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Final Listen: KFOG San Francisco

104.5 KFOG San FranciscoThere was no mention of its significance on the air, but at 12:33 this afternoon, KFOG San Francisco played the current Triple-A hit/Alternative chart record “When Am I Gonna Lose You” by Local Natives. At that moment, the answer to that question was only a few minutes old. The press release had gone out at 12:30 announcing that KFOG would begin simulcasting Cumulus AM sports sister KNBR on Sept. 6, just in time for the NFL season.

It wouldn’t be fair, in a “Final Listen,” to go looking for traces of the KFOG that was a genre-defining Triple-A station for much of the ‘90s and ‘00s, drawing streamers from well outside the area to its “10 At 10.” For the Bay Area friend who wrote me as soon as the news broke, that era began to wind down more than a decade ago, when morning man Dave Morey retired. Even then, she continued to listen until 2016 when KFOG overhauled its airstaff, segueing first to the more Classic Alternative-based version of Triple-A, then to Alternative outright. At the end, KFOG was in a format war of attrition which rival KITS (Alt 105.3) led 2.1 to 1.1 6-plus.

But it is fair to apply the test I find myself using a lot more these days, “Is this station representing radio?” Do the imaging and jock breaks in any way get my attention, or might I as well be streaming an unhosted playlist? Middayer Dayna was indeed upholding her end of the bargain to do station business in a non-generic way. She had artist stories I hadn’t already heard. When she gave away concert tickets, the contest began with “if you’d like to see Smashing Pumpkins with me…:” before adding, “We don’t actually have to drive together.”

And on the day its demise was announced, KFOG’s sweepers were all about representing radio. PD Jacent Jackson’s stations have always been cleverly imaged, but there was a lot more going on here than the Alternative format’s usual deadpan self-deprecation.

Going into spots: “104.5 KFOG can’t listen to your conversations, figure out what ads to play, and generally creep you out. We’re radio, and radios don’t do that. So laugh at our weird choices in this set of ads and stand by.”

Then there was this one—delivered earnestly: “This is a message to remind you to stop flipping stations. What are you hoping to find out there? We have some decent songs. We’re not playing any commercials for a while. Let’s hang out. KFOG.”

KFOG was also doing something I haven’t heard on a music station before: engaging with NPR, albeit lovingly. As a Triple-A, KFOG had found itself buffeted by both the rise of public radio and Modern AC KLLC (Alice 97.3).” The first sweeper I heard declared, under French bistro music, “KFOG is commercial free right now. What does NPR have on that? Nothin’ but a bunch of stupid learning.” An hour later, there was another one: “Hi there, NPR listener. Ready to think about nothing?”

If you had hung in with KFOG over the years, you would have found the music palatable. With much of the Triple-A format leaning Alternative these days, there was only one song in the 11 a.m. hour—Linkin Park—that couldn’t have been on a Triple-A station as well. (If you count the Jay-Z remix, that was one of two songs heard on KITS in the same hour.) Ironically, the Local Natives song was probably a nod to the station’s DNA as well; it’s top 30 at Alternative but much bigger at KFOG’s previous format.

Here’s KFOG just before 11 a.m., the last full hour before the announcement of the format change. 

  • White Stripes, “Seven Nation Army”
  • Twenty One Pilots, “Heathens”
  • Blink-182, “I Miss You” (:00 song)
  • Cage the Elephant, “Social Cues”
  • Nirvana, “Heart-Shaped Box”
  • Lana Del Rey, “Doin’ Time”
  • Radiohead, “Karma Police”
  • Capital Cities, “Safe And Sound”
  • Foo Fighters, “My Hero”
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Around The World”
  • Meg Myers, “Running Up That Hill”
  • Linkin Park, “Numb”
  • Panic! At The Disco, “Hey Look Ma, I Made It”
  • Beck, “Where It’s At”
  • Lovely The Band, “Broken”
  • Green Day, “Basket Case”
  • Cold War Kids, “First”
  • Incubus, “Pardon Me”
  • Of Monsters And Men, “Alligator”
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  1. Mike says

    Like many longtime listeners, I experienced the KFOG “purge” of March 31st 2016 as a dark day. The “evolution” that was then promised was a series of missteps and dumb decisions, from dumping “10@10” (their highest-rated hour of the day), to bringing in Matt Pinfield for morning drive (he lasted a year), to (most recently) turning the station into KITS-2. The 1.0 that KFOG had in June was their lowest rating ever, so pulling the plug was not a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any less sad.

    1. Sean Ross says

      I think that last sentence says it for a lot of people, Mike. I enjoyed my “Final Listen,” but if you want an over-the-air Alternative FM in the Bay Area, you still have an option, and KITS remains aggressive about finding new music. If you want a traditional Triple-A that does what KFOG used to do, including 10 at 10, try WXPK (the Peak) Westchester County. Also great to have WXRT Chicago vital again as well.

      1. Mike says

        Indeed, The Peak was “adopted” by a group of on-line Fogheads after the purge. And the station, in return, gives us shout-outs from time to time. Their version of 10@10 is one of the better ones I’ve heard (and I’ve heard many). Bonus: I grew up in NYC hearing Jimmy Fink — I heard his very first show in 1970! — and he still sounds great.

  2. markrobt says

    What surprised me was that KFOG’s being dumped for a KNBR simulcast. (I would’ve guessed KGO, which needs all the help it can get.) And, no, despite the happy-face Cumulus news release, KFOG does not have a stronger signal than KNBR. That statement does speak to a perception problem, both for AM radio and for an FM station with an aging audience. In any event, much ink, physical and virtual, has been spilled in the Bay Area about how KFOG wasn’t what it once was. The demise of the AAA version of KFOG three years ago should have left an opening in the market. One suspects that market managers saw the aging demographics and said, “No, thanks.” The opening for AAA is now sort of taken by KOIT-HD2, which has a playlist equally timid to that of the old KFOG, and has no personalities, or personality.

    In my opinion, KFOG was never all it was cracked up to be. They did a masterful job of presenting a free-form image without actually doing it. Of course, that wouldn’t have been commercially viable. But they could have done more to keep up with the times. And it was always consulted, even from the start. From recordings I’ve heard, in its earlier days, KFOG was going for more of an AOR sound, somewhat softened. Sure, they did have 10 @ 10 at the start, and that continued to be the signature feature of the station until 2016. Notably, for several years, KFOG-HD2 broadcast recordings of old 10 @ 10’s continuously.

    I probably lack the expert vocabulary to articulate my impressions in more detail. I’ll just note that I moved to the Bay Area more than 20 years ago from Chicago, where WXRT was a near-constant listen for me when not listening to WBBM and WMAQ for traffic reports while stuck on the Northwest Tollway. Many of my impressions were documented at the time in the Usenet newsgroup ba.broadcast. To summarize, KFOG was no WXRT. It was far more stuck in the past with its playlist, and was particularly enamored of weepy-voiced singer-songwriters. Maybe that’s where AAA was at the time, but WXRT certainly seemed to keep it under better control, with more variety.

    In recent years, KFOG needed to do something but, as was typical of Cumulus, they threw out the good with the tired. As one example, “10 @ 10” could have been revamped and retained. More recently, it’s seemed like “ALT 105” meets KOIT. (I understand branding, but KITS to me will always be Live 105, even if lacks the verve of the 1990s Live 105).

    I still try to catch WXRT every so often online, and I still find it enjoyable. They’ve kept up with the times. This year, they’ve had to contend with some retirements but the station seems to have adapted well, with a stable of personalities that fit right in. KFOG failed to adapt and destroyed the special programs that were symbols of the station. Nor did they seem to do any kind of succession planning whatsoever.

    Will it be missed? Sure. I also feel for those who are about to be out of work – typical radio, but still an ugly part of the business. With all that, I still think KNTV anchor Raj Matthai said it most concisely on Twitter (far more concisely than I have done): “It’s been on fumes for a while, but it’s still disappointing.”

  3. Sean Ross says

    Very incisive, Mark. Thank you. Ever since the original WNEW-FM New York changed formats, it’s been clear that departing stations are defined by your memories of them, which are likely to be fuzzy, because one hasn’t listened in a while. (Otherwise, they might not be changing.) There was certainly a reason that KFOG and other Triple-A stations have felt the need to update, but I’m not sure that gold-based Alternative is the way forward, or if it’s just the format that consultants and programmers want to hear themselves. We’ve been through three different attempts at yesterday-and-today Alt over the past 25 years or so, and it’s often the thing that’s even more niche than Triple-A.

    1. martybender says

      San Francisco didnt need two Alternatives.
      San Francisco needed KFOG—
      —Curated with care.
      —Sold with qualitative.

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