The Men Who Killed KGO, WABC, etc. etc.


Cumulus Media a dark cloud on the radio industry

Headphones Podcast On-Air 


by Richard Wagoner, Freelance Media Writer 


The current ownership model for radio stations in which a few corporations own a huge number of stations in each market has been documented — here and elsewhere — to be a dismal failure.

The promised cost savings from efficient operations of “clusters” of stations never materialized, leading owners to cut other costs such as the money spent on personalities and staff, the very people that made stations sound great.

Programming quality decreased because stations that once competed for listeners were now under the same ownership, and care was taken not to attract listeners to a station at the expense of a co-owned sister station.

The net result: listeners tuned out and the industry changed radically to the point where many stations have become background entertainment, leading advertising revenue to tank.

Few areas experienced this decline as much as Los Angeles, in which two companies, iHeartMedia and CBS, control a huge percentage of the listening pie — 47.4 percent in the most recent Nielsen ratings — and even one of the better group owners, Entercom, is running a national contest on its Los Angeles station, The Sound (100.3 FM).

To put the last statement into perspective, Entercom is giving away $1,000 four times ($4,000 total) in a contest available to listeners of Entercom stations nationwide. In the pre-consolidation days, RKO’s KHJ gave away $1,000 a day, and that was in 1975 and but one example. Even in 1984, KHJ gave away a car a day for a month. For many stations, such contests — all local, since companies were limited to owning a total of 14 stations nationwide, seven AM and seven FM — this was typical.

No wonder radio listening, especially among young people, is at an all-time low. Radio is forcing listeners to discover alternative means of entertainment since radio itself is in such decline, disarray and denial.

While all of the major group owners can be considered guilty to some extent, the absolute worst offender by far has been Cumulus Media. Founded by Lew Dickey in 1997 when he purchased and combined Citadel Broadcasting (itself a poorly run conglomerate) and Dial Global, the company soon became a radio giant, with 460 stations in 90 radio markets along with programming providers such as Westwood and ABC Radio. It is the second largest radio group owner in the country, second only to iHeartMedia.

Too bad the giant has no clue how radio works. Dickey and his brother John had no business ever running anything related to radio, and the proof locally is on KABC (790 AM) and KLOS (95.5 FM), two once-great stations that — especially in the case of KABC — were allowed to wither and die.

And it wasn’t just in Los Angeles; it was seemingly everywhere.

In San Francisco, the Dickey’s meddling caused the destruction of KGO. In New York, their “expertise” killed WABC. The story is repeated over and over in almost every one of their 90 markets, and the situation got so bad that Wall Street even noticed: the company stock dropped more than 80 percent over the past year, closing at a mere 73 cents Oct. 2, leaving it with a market cap of just under $171 million.



  1. As to KGO 810 AM, TRAGIC!!!! A tragic loss for the talk radio listener. I first heard of KGO in Sept. 1982. I was a teenager going through a bout of insomnia. I began twirling up the AM dial of my clock radio, getting many skip signals. I stopped at one where a Jewish bakery was advertising their bagels. It was very different from ads on my local AM stations at the time. I waited to hear were this radio station was located. Soon the talk radio host was back on the air and the bumper noted it was KGO810 out of San Fransisco. WELL BLOW MY MIND! As a teenager I thought it was so cool to be hearing this station. That was the bait… The hook for me? Well the host on air at that time in the early morning was non other than RAY TALIAFERRO!!! Well his on air rhetoric was to my teenage ears an incredible aural journey. Anyone who knows who Ray Taliaferro is, knows where I’m coming from. I was bewildered listening to him talk, editorialize and verbose back and forth with callers. My nightly routine of listening to KGO810 began that Sept. night. From Ray’s rants, to Bernie Ward, Chris Clarke, Dr. Bill Wattenburg, Sean Nix, Michael Krazny, Lee Rodgers, Christine Craft, Duane Garrett, John Rothman, and others whom I forget all entertained and helped shape my opinions on especially US politics and policies.

    As to Duane Garrett, I remember hearing the night he passed away. Bernie Ward was called in to cover his shift as Garrett was not there and was not returning phone calls. Little did they at KGO and us know that on that day Duane Garrett committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. When it was found out, Bernie was shaken up and I believe all KGO listeners were too. I’m teary eyed right now just remembering it.

    So from 1982 to 2011 I listened to KGO 810 most every night before I went to sleep. To have some idiot conglomerate BLOW IT ALL UP OVER NIGHT IS JUST TERRIBLE!

    At night via the skip KGO noted its listening audience spanned from Central America, up to Alaska, out west to the Hawaiian Islands and east past the Rockey Mountains. I doubt near as many people in this area sweep listen today as back when. During the Cold War, KGO hosts would note that they knew Soviet naval ships in the Pacific tuned in to get a pulse of the US population on policies and politics. I doubt the Russian nor Chinese care to do so with KGO today!

    I shake my head and do a face palm. The idiots a Cumulus may have degrees in cheap frames on office walls, but they are just EDUCATED DUMMIES! Killing a many decade old proverbial goose who laid golden eggs. 🙁

  2. Hey Les,

    Good post, and I say that because you filled in the years I was absent from KGO. I go back to the late 50’s, earl 60’s right up to the mid 70’s being an avid fan. The first late night talk show host I remember was Ira Blue, who broadcast live nightly from the Hungry Eye! I did a google to find if I could track down information on Ira and eventually located this site
    – Not sure what happened to Ira, but a new voice showed up one night name Les Crane, who did his 10 to 1am slot which Ira appeared to relinquish. Les later went on to be a challenger to the Late Show with Johnny Carson on ABC. He was also the narrator of the poem Desiderata which was released as a hit single in the early 70’s

    between listening to to Ira on KGO I was also listening to Herb Jepko on KSL from Salt Lake city…. he ran all nights… Ted Wendland of Radio West, also our very own Ron Robinson and so many others can no doubt help us remember those days… please don’t hesitate to join in on this conversation…


    Michael Easton

  3. I go back to the Ira Blue days. He was San Francisco’s leading sportscaster before he became a talk radio pioneer from the Hungry Eye. Another name from years ago whom I really appreciated was Jim Eason. Unfortunately he got moved to early afternoons, and in those pre-internet days there was no way to hear him any longer.
    Ray Taliafero became the allnight guy and drove me away with his overly rude treatment of anyone but his sycophants, so I had to settle for the the very good weekend guy, John Rothmann. That KGO signal was amazing, and we treated it as a local station after dark.
    Little did I realize that when the talk show stars were cut loose four years ago it was symptomatic of a new Cumulus ownership strategy to slash costs, without regard for the quality of the programming that remained.

  4. Ray Taliaferro could drive a listener nuts and there were nights as I listened I rolled my eyes at him and his rhetoric. But he entertained and I recall his over night ratings were very good.

    Yes, KGO for me was a night time skip signal listening too. In the summer oh from 10pm to 5am, in the winter as early as 6pm to 7am. Over the years I enjoyed many of the hosts even those whom I disagreed with. I learned so much about the Bay Area, California, US politics and US govt. policies. KGO complimented for me CKNW980 up here. It’s too bad that neither station really knocks it out talk/news radio wise anymore.

    Dr. Bill Wattenberg was one of the smartest men I ever listened too. I did not agree with all his politics but on the sciences and such, man he was so informative. Over it all, my favourite host was Bernie Ward ( I know of his criminal stuff but it was separate from his caliber of news talk.) but politically and socially I clicked with a lot of things that he spoke of. As to knowing the US political system, John Rothman was KING! The brightest man on how the US political system works that I ever heard.

    Back to Bernie, when he did his Sunday “God Talk”, the version of Amazing Grace, with the bag pipes that he played to start the show WAS AWESOME!

  5. I used to listen to Ray, but the people phoning in were a bit too much for me at times. I did enjoy the show God Talk with Brent Walters, early Sunday mornings, it was a great way to fall asleep. LOL!

  6. I am not sure if I would totally blame the corporations for lowering the prominence of these stations. People dont have to wait until the sun goes down to tune in KGO when they can tune it in 24/7 and most station around the world on their phone. Its a new world and the corporations are just trying control their obvious future losses and stop the bleeding.

  7. Mark,

    It is not the vehicle of getting the media to the listener, but the quality (lack there of) from the programming. Speaking of KGO 810, that station owned the ratings for decades in the SF/Bay Area. They invested in top notch and varied radio talk hosts as well as professional news readers and for the Bay Area new reporters. They had solid network connections for national and international news reporting as well. Once Cumulus fired pretty well all of these good people, KGO went into the tank.

    To save buck which in the end costs you more in lost revenue tomorrow is a stupid idea no matter how many degrees the management may have hanging in cheap frames on office walls.

    For me KGO810 was informative (esp. on US politics and policy) but it did it in such an entertaining way as well.

  8. You didn’t have to be a teenager to be gobsmacked at picking up a super strong signal. In my case, I was about 47 when I first enountered Bernie Ward and John Rothmann. It was must-listen radio.

    Alas, Bernie was sent to prison on somewhat trumped-up charges of child porn. Dubya’s federal prosecutors ended up persuading a judge to give him a longer sentence than many actual molestor/child assaulters get.

    Funny how KGO and CKNW used similar Talk Radio graphics for their web sites and media ads. NW, too, seemed to join KGO in wilfully self-destructing. To be fair, NW hasn’t quite hit the bottom that currently ensnares KGO.

  9. Rocker Rich,

    I agree with you on CKNW and KGO. NW has not hit rock bottom yet as poor old KGO has.

    As to Bernie Ward, I agree his overly done up child porn case was IMO govt. making an example of a well known left leaning talk radio host who was good at defending his bashing of the Federal govt. and at the time DUBYA!

    But lets no forget the amount of charitable good will Bernie did.It was mostly his work that headlined KGO’s Thanksgiving charity event. Without Bernie I doubt it would have been what it was.


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