People are outraged. People are sad. People are in shock. People are now, finally, speaking up over the execution of one of America’s former great and “heritage” stations, KGO-AM in San Francisco.
Why now? What happened last week to KGO has been happening to radio stations, personalities, talk hosts, support personnel and news staffs for the past 20 years. Formats changed, jobs eliminated and for KGO, through regulation, an AM broadcast band brought to a point of uselessness. Yet, few have spoken up, including you. Why is that?
Many blog comments, predictably pointing fingers at Cumulus Media, the corporate owners of KGO, include how the poster “loves radio” and how “radio is their passion.” Really? Where were you when the National Association of Broadcasters (N.A.B.), the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C.), Congress and President Bill Clinton almost mortally wounded radio in 1996? Where were you when your colleagues were being laid off the past two decades? What about the recent foolish plans to save AM radio through so-called “revitalization?”
Why so quiet radio person?
Are you believing tranquility within your company will keep you hanging on to your job a few more months? Of course, if you’re honest you know the ultimate fate coming your way and sadly coming the way of most radio people.
Why so quiet radio industry trades?
Many industry newsletters and trade publications are nothing more than mouth pieces for corporate consolidators and remain silent because of a display ad or two purchased from these companies. That ad buy comes with an understood price. Silence.
Ever notice when someone is promoted to a job overseeing multiple markets, now doing the job of three, four or more people, one rarely hears of those being displaced? Why is that part of the story being ignored?
Tranquility. Speak nothing of what is really happening. Keep the status quo.
First some hard truths.
KGO has been on its knees for years, even back in the ABC Radio days. Citadel and now Cumulus Media are just owners who inherited a problem created decades ago. KGO should have made strategic changes and focused on new generations of audience then, but it didn’t. They remained focused on an aging audience of Grandma and Grandpa, while ignoring the generational changes happening in San Francisco area.
Hey. Where did all those “youngsters” come from in Silicon Valley?
The future audience was obvious, yet it was ignored.
KGO kept those ratings up and its #1, 12+ ranking, while its 25-54 audience, the future audience it needed, dwindled to embarrassing low levels. Its cumulative audience was dropping, but as long as Grandma and Grandpa couldn’t get the walker moving to change the radio station, KGO’s time spent listening or TSL kept its total audience shares up.
The end has been coming for 20 years or more. KGO may have been #1, 12+, but 25-54 it was ranked number 10 or lower in dairy ratings.
Then the ratings methodology changed from diary to Arbitron’s (now Nielsen’s) PPM. KGO, still a market leader in total audience share, declined to a rank of number 20 or lower in the 25-54 demographic it needed. The station was now unsellable.
Claudia Lamb, a former employee at KGO, wrote an excellent piece about the station’s death (as she called it). She says at one point KGO was showing a profit of $5 million. That may sound like a lot of money, but it’s not. Not in the 4th largest radio market in America. Once Cumulus Media bought Citadel, fresh from its bankruptcy, that $5 million profit wasn’t enough money to keep its lenders happy.
KGO died a death by a thousand cuts over two decades or more.
Now, it’s about a new generation of talk, which is rather laughable. The day starts with a syndicated morning show from Sacramento, Armstrong and Getty. They’re above average radio talent. But, are they better than The Today Show, Good Morning America, Morning Joe or Fox and Friends? No. It’s those shows that are the real competition for KGO now.
And what’s the real future of KGO’s new generation of talk as Cumulus Media puts lipstick on this pig? The kgoradio.com website revealed the important programming after last week’s culling. Paid and brokered weekend shows to pay the power bill.
I’ve written a lot about the future of talk radio. If it doesn’t change and change quickly, its end is coming. There is no future focusing on an aging audience of Baby Boomers, as KGO tragically found out. The future only exists with younger generations, with hosts speaking with them about their concerns, interests and lifestyles. This is not a story specific to the news/talk format either. It’s a cautionary tale for all of radio.
The story of KGO’s end is about poor strategic planning in the 90’s, poor planning for a change in rating methodology in the 2000’s and now poor planning for its future.
KGO’s sister stations, WABC in New York and WLS in Chicago are both in the same ratings shape. What does the future hold for these stations? Many news/talk stations are considered “heritage” and there in lies the problem. “Heritage” looks back and has only one meaning. It means “old.” There is no future in being “heritage” of anything. By definition, being “heritage” prevents you from looking forward.
If you find yourself working for a “heritage” news/talk station and the ratings show few people under 60 listening, what does the future hold for you?
KGO just showed you.