A Lesson on Impermanence: The End of KGO Radio

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Radio news is dead. Again.

With the “Black Thursday” blow-out at my former employer, legendary KGO Radio in San Francisco, radio news has been killed. Again. By greed. Again.

A former KGO news staffer, Claudia Lamb, writes an insightful post about how the end came to be in this SoundwavesTV.com article.

I don’t write or talk much about my radio days at KGO, and before that some 16 years in Sacramento radio, plus a few cups of coffee at KNX radio in Los Angeles and freelance work for everyone from ABC Radio, NBC Radio’s The Source, The Associated Press, Voice of America, and even an interview with BBC Radio. What’s the point, I ask myself. Who cares? That was then, this is now.

But when there is a death in the family (and KGO radio was a family, albeit a dysfunctional but fun one) sometimes you gotta talk a little. So here are few thoughts about the forever-#1-in-the-Bay-Area-ratings NewsTalk 810 (#1, that is, until the clueless corporate-types took over.)…

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Mary Ellen Geist and me won an Edward R. Murrow award for an investigative series on how the S.F. Muni system got so screwed-up. It led to some legislation being passed by State Senator Quentin Kopp. This is back in the days when radio journalism raised a little hell and made something of an impact. Or did it?

I will always cherish the short time (four years) I was lucky enough to work for KGO Radio News during the 1990s. Dunbar and Wygant, Ed and Rosie, Mary Ellen Geist, R.J. Peruman, Jon “King of the Puns” Bristow, news director Ken Berry — who always had my back even when I royally pissed off the 49ers GM that one morning when I “dared” to ask the NFL Commissioner (who just happened to be in town campaigning for a new 49er stadium in San Francisco that never happened) about allegations the owner of the 49ers was facing a felony indictment in Louisiana — and so many more talented and dedicated audio journalists during that golden era.

I believe the demise of news on radio began way back in the early Reagan-era 1980s after the industry was “deregulated” meaning station’s were no longer required to “serve the public interest” in order to keep/obtain a license to operate from the FCC. They were now licensed to make money; no more, no less. (Read more about broadcast deregulation, here.)

810’s demise reminds me of the Hunter S. Thompson quote about the music industry, which I think is appropriate for the radio industry, too: “The (music/insert the word ‘radio’) business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side.”

I am also reminded of the Buddhist teaching about impermanence: nothing lasts forever. Thus, my photograph of the Buddhist mandala dissolution ceremony on the top of the blog.

Best wishes to all who are on the beach. Better opportunities lie ahead and your talents will not go unappreciated!

Oh…and a few random memories from my time at the Big 810:

  • The morning co-anchor who arrived five minutes before airtime at 5 a.m. and then proceeded to cooly read copy cold.
  • The afternoon producer who perused the adult ads in the weeklies looking for “story ideas.”
  • Reporters who showed-up at the radio station before sunrise and stayed long after the sun went down when all hell was breaking loose.
  • Spotlight 810 investigative series: Up to 2 minutes to tell a story, several times a week!
  • Editing audio tape with a razor blade , white wax pencil, and splicing tape because non-linear digital editing was just being invented
  • No website. No Facebook. No Twitter. No YouTube. No Google. No iPhones. Those were not quite start-ups yet.
  • The reporter/talk show host from the “other radio station” down the hall who had to be poured into a cab for a ride home following a newsroom get together at a local watering hole. But only after she put her clothes back on.
  • Expensing a ticket to a Stones show and a gentlemen’s club : both were legitimate business expenses for news gathering purposes.
  • Great producers like Julie Chin and Shelly Gerson who helped Bay Area newbie reporter me get from point A to point B when time was of the essence.
  • NewsBike One: Riding  and reporting via my Specialized HardRock mountain bike all over S.F. (along with my colleague Charles Elliot riding NewsBike 2) to cover  a couple of the early “Critical Mass” bike protests, including a rather riotous affair that concluded with the wholesale corralling and arrest of a couple hundred protestors and their bikes. “Da Mayor” Willie Brown told the SFPD to “shut ’em down” and they did.

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