was proudly promoting that Ronn Owens was being shifted from the 9am-12pm slot to afternoon drive on KSFO. After word came out that contractually he could block that move and did, KGO quickly claimed “audience demand” led to him being squeezed into a 10-12pm slot on the new lineup. And the rest of the new generation? People that were already on the KGO payroll. Weekend hosts Ethan Bearmann and Brian Copeland each have two hour afternoon shows, while Chip Franklin from 4-7pm and DreX from 7-10pm remain from the “old” KGO.
With the exception of Owens all of the hosts on the KGO lineup are in the 25-54 demographic. But its still mostly Conservative leaning Political Talk on a band mostly listened to by 55+ listeners with a lineup of just men. How creative! Since the demise of KGO, most of the Talk audience in San Francisco has gone to NPR affiliate 88.5 KQED-FM and Cumulus Sports 680 KNBR, plus KCBS/KFRC is the current leading station in the market’s ratings. Where are the other types of Talk?
Let’s call a spade a spade. This move at KGO was a just reason to cut the expensive News staff that was making no-inroads and go back to a cheaper Talk format. Syndication in mornings and a lineup of people already on the Cumulus payroll is not a game changing maneuver, its just a cost-cutter. And there’s nothing wrong with that. KGO was not just failing, it was an expensive to operate a failure. But Cumulus could’ve prevented a lot of the negative publicity it has received this week by being upfront about the changes.
Going into a stunt loop and not commenting on the mass layoffs does nothing to help matters. Had KGO gotten aggressive on telling their story it could’ve controlled the conversation. Have Ronn Owens, Chip Franklin and DreX on the air talking about the failures of the station to turn the corner and necessitating the need for changes. All of the hosts were already in-house or on the air in the market. They and the station management should have been spending all of this past weekend hyping the positivity of the changes instead of having the lineup kept secret while only the news of the layoffs became front page news locally. Radio hosts are quick to be the mouthpieces for other agendas, why not those of their employers?