I drink. I dance. I report.


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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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Twitter: A Massive, Buzzing Newsroom

I think of Twitter as a massive, buzzing newsroom, where journalists converse, share breaking news, and joke around. Most of the people I follow on Twitter are reporters and news stations, the majority of them stretching up and down the west coast, with a few sprinkled in from the east. I also believe most of the people who follow me back are reporters as well. Out of all my friends and family, only one person is on Twitter, making me wonder, do normal people “Tweet?”

Whenever there’s breaking news, forget the TV stations or websites, I go straight to Twitter. Last night, when the earthquake struck in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, journalists started tweeting like crazy. And we didn’t pause to write our own web stories first and link back to our pages for the clicks, we sent out Tweets including USGS earthquake information, links to NOAA and the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, links to information directly from the source. Using my own and Twitter’s resources, I was quickly able to Tweet breaking news from the FOX40 account as well as my own, and write up a web story that I sent to The Tribune Company, which in turn posted my story on Tribune websites across the country. Reporters re-tweeting each other and various news stations, all of our collective heads buzzing with this breaking news and the best way to share it.

Aside from breaking news, Twitter is a great way for journalists to make connections and mingle with other like-minded neurotics. For example, I was conversing with the two reporters who broke the “Whitey” Bulger story from the L.A. Times. For me, the ability to praise these two investigative journalists and have them respond back was like writing to celebrities, and getting @ replies from their accounts. Yes, I’m that big of a geek:

View “Tweets with L.A. Times reporters” on Storify

I also got an @reply from CNN’s Don Lemon, which was equally thrilling.

Another favorite part of being a journalist on Twitter are the weekly journalist chats. Every Monday, I participate in #journchat, and every Wednesday, I stick my nose in #wjchat. The second chat is my favorite because it specifically targets web journalists and some of the challenges we face. I love interacting with such talented journalists and brainstorming ideas. I’ve met new Twitter friends through #wjchat and learned about Storify and Crowdsourcing. I haven’t quite figured out Crowdsourcing but I know other journalists have found it useful.

Another way Twitter is wildly successful is with public relations/news alerts. At FOX40, we often find out about breaking news through Tweets by local law enforcement, firefighting agencies. They can keep us posted through Tweets rather than constantly fielding calls from dozens of reporters at news stations across town. They tweet locations and details I can include in a web story. They tell reporters where to meet up with them. And through public relations or public affairs, I often find story ideas on Twitter, and links to press releases and resources.

So, I think Twitter is one of the best inventions for journalists. I often wonder what other groups are huge on Twitter. I know people in the writing/publishing industry use it constantly, as well as “mommy bloggers.” Who else uses Twitter? And if you use Twitter, what about it do you find the most useful?


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Newsradio is a wild beast, TV News a complex robot

Anchoring at KOMO Newsradio

Radio and television are two different worlds.  It’s like if humans colonized Mars. They speak the same language, have the same goals, but the atmosphere, the terrain, the transportation are all different. Radio is like feeding a wild and unruly beast, constantly throwing a dead boar into a gaping mouth. Television is like trying to build an advanced robot, piece by piece, meticulously, through the hours.

While reporting for KOMO Newsradio in Seattle, I had to be on-air starting at 2pm, and every half an hour after that. This could mean arriving at a breaking news scene at 2:15pm, grabbing a quick interview, frantically cutting a soundbite with shaking fingers, sending it in at 2:25pm with a rollcue, teasing the story at 2:29, and ad-libbing the entire thing, sure to hit my rollcue on mark, hoping to God the anchors fired it. Then, switch the brain to an entirely different story, write it sitting cramped in a news car with an aching back and having to pee and starving beyond belief, voice the story, record a tease, and send it back at least 5 minutes before the top of the hour.

Radio, especially at an all-news radio station, is constant. The brain has to always think about new stories to throw into the beast’s mouth. Constantly scanning newspapers, doing phone interviews, checking the website for any updates, re-writing leads, writing readers, stories with a soundbites, etc. If you’re not writing something new, you’re scheduling a live interview, or popping in for a Q&A with the anchors, or…or….or. There is always something in radio, and I think working in radio for so many years gave me quick fingers and a nimble mind, which comes in handy for everything I do.

While radio was fun and exciting, it also burned me out a little after 7 years of nonstop nonstop nonstop. At KOMO, we’d often joke that instead of “Working for you” the slogan was “Working You.”

KOMO Coworkers Travis Mayfield and Sue Romero

But it was all worth, it when I got to do things like……dress up as a doctor.

Learning about robotic surgeries

Cover exciting breaking news events (and look at firefighters)

And meet people like………a former President.

Me and Jimmy Carter

However, after all this excitement, I was happy for my 8 months break and then my next job as a web producer in television.

Television felt in slow-motion compared to radio. I mean, seriously? Producers have HOURS to put together their show? They get in at 1pm, and the show goes on at 10pm? The show is stacked hours ahead of schedule, and seriously, writers have that long to put together a few readers? Some pieces with audio, some national packages? At first, I thought it was easy, until I saw producers running frantically up and down the newsroom, papers hot off the printer clenched in their hands, shouting commands at editors and writers and reporters. Well, that’s a little dramatic, but it happens.

In radio, you just need a voice, a microphone, a script and a soundbite, or you just need a voice and a mic (or cell phone) in breaking news. In television, you need supers, graphics, satellite trucks, microphones, IFB’s, teleprompter, camera people, director, floor director, satellite times, and the show programmed to the SECOND. Many times I’ve run the teleprompter and heard the directors shaky voice in my ear, counting the seconds, saying things like, “bring [anchors] mic up, go, cue super, go, cue SOT, go”. It’s choreography, a dance, and the hours that lead up to this advanced piece of news-delivery are a time for building this robot that (hopefully) runs without a glitch.

FOX40 News!

However, I still think radio is more nerve-rattling and constant. When there’s breaking news on the radio, you go on immediately, and all the time, when there’s breaking news on TV, you still have quite awhile to put together your liveshot, in most cases. And by quite awhile, that can mean 10 minutes (an eternity in radio, hah).  But I’m sure there’s more to meet the eye….getting the camera ready, the IFB, the mic, the lighting, etc. Television always has more pieces to the puzzle.

I’m having a blast learning TV, writing for the web, and writing for the newscasts (which means doing graphics, supers, packages, etc.) However, I think radio will always have a special place in my heart. I love how the sounds play inside the stage of the mind; the imagination is beautiful and complex. I love the immediacy of radio. I love talking into a microphone, and no one knows what I look like. I love ad-libbing live reports from a breaking news scene. I love interviewing interesting people, and putting their voice and story out on the radiowaves. I love that radio is so personal; that we are the voice keeping people company on their long, often frustrating drive home. I’ve always loved it, from the time I was 12 years old recording family vacations, and interviewing my parents. And, the reason I love radio most of all? Drinking wine at work 🙂

Drinking wine at the radio (already filed my reports)

Reporting from Davis, Kristin Hanes, NewsradioBackyard.