Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Warning--this post will bore the 98% of the population glued to television who view radio as a necessary evil when stuck in the car and want to find out where the traffic jam is. It's written as the largest talk radio station in the Bay Area was taken over by a mega corporation, who already owned two other major stations in the market, and then to cut costs they fired most of their long standing talk show staff. Thank you government deregulation.

I've been a talk show junkie all my life. As a kid I hid a transistor radio under my pillow and tried to stay up all night listening to one of the pioneers of talk radio Long John Nebel. Sometimes he'd conduct interviews with local political notables, like Congressman Allard Lowenstein (one of the leaders of the 'dump Johnson' movement.) Other times he'd take calls all night from kooks with talking goats in the phone booth or people wondering how pasta got to curl (Long John said in Italy pasta grew on the side of a hill and curled downward.)

Later, as a teenager, I repeatedly got kicked off the radio by WMCA stalwarts John Sterling (Yankee apologist) and Bob Grant (Vietnam war apologist.)

After my teenage years I didn't call talk shows anymore, though continued to selectively listen to talk radio--as much is virtually unlistenable. I was in a bookstore the day before Clinton beat Bush and they were piping in Rush Limbaugh. Between rustling papers and yelling 'dittohead' he was pretty boring--he may be the #1 radio personality but I can't figure it out and never listened to him again. It's not a liberal/ conservative thing--while disagreeing with most of Michael Savage's rants he's interesting, sometimes unpredictable, and often sounds like a beat poet gone off the deep end. And of course anyone I like is usually taken off the air one way or the other, from comedian Adam Carolla (station changed format) to political insider Duane Garrett (killed himself.)

Now truth be told during the warm weather, cycling/ baseball season, I mostly listen to Giants games and sports talk. (Except when the Giants fired Hank Greenwald--then I didn't listen to a ballgame for 2 years until he came back.) But during the fall-winter months I'd switch to talk radio--which meant KGO in the San Francisco area. And the best they offered was Gene Burns.

Former libertarian candidate for President, Gene had moved toward a moderate Democrat position as libertarians had no social policy for those left behind. How many talk show hosts dramatically change their political outlook? Gene respected callers unless they were complete fools, unique among radio talk show hosts with strong opinions. In Dr. Bill Wattenburg's world (the self proclaimed smartest man alive) you were a complete fool if you didn't agree with him 110%. This isn't unique to the right, on the same station Bernie Ward and the every whiny Karel weren't far behind in their lack of tolerance without full agreement--how exciting to hear a talk show host who controls the microphone hang up or disparage a caller. This even happens on sports talk; Ralph Barbari has made a career of asking 10000 word questions and badgering anyone who doesn't agree with him.

(Parenthetically, Dr. Bill teamed with Karel would make good radio, so would Dr. Savage and Bernie. Local sports radio is terrible, the best are syndicated Colin Cowheard who unfortunately focuses on football to build ratings, but throws in a few unique observations along the way. Locally, ex-players Tom Tolbert and Eric Allen are humorous and knowledgable. Allen is on 'FM's only sports station' who has the greatest commercials skewing Cumulus' 'the out of touch Leader'--no doubt Cumulus will solve this problem by buying them soon and canning everyone)

Of course this would never happen on Public Radio, but the hosts are so vanilla.... snore.

So a big radio conglomerate, Cumulus, buys KGO and fires most of their on air hosts. They plan to convert from talk radio to all news. Great plan. Problem is there already is an all news station in the Bay area that does a great job reporting on traffic and weather and how many people are camped outside of Target the night before Black Friday. Another fluff news station isn't needed, and certainly isn't going to get a large audience. It's clear "all news" is a crappy plan------unless Cumulus plans to abandon news in a year and put on their nationally syndicated radio hosts. What do they care--they'll have 1/2 the radio audience they do now but wouldn't have to pay any local talent.

At one time the airways was considered a public trust, and one station couldn't have multiple stations in the same market. That went the way of antitrust regulation against oil companies. And like all deregulation, business hasn't been helped (think airlines and utilities) but the public has been screwed. Now a corporation can have 5 stations in a market. We already have one sports host who had been bounced between the the two sports stations owned by Cumulus and then was put on KGO to do a political show. Man, if you dislike someone on the Cumulus network they'll be no escaping them.

So we have a story of corporate greed, cost cutting, and millions of talk show fans in the San Francisco area that "lost" radio hosts who they spent alot of time with. My carpool buddy, Melissa, wrote on one blog:

Gene -
Like so many previous posters, I have been a long time KGO listener. I am in shock! While I will miss the other hosts, your evening show was my favorite. Listening to your show made me feel less trapped in my car during my long commute home. I cannot believe KGO management. As long time listener, I would love to know how they arrived at this decision. I for one know that I never asked for more news. I can (and do) get news from multiple sources but it is much, much harder to find an intelligent, constructive discussion about the news. That is what you offered and I will miss that so much.

Late last night, as I made my way home from a very late night at the office, my sadness turned to anger when I had my first taste of the "new, improved" programming. As a listener, I felt nothing short of insulted as I listened to the syndicated garbage they started playing at midnight.

This is my first visit to this site but will not be my last. Like so many others have said, wherever you end up, I'll be listening.

Thank you!

Melissa said it all. In any event thanks to Gene Burns for providing great radio and making me think. He'll definitely be missed. And KGO has now been taken off all my radio presets.
Good blog to follow the KGO mess and other local media 'stuff' is Rich Lieberman's

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