The Death of a Legendary Radio Station

On Thursday, one of the faceless behemoths completed its desecration of a once-great giant of Bay Area radio, KGO-AM 810.

Ronn Owens
For the last few months, Northern California media maven Rich Lieberman warned us that Cumulus Broadcasting was preparing to repeat its usual decimation of a media market once it completed swallowing up a handful of Bay Area stations, including some nationally-known powerhouses, KGO and KNBR.

KGO-AM was an ABC (and later Disney) “O & O” (owned and operated affiliate), sharing the same address as KGO television, which Disney kept. Yes, ABC/Disney was also a big corporation, but it followed the time-honored management philosophy: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Following the wholesale butchery of many production and advertising staffers a few weeks earlier, the writing was on the wall. It wasn't unique to Cumulus (or broadcasting); whenever a big conglomerate devours a local company, the first order is mass firings as the new parent company employs the “economy of scale.”

[It’s called “consolidation;” combining operations to make fewer people do the work of many, clear-cutting a wide swath of devastation as long-time employees are cast out like last week’s recycling into a shrinking job pool. Say you’ve got four people doing essentially the same job in four different offices. Fire two of them, close three of the offices, and split their duties among the remaining two under a single roof. At the top of the list: the most-experienced (and not coincidentally the highest paid) employees; leaving those behind scrambling to figure out how to handle the workload of the missing on top of their own. Can’t keep up? Too bad. In this market there are dozens who will gladly take your job if you complain. For those who do manage to find work, usually it’s a substantial cut in salary; often with drastically reduced (or non-existent) medical and retirement benefits.]
Michael Amatori

KGO’s entire weekday line-up of talent got pink-slipped, except for Ronn Owens. Even brandishing his Marconi Award like a cross wouldn’t have been enough to save him from these godless vampires; but years ago, Ronn’s good friend and protector, the former station manager/benevolent despot Mickey Luckoff, signed him to a “personal services” contract which was too expensive to buy out.

(The golden-throated Production Director, Bay Area Radio Hall of Famer Mike Amatori also held onto his 900 Front Street key card. Raising $200 grand for charity scores for something on the big Arbitron diary in the sky.)

It seems unfair to blame Ronn (and all the others who survived the chop); to look at them as corporate tools. But his gracelss defense of the format change might make the NAB regret giving Ronn his Marconi.

That’s the same kind of thinking as the 60s burn-outs (the anti-everything-about-America-except-our-freedoms crowd) who co-opted the Occupy movement (and punctuate every sentence with “like” as if it was a comma). An organism’s first duty is to itself. To survive. That’s true whether it’s a plant or an animal, an individual or a corporation.

Let’s put the blame where it belongs, on the politicians who gutted all the regulators like the FCC and FTC. Before “diversity” became a hot-button synonym for “minorities,” it meant freedom of choice. Nowadays the radio landscape in Dallas or San Francisco sounds just like it does in New York or Seattle, except maybe for the number of country stations.

As much as some of us disliked Ray Taliaferro and his mumbling recitation of today’s Democratic Party talking points or Dr. Bill Wattenburg’s patronizing pronouncements from Mount Olympus, at least they were different from the homogenized pap we got from the syndicated meat-grinder.

At one time, the FCC and the FTC kept corporations from swallowing up media outlets like that red gelatinous nightmare we saw in The Blob. By enervating those regulators, it became impossible for independents and small chains to fight off being absorbed by the aggregators like Cumulous.

There's lots of blame to go around on both sides of the political spectrum. The Democrats say they're on the side of the little man, and I agree, but he's the little man with the handlebar moustache on the Monopoly board.

We’ve got the best politicians money can buy.

Sixty years ago, Humphrey Bogart played a crusading newspaper editor in Deadline, U.S.A. He and his publisher, Ethel Barrymore, tried to fight off a take-over bid fueled by her greedy children who were anxious to cash in by selling off to conglomerate. “The Day” got sold and that city lost an independent voice. It was a different medium, but it's the same story.

I’ve been reading a lot about Facebook campaigns and proposed advertiser boycotts, but these seldom succeed. Outrage rarely lasts longer as it takes to type the screed.
Larry Ellison to the rescue?

As I see it, the only real chance is if some Bay Area millionaire(s) decide to buy the bankrupt 960-AM and persuade Mickey Luckoff out of retirement to helm a Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland Andy Hardy-esque revival. (“Dad’ll let us use the barn, and Mom’ll help us make the costumes. Let’s put on a radio station!”)

Who knows, maybe Larry Ellison might do it. He’s just egotistical enough to want expand his Oracle brand to broadcasting.

Talk to me: KennATKennFongDOTcom.