I drink. I dance. I report.

The Day the News Died: The End of an Era for KGO Radio

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Me doing what I love most in the world

When I was a fresh-faced journalism graduate at 22-years-old, I used to attend Associated Press conferences in Portland, Oregon. I was completely in love with radio, and took classes on writing and editing, listening enraptured with wide-eyes as the teachers played clips from KGO Radio. KGO as an example of creativity and excellence, impeccable writing, witty leads. I still remember one story about saving water in San Francisco, and how the writer creatively played the sound of a shower and himself singing. I was enthralled, and told myself: ” One day, I will work at KGO Radio.”

Eight years later, that day came, and I was nervous the first time I did a liveshot with Bret Burkhart and Chris Bretcher, practically shaking inside with the knowledge that my voice, my voice, was going out over the powerful airwaves of a Bay area powerhouse.  I couldn’t be prouder to work with the people I considered the Greats of Radio News.

My first day working at KGO radio. So proud!

My first day working at KGO radio in 2011. So proud!

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In our newsroom at 900 Front Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thoroughly loved my job. I accepted every assignment with the giddiness of a puppy, wanting to do my best and impress my fellow coworkers. When anyone gave me a compliment, I glowed. I still couldn’t believe I was working here, that this was my job, and asked the sound masters Bret Burkhart and Scott Lettieri for tips on how I could improve. I studied their stories with the glee of a college student, wanting to be a master like them.

The KGO glow lasted until the talk show hosts were fired 6 months after I began. I still remember their distressed faces as they packed up boxes, and wondered what KGO radio was trying to do. When they announced we were going wall-to-wall news, I scoffed. Why in the world was such a world-class product trying to compete with a station that already knows how to do wall-to-wall news? Why were we going head-to-head with KCBS, a station that’s cornered the marketplace on 24/7 commercial newsradio?  I had worked at the all-news station KOMO in Seattle, and knew it wasn’t going to work at KGO.

But still, I adored my job. I got to crawl around and inspect both Bay Bridges more times than you can count.

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I practiced my “radio face” while interviewing politicians.

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And I kept my desk and newscar as neat and clean as possible.

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I got to cover the President, the Vice President, and Orlando Bloom, and do human interest and science stories. I felt lucky to work at a radio station that didn’t only value blood and guts, and the “if it bleed it leads” mentality. I felt KGO radio worked hard to truly appeal to and connect with the listener.

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Over the years, KGO radio faltered, and eventually failed. Ratings dropped to precariously low levels. News people walked around the fear of format changes and firings. Cumulus took a chisel and slowly cut away at our news team, getting rid of the South Bay Bureau first. Our world was rocked. KGO radio was dying. With the conglomeration of radio stations, the industry was killing the news.

And on March 31st, 2016, at the end of the quarter and the end of the pay period, Cumulus took us one-by-one into a back room, and killed us off completely. Thursday was a bloodbath, a carnage of news talent, a ripping apart at the seams. In a few hours, the once powerful and mighty KGO radio was nothing but a shell of its former self, computers and editing bays sitting like tombstones in a deathly quiet newsroom.

I wasn’t all that sad for myself, I’ll be okay, but was sad for the state of radio. I was sad about my coworkers, for our rapport in the newsroom was one of a kind. I truly loved the staff. Our banter, the bull-headed voice of our assignment editor, George Ramirez, the laughter over some dirty joke. My coworkers were a class act, and its hard to believe we’ll no longer see each other every day.

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One my way home last night, I turned on KGO radio. I heard tinny music and a bad promo, reminiscent of a small town radio station somewhere in South Dakota. Had the Bay area’s flagship station really turned into this? Had the magnificent, powerful, ever-present KGO level truly sunk down to new lows? I thought of my 22-year-old self, the magic and joy that KGO radio evoked in me, and felt a lump rise in my throat for the end of era.

Even though I lost my job, I have not lost my passion. I will always be a radio news person. I love radio to my core. I will always love radio. The way it creates images, invokes emotions, inspires connection. Radio is a special and storied medium, one that’s survived the decades, where voices have emanated from massive living room sets to alarm clocks to car radios. We must keep radio alive.

Whenever radio people talk about being on air, we say, “Let’s play radio.” To us, radio is fun, a joy, a passion. KGO radio might be dead, but our voices are not.

So let’s play.

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Author: Kristin Hanes

Hi, I'm Kristin! I'm a writer and frugal adventurer who currently lives on a sailboat in the Bay area. Working on a book: Intentionally Homeless, How I Learned to Live with Less Email me: kristin.hanes@gmail.com

35 thoughts on “The Day the News Died: The End of an Era for KGO Radio

  1. Love love love this Kristin! Beautifully written. I always loved working in radio more than TV. I remember when I started in radio I absolutely ADORED you (still do😊). You’re a fierce reporter and such a good person, I’m believing your best days are truly ahead of you.
    -Smitha

  2. Loved the piece first of all. I believe you meant to write ” for our rapport in the newsroom was one of a kind.” Best of luck in the next phase of your career

  3. I grew up with KGO. Until I discovered FM and the AOR stations like KSAN, KOME and KSJO, KGO was always in my ear because it was my parents’ primary source of news. I remember delivering the Palo Alto Times and reading the front page, I’d recall that I already knew “that” because I heard it on KGO. I recall vividly Ronn Owens and Jim Eason bantering with each other from their different time slots, knowing that, while their ideological differences were certainly apparent, there was also a mutual respect for one another and for those who called in. It is prophetic that Eason said in an interview almost exactly two years ago, “After 30-plus years of talking, listening, and fighting with idiots who ran radio stations without any knowledge or talent or intelligence.
    Maybe there is a future in MUSIC radio….but talk is dead.” It would appear those idiots have won. RIP KGO.

  4. Thanks for your blog Kristin. I loved listening to your stories. I will miss listening to everyone at KGO and you are right “The day that the news died. Very sad to lose a station like KGO! Best wishes to you.

  5. Feel sad for what happened to all of you, you will survive. Good luck and God’s speed.

  6. Sorry for what happened to all of you, Good luck you will do fine God’s speed

  7. Wonderfully written, amazingly conveyed. Keep the passion in your soul and it never dies

  8. Those us still in harness feel your pain. KGO was a powerhouse and it’s decline and fall was terrible to see. If you’re interested in possibly coming back to the soggy Pacific Northwest- drop me a line.

  9. Best wishes to you from Seattle!

  10. Wishing the best for you!

  11. I’m so sorry for what you’re all going through Kristin. A sad day for radio and journalism.

    They can cut your job but can’t take away your talent, integrity, or friends. Hang in there!

  12. Thank you for putting a real person, a real face, and true feelings to the terrible carnage you and so many other good people are suffering. Well said.

  13. An amazing — and sad — story about the demise of a heritage powerhouse station. Though I no longer live in NorCal, I’ve been following events from L.A. Hoping you’ll be back on the airwaves much sooner than later.

    Alan Oda
    Correspondent, LARadio.com

  14. As an ihear(less) casualty….I loved this expertly written piece….

  15. Well said Kristen. Losing my work family is going to be really hard. This was the first place I worked where I actually spent time outside of work with people I worked with.

  16. I worked as a small town news anchor/reporter first at one station and then 6 as Clear Channel bought up a bunch of stations in the early 2000’s. I was fortunate enough to read the writing scrawled on the wall in spray paint in 2012 that my job was about to be given to the “news hub” in a city 200 miles away and sent across the network. So I was lucky enough to able to ride off into the sunset and to a different non-radio job.
    Congratulations on a job well done. I’m sorry it ended this way. I live in Ohio and always heard the legend of KGO, but never got to hear you. I can tell the talent you have in the great writing of this piece and know you will end up doing great work for someone somewhere. Good luck in the future!!

  17. When the giant owners have bled everything they can from the medium they spent far too much on, when the vultures realize they have picked every piece of meat off the carcass, and when the titans come crashing down into pieces, radio will rise again. It will do so in the capable hands of owners who understand that our medium is not a commodity to be traded, but a living, breathing thing built on the relationships we have cultivated with our listeners. It may not rise to the level it once was, but real radio companies will hire real radio people to do real radio again. The cracks are showing, and it’s only a matter of time before the two biggest crumble.

  18. Kristin, I live in New York, but because I worked at ABC Radio News, I listened to KGO from time to time. You have no idea how influential you all were at the network level. In addition to using your reporters regularly on the network, we also took your opinions seriously. When KGO wanted changes in the network product, usually those changes were made in short order. I can’t believe the mismanagement that turned a market leader into an also-ran, but that’s the nature of the business these days. Good luck – as Bob and Ray used to say, write if you get work.

  19. Well said Kristin. Since this began in 1996 I have dreaded each day of cuts, terminations and corporate double-speak. I worked at KNBR — another powerhouse. The only thing we can hope for is bankruptcy, reorganization and eventual sale to small companies (individual broadcasters). Bless you and good luck!

  20. This is BRILLIANT. I, too, wanted to work for the mighty KGO for many years. It was legendary, and it was my dream. My career took me down a different path. But I admire, respect, and wish nothing but the best for all of you guys. You are talented, kind, fun, and legendary journalists in your own ways. Play on, Kristin and Scott and Jennifer and Brett and all of you. Play on.

  21. As a current Cumulus employee thousands of miles away…be thankful they kept you and your staff around as long as they did. Some of us- at equally as big flagship stations- had our news staff gutted years ago. My best to everyone at KGO, and here’s to hoping we’re all once again allowed- someday- to create magic on the stations we once admired rather than the ones we now are embarrassed by.

  22. My dad passed last May, he loved KGO. I was raised with KGO, new millennium, I await the change. No opinion, do not disappoint me.

  23. I was driving down a dark highway in Alaska back in 2007 seeking a station to keep me company — and the familiar traffic report came on, then Bernie Ward. There was KGO in the Upper Susitna Valley. I can’t believe what they have done.

  24. It was heartbreaking for me to hear of the destruction of KGO. It was a powerhouse that I, for one, thought would continue forever. While I was still in high school I sat in on the Russ Coglin talk show on KGO one night. I was learning radio at my high school station in Portland and had written Russ a letter. He invited me to the station, and even put me on the air when one of his scheduled guests bailed at the last minute. I became friends with Russ and he even let me use him as a reference on my resume. By this time he was a VP of ABC radio and General Manager of KGO. I was in awe of the news product that KGO pumped out. It made me want to do radio news. Kristin, I too attended those AP conferences in Portland (a few of the really good ones were held in Newport by the way!). We may have met at either the 2003 or 2004 conferences. Sounds like you have a good head on your shoulders. Good luck in the future.

  25. Kristin….I too attended those AP Conferences on the coast and in Portland. My goal was to be the one holding the KEX or KIRO mic when the pictures from important news events would show up.. To be someone the people in those newsrooms I worked in respected and thought of as a good contributor to the product. I listened intently at those AP seminars when people from places like KGO would talk to us and play their stories. To this day, I try to do my best to utilize the lessons taught by great reporters at KGO and the great mentors I’ve been lucky enough to work for. I don’t know what it means when a place like KGO goes away. It’s another reason I fear for the future for someone like myself. I sure wish the best for you Kristin.

  26. Very disappointed with KGO. They are making a huge mistake. Weird promos all weekend creeped me out. I want a normal station with Talk, so will follow Ron Owens and the rest to better places. Taking KGO off my dial.

  27. Consider turning your passion to podcasting. Less of a wild west but nascent enough for fun and growth

  28. Thank You Kristin. As a long time listener of KGO I had been bewildered recently by the odd ‘stuff’ coming from that source recently. I will certainly miss the personalities, news, interviews & content. It was always my ‘go to’ station when I wanted to know what was happening. Thank you for helping clarify.

  29. I taught radio at the college level for about 15 years, and I slowly came to see the writing on the wall. I used to jokingly tell my class to “buy good luggage and keep your food stamps in a secure place”. Not too damned funny now. I started in radio and I mourn it’s slow, painful decay. An institution that is licensed to operate in the public interest should never be swallowed up by corporations whose sole merciless intent is to squeeze a buck regardless of the effect.

  30. As a long-time listener of KGO, I am heartbroken over what’s happened. i wish the best for the talented news team, and I’m sincerely going to miss your familiar voices. Best of luck!

  31. I am so sorry. I have been following your progress since you interviewed me when you were at KOMO. I hate to see another radio news department destroyed. It is a detriment to us all.

  32. You have the best voice on radio Please get back soon and let us know where you land.

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