San Fran Radio Waves: KGO is Talking Again


‘Mostly News’ Didn’t Bring the Ratings that News-Talk Boasted

By Ben Fong-Torres, San Francisco Chronicle     February 12, 2015.

..Poet, songwriter, singer and Oakland native Rod McKuen. / ONLINE_YES

  •  Poet, singer, songwriter and Oakland native Rod McKuen

KGO is back to news talk. Since late last year, the Cumulus Media station that once ruled the local ratings has added two talk shows to its weekday schedule. They aren’t hosted by any of the veterans the station dismissed in late 2011, but new (and younger) voices like Chip Franklin, whose noon-to-3 p.m. program replaced the afternoon news bloc and a business report. (Franklin, 49 — a stand-up comedian, musician and filmmaker — worked previously on stations in Baltimore and Washington.)

KGO has also added a disc jockey known as DreX, from 7 to 10 p.m., replacing the news bloc anchored by Peter Finch and Lisa Campbell, who were let go late last month. DreX (Kevin Buchar), who’s in his 50s, was on KSJO, the rock station in San Jose, from 1984 to 1985 before an eight-year run on Chicago Top 40 station WKSC (“Kiss”). Despite solid ratings, he was fired late in 2010 by Clear Channel (now iHeart Media), which gave no reason for his termination.

DreX and Franklin join veteran Ronn Owens (9 a.m. to noon, with a repeat from 3 to 5 a.m.) and the syndicated John Batchelor (10 p.m. to 3 a.m.) to give KGO 16 hours of talk on weekdays — about the same as it had before its ill-fated format change. (Since abandoning “News Talk” for mostly news, KGO has been unable to chip away at its main competitors, KCBS and KQED, and usually ranks between 15th and 20th in the overall ratings.) On weekends, aside from morning news blocs, talk shows dominate.

But so far, KGO’s slogan remains “News and information.” Asked for a comment, Cumulus sent this, from John Dickey, executive vice president of content and programming for Cumulus: “We remain committed to a compelling mix of talk content including live and local programming that our listeners want and need.”

Meantime, listeners of KGO and sister station KSFO are complaining about infomercial programming. On KSFO, says reader Pat Blair Pierce, Cumulus is preempting the finance show hosted by Bob Brinker “whenever they can get a paying taker.” Blair says she learned on Brinker’s site that downloading past shows, once free, now costs $5. (Note: It’s $4.95 for a month of past programs.)

And Reader Brian Wallace writes, “I have listened to KGO for 33 years, and today is the first time I ever heard an infomercial on its airwaves. I couldn’t believe it. The ‘topic’ was some organic juice cleanse. Unlike other radio stations that feature infomericals, there was no disclaimer up front alerting listeners to the fact that the following was a paid broadcast.” Wallace sent a copy of KGO’s Sunday schedule, and from 10 to 11 a.m., it reads “Specialty Programming.”

As Wallace noted, other stations have included bartered programming. Ditto TV stations. But it is new to KGO. A veteran radio-sales and marketing executive, long familiar with local stations, said one KGO weekend host called him, saying, “This means his show can get bumped for paid hours.” He was seeking a program sponsor to help keep him on the air. Said the marketing exec, “It’s a scramble for Cumulus, as the billing has dropped significantly at KGO, and the overall corporate debt has the Dickeys trying to get creative.” (Those would be John Dickey and brother Lew, president/CEO of Cumulus.)

For newsman Finch, who moved from KFOG to sister KGO after the latter went mostly news, the dismissal came four months after his induction into the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame. He thanked “friends, colleagues and listeners” for their support.

R.I.P.: LeeBaby Simms, dead at 70 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound Jan. 28. Sly and silky smooth on the air, with a rascal’s sense of humor, Simms (real name Gilmore Lamar Simms), a native of Charleston, S.C., covered a wide range of formats. I first heard him on KFOG in the ’80s. He’d also done plenty of Top 40 in numerous major markets, including a stint on KYA, and he did four years on KISQ (“Kiss 98.1”), spinning soul music in the early 2000s before retiring to Walnut Creek. Radio Ink Magazine reported that “Simms once noted that he had 41 jobs … and was fired 25 times.” … One of the great voices of classical music radio was silenced when Keith Lockhart died Jan. 24 at age 87 in San Rafael. A native of Ontario, he joined KKHI (1550 AM) in 1964 and hosted mornings for most of his 25 years there … And farewell to Rod McKuen — poet, songwriter, singer and native of Oakland — who, at age 15 in 1948, got a job as a DJ on KROW (960 AM). Fellow staffer Phyllis Diller would help him get a singing gig at the Purple Onion, and he was on his way. He made dozens of albums, and his songs were covered by Frank Sinatra; Barbra Streisand and Johnny Cash; and Glenn Yarborough (“Stanyan Street”), among others.

Touch of green: With the Grateful Dead having announced its last stand (three concerts in Chicago this July), David Gans, host of the “Grateful Dead Hour” and “Dead to the World,” anchored his 29th Dead fundraising marathon on and for KPFA on Jan. 31. This time, he stayed on, along with Tim Lynch (co-host of “Dead to the World”) and other friends, for 16 hours and raised some $35,000 for the Pacifica Foundation station. Gans played Dead rarities, hosted in-studio musical guests and conducted auctions of memorabilia to raise the dough.

Dept. of Corrections: My apologies to Sandy Stec, who was inadvertently left off my list of women who host or co-host drive-time radio shows. Stec, who’s also a stand-up comic, joined “Star 101.3” for mornings three years ago. Her co-host is Marcus D … Note to Joel Selvin, who wrote a nifty piece in The Chronicle about Ron Nagle, the sardonic ceramist and musician: Tom Donahue, you wrote, “invented underground rock radio at San Francisco’s KSAN-FM.” No. Others were doing free-form radio, including DJ Larry Miller at KMPX, when Donahue and friends (including Howard Hesseman, future “Johnny Fever” on “WKRP in Cincinnati”) took it over. After a labor strike, they rebooted with KSAN. A documentary may tell that story, if the producers can raise the dough. A Kickstarter campaign is going on, and supporters can go to the crowdfunding site and search for KSAN. Hey: ten grand and you can be an associate producer!


  1. KGO810 still sounds to be a shell of its former self, its adopting a low buck, lower level of talk much like CKNW980 in Vancouver.

    I first heard of KGO810 back in Sept 1983. One night with a bout of insomnia I began to fiddle up and down the AM dial, looking for skip signals. I stopped at what was for me an interesting advert for Jewish Bagels… “Hmmm interesting ad.” I figured. Once the ad ended I heard what was to become for me a familiar late night voice, one Ray Taliaferro. I was just a young teen and found his talk to be so energetic and polarizing. I disagreed with a lot of his rhetoric but circa 1983 he helped draw me into talk radio. I began tuning into KGO810 nightly with the skip signal. Hosts as Michael Krazny, Dr. Bill Wattenburg, Ray Taliafero, Shawn Nix and my fav Bernie Ward along with others who worked at KGO over the years. Between KGO810 at night and CKNW980 with then CJOR600 for local talk, well I became a talk radio junky.

    It’s sad that KGO and CKNW are so far off the once great paths they both walked and neither compel me to listen anymore. I tune into CKNW for a curiosity mostly now. KGO810 I stopped after they let all their hosts go Dec. 2011

    I miss the quality and energy of news/sports/political talk both KGO and CKNW brought fro back in the day. 🙁

    I recall back during the 80’s that KGO noted it was certain Soviet spy ships in international waters would listen to KGO to get a feel as to what news, political and social talk was going on in the USA.

  2. Les’ experiences above closely parallel my own. Mind you I first heard KGO a decade earlier than he did when my parents moved our family, by P&O liner, across the Pacific to Vancouver. KGO was to be heard in the middle of that big ocean.

  3. What are the odds of two West Coast open liners called Drex? To my ears, KGO’s DreX sounds like he’s got a buried South African/Aussie? accent like NW’s Drex.

    While it’s great to see KGO testing the waters for a full return to open line, can’t say this guy holds a candle to the late great Gene Burns or John Rothmann.

  4. Was a long time listener from 01 till they foolishly dismissed their great line-up.many olympians miss the great programming and still check in from time to time hoping for the best,but still dissapointed:( 10-3 batchelor ???? releasing karel???…man…..weep!weep. mostly just listen on weekends now. thank you for at least keeping pat thurston 🙂


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