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KGO Radio Format Change Sparks Outrage Among Loyal Listeners

 
First Posted: 12/05/11 02:43 PM ET Updated: 12/05/11 02:43 PM ET

Big changes are in store for one of the Bay Area's most venerable broadcasting institutions.

Cumulus Media-owned radio station KGO 810 is undergoing a sweeping change from its current mixture of political commentary and call-in shows to a more news-heavy format.

The station announced the shakeup last week, along with the termination of hosts Gil Gross, Gene Burns, Ray Taliaferro, John Rothmann and Dr. Bill Wattenburg.

The sole weekday host left on the roster is Ronn Owens, whose morning political talk show will stay on the air with all-news programming dominating much of the rest of the daily weekday lineup.

Weekend shows, such as the one hosted by actor/playwright Brian Copeland, will largely remain untouched, save for the one hosted by Wattenburg.

"Our talk format has been wonderful over the years for KGO, but the audience really hasn't stayed with us," KGO's News and Program Director Paul Hosley told the International Business Times. "The audience isn't there."

After three decades as the undisputed king of the Bay Area radio hill, KGO lost its title of the highest-rated station in the Bay Area market last year--dropping all the way to seventh place.

Until this change, KGO was one of an increasingly small number of talk radio stations nationwide generating a majority of its content locally.

"KGO's dominance in the ratings began to fade with the arrival of Arbitron's PPM in the San Francisco market--a sign that a station with KGO's rich heritage and special place in the hearts of San Francisco radio listeners benefitted from the diary method," Talk radio industry website Talkers.com noted.

Under the old ratings system, participating listeners would keep a diary of everything they listened to; however, Arbitron's increasingly popular new system employs a small, wearable device that uses inaudible electronic codes embedded in broadcasts to track what people are actually hearing. The results, which are used to determine advertising rates, have often varied widely from the self-reported results of previous years.

Disaffected KGO fans upset with the format change have taken to Facebook, where they created a group targeting the station's advertisers in an effort to get them to pull their ads from the newly retooled station. According to a post on the page, the pressure is already starting to work. San Jose carpet cleaning company Bay Area Zerorez is, "now actively looking for alternatives at the end of our contract with KGO."

That negative reaction seems to stem from a widespread sense of loss felt among KGO's particularly devoted listener base. The San Jose Mercury News reports:

Twenty-year listener Carol Soc, of El Cerrito, said she's mortified by the changes. "I consider Gene and Gil to be companions in my life," she said. "I recently learned that I have terminal cancer, and listening to KGO has become a major part of my life since I am now confined mainly to my home. I will miss both of them tremendously. Most likely nothing can be done to go back, but I miss 'the old days' already."

Michael Zwerling, owner of Santa Cruz's all-talk KSCO, sees the KGO's shedding of its current format as opportunity. Since the announcement, Zwerling has been contacting the former KGO hosts to get them to resume operation on his station. "I want to pick up all those listeners who are looking for a new home," Zwerling told Watsonville Patch. "We are the only station [in the Bay Area] now with local talk shows."

"I broadcast for most of forty years without a contract because I always felt if they don't want me, I do not want to be there," Wattenburg, who was fired after four decades at on the air, said in an interview with Examiner.com. "There are a lot of stations that want bigger audiences. I hope to be helping one of them that wants to acquire a large talk radio audience--without really trying. From what I am hearing already, some big sponsors want to go where good talk radio goes."

In honor of the format change, KGO is changing its slogan. Goodbye, "Newstalk 810." Hello, "KGO-810 -- the Bay Area News and Information Station."

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Filed by Aaron Sankin  |  Report Corrections