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.
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.
I practiced my “radio face” while interviewing politicians.
And I kept my desk and newscar as neat and clean as possible.
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.
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.
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.