Veteran radio talk-show host Ronn Owens has been moved from KGO 810 AM, his home for the past 40 years, to politically conservative sister station KSFO next week, Owens told his listeners Thursday.
The announcement came in the middle of what one KGO staffer called a “bloodbath” at the Cumulus Media-owned station. Sources said the station — once the Bay Area’s top radio news outlet — laid off most or all of its newsroom employees Thursday.
According to The Chronicle, 20 to 30 employees lost their jobs. Most sources asked to remain anonymous because they feared that speaking out could affect their severance pay or job prospects.
KGO and Cumulus management did not return calls and emails seeking comment.
The station did not immediately say who would take Owens’ longtime 9 a.m.-to-noon spot when he makes the switch Monday to KSFO, which is also owned by Cumulus. But sources said the station would air the talk-show team of Jack Armstrong and Joe Getty live from Sacramento’s KTSE-AM from 6 to 10 a.m.
Armstrong and Getty are expected to remain in Sacramento, those employees said, where they currently broadcast from the studios of iHeartMedia-owned KSTE 650 AM. In San Francisco, Armstrong & Getty was previously heard on iHM's KKSF 910 AM. It was not immediately clear if the syndication deal extends to other Cumulus-owned radio stations in California or elsewhere. (KKSF is replacing A&G with the syndicated Stephanie Miller Show.)
Another Cumulus-owned station, KFOG 104.5 FM, 97.7 FM, is also expected to overhaul its staff and programming in the coming weeks. The adult album-format radio station began airing without its usual lineup of radio DJs Thursday morning; promotions running on the station is teasing an “evolution” that will be publicly revealed on April 20.
Owens tried to put a positive spin on the move, saying, “I’ve been saying ‘KGO’ all my life and on Monday I’m going to say ‘KSFO.’ I’m going to look at this as a new adventure.”
At KSFO, the liberal Owens will find himself holding forth amid conservative syndicated voices like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage, who will lead into Owens’ 3-to-6 p.m. show. Owens said he would provide an alternative to the “drivel” that his new “Hot Talk” colleagues provide, but conceded he was worried about facing “a group of listeners at KSFO who don’t love me.”
Owens has spent 32 of his 40 years with KGO talking in the mornings.
In 2014, Owens shared the news with his listeners that he had been battling Parkinson’s disease since 2001. He was anxious about public reaction and said he didn’t want to be pitied. In the end, he said, he found support from people he often talks about as “family.”
The news director and all the anchors and reporters were among those laid off. Several of them gathered at Grumpy’s, a nearby pub, to commiserate.
Grumpy’s Pub was packed with enough journalists to staff its own newsroom Thursday.
Beer pints in hand, shoulders squared and somber, staffers from the nearby KGO Radio lamented lost jobs, and the lessening of a former radio news heavyweight.
At least 20 full-time staffers, and perhaps more, were laid off Thursday morning from KGO Radio and Rock KFOG 104.5.
|Empty KGO Newsroom|
The layoffs are a blow to the local news scene, as KGO is one of few remaining for-profit news radio stations in San Francisco.
“It’s just a really sad end,” said one former staffer, while sitting in Grumpy’s. None of the former employees wanted to be identified because it could impact their severance packages.
One anchor described reading the news on air that morning amid the layoffs, according to the SF Examiner.
“We were trying to be happy and chipper,” this anchor said. All the while, sitting behind the microphone, they watched staffers leave one by one. “These pillars were falling around us.”
According to Claudia Lamb at SoundWaves, KGO was the #1 radio station in San Francisco for 3 decades; it was a 50,000 watt powerhouse whose signal went from the Pacific coast to the Rocky Mountains – from Mexico to Canada and on up to Alaska. It was where you went to stay informed, and on any given afternoon at least half-a-million people were listening.
Click Here For KGO and the Death of Radio
Though the departure of KGO legend Ronn Owens to famously conservative KSFO grabbed much of the media attention Thursday, many more were lost in the layoffs.
A 32-year KGO vet Walcoff also told the San Jose Mercury News that Thursday was an awful day at KGO. “In this radio climate, it wasn’t a total blind-side, but it was certainly unexpected. They just basically told me that they’re going in a different direction. …It’s a black Thursday at KGO.”
In the end, the station shedded its entire full-time news team – what is rumored by employees to be a shift on the station to a “talk” format, pulling away from straight news.
Here's the content of a memo sent to staff:
Today, we have set in motion new programming strategies for both KGO and KFOG that will help us better meet the needs and demands of our listeners, advertisers and community. Our goal is to reposition these two stations for future growth and strength through new and enhanced programming, and new additions to the KGO and KFOG teams, including programming veteran Bryan Schock, whom we announced this morning as the new OM/PD of KFOG and KSAN. We believe the new programming direction will put KGO and KFOG on the best paths to growth and success.
Unfortunately, to achieve that goal, we had the difficult but necessary task today of restructuring our KGO and KFOG station staffs to allow us to meet the new needs of these two stations as we invest in new programming that is redefined, refocused and of the highest quality. Today, we informed the affected employees about these changes, which included the elimination of a number of full-time and part-time positions across these two stations, primarily in the news department at KGO and in key dayparts at KFOG. I want to thank those professionals who are leaving us for their contributions and service to KGO and KFOG, and wish them only the best as they continue on in their careers.
I want to thank the remainder of our team for working with us through this transition and in the coming weeks and months, as the new KGO and KFOG take shape. Together, we will build these newly imagined stations into strong and vibrant brands that our listeners and advertisers will love.
I will be sharing with you more specific details on these programming shifts and additions in the next few days and weeks. In the meantime, please reach out to me directly with any questions.
Justin WittmayerVice President - Market ManagerKFOG/KGO/KNBR/KSAN/KSFO/KTCT
For many at KGO, the loss of local news was shocking but not surprising. The station has struggled to find a significant audience in San Francisco since it began experimenting with different formats after being acquired by Cumulus in 2011.
Before the acquisition, KGO had for decades aired a mixture of news and talk programming, nearly all of which was locally produced. After the acquisition, Cumulus announced a significant overhaul of KGO’s programming, promising to make a heavy investment in local news content and rebranding KGO as an “all-news” station.
According to The Desk, KGO’s newscasts were limited to several hours in the morning and afternoon. Locally-produced content was scaled back in favor of syndicated talk programming, barter shows and paid advertisements. The company failed to keep its promise of investing in news production; instead, reporters in the field were expected to record and file stories from their iPhones. The station failed to gain any ground on all-news station KCBS (740 AM, 106.9 FM) and public broadcaster KQED (88.5 FM)