Thursday, May 24, 2018

S-F Radio: KCBS To Observe 50th Anniversary Doing News

Sunday May 27 marks the 50th anniversary of KCBS going all news. Well, almost all news. When the station switched from a variety format to news, it still carried the all-night show, “Music ’Til Dawn,” with Ken Ackerman, and “Arthur Godfrey Time, ” according to Ben Fong-Torres at The SF Chronicle.

But it was mostly news, and morning co-anchor Stan Bunger produced a celebratory piece featuring vintage jingles, along with stories from station alumni (available at Afternoon host Mike Cleary recalled the change.

“The great switch was Dave McElhatton,” he told Bunger. “One morning, Dave was a radio personality with a piano player and a foil, Al Hart. And the next day, he’s a newsman.”

Others on KCBS circa ’68 were Frank Knight, Harry Geist, Al Helmso, Don Mosley, Bob Melrose, Fred Wilcox, Don Klein and Clancy Cassell, who dated back to the station’s last years as KQW.

KQW was a pioneering station, founded in 1909 in San Jose. CBS purchased it in 1949, renamed it KCBS and moved it to San Francisco, where it debuted in 1951. As historian John F. Schneider recalls, it branded its variety format Foreground Radio.

In the late 1960s, when most stations were playing music, KCBS went with one of its strengths dating back to KQW and World War II: covering the news.

“Music ’Til Dawn” stayed on until 1970, when Ackerman would become a reporter and anchor. In the late ’70s, KCBS offered weekend talk shows and coverage of Stanford and NFL football games, but it remained focused on news.

And for decades, until 2009, it stayed behind KGO in the ratings. That didn’t bother longtime City Hall bureau chief Barbara Taylor. “I always saw KGO as the lowbrow station and KCBS as the highbrow station that attracted people who are more educated and more interested in what is going on … not people who are just popping off. … KCBS was the respected news authority and that meant a lot more than ratings.”

While KGO has gone through several programming overhauls, KCBS has stuck with the news. Said Bunger, whose first stint began in 1992: “What was being done here in ’92 was very much what was being done in ’68. There have been so many changes in the media culture that what we are now, we hope, is a representation of how people use the all-news format today.”

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