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KGO-AM fires most news staffers in advance of a format change, Ronn Owens goes to KSFO

KGO-AM 810 on Thursday fired more than 20 of its employees, including nearly everyone in its newsroom, and transferred longtime host Ronn Owens to sister station KSFO 560, which has conservative hosts.

Starting Tuesday, the team of Jack Armstrong and Joe Getty, who had been doing the morning show on Talk 910, will move to KGO and replace the morning news from 6-10.

At noon Thursday, KGO began playing a recording of people talking about San Francisco and songs about the city. The recording will apparently be played over and over on a loop until the new format begins at 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Atlanta-based Cumulus Media, the owner of KGO and KSFO, wasn’t talking about the changes Thursday, but several radio industry websites said KGO’s new lineup will feature new local hosts and nationally syndicated programming. Long-form news programming will not be part of the mix.

The move comes at a time when the ratings for radio stations across the country are falling because listeners are switching to online services like Pandora or satellite programming.

For more than 30 years, KGO-AM was the top radio station in San Francisco in terms of ratings and revenue. When Cumulus acquired the station in 2011, it dumped several popular hosts including Gil Gross, Gene Burns, John Rothmann, Len Tillem, Bill Wattenburg and Ray Taliaferro, in favor of an all-news format with the exception of Owens’ show. Ratings plummeted. The station eventually returned to the talk format except during the morning and afternoon drive times, but the audience didn’t return.

Thursday, the station fired more than 20 employees without any advance notice.
Media blogger Rich Lieberman, who broke the story about the changes at KGO, said those who were shown the door include anchors Jennifer Jones-Lee, Jon Bristow, sportscaster Rich Walcoff, reporters Jason Middleton, Kristin Haynes and Kim McCallister, afternoon host Chip Franklin and production man Mike Amatori, the voice on many commercials on KGO.

Owens’ move to “Hot Talk” KSFO might be awkward since he’s politically middle-of-the road. The rest of KSFO’s schedule is filled with conservative hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Sean Hannity.

Owens, in his last show on KGO yesterday, wondered how he would be treated by KSFO’s conservative audience when he starts his show there next week. He’ll do the afternoon drive shift, from 3 to 6 p.m. He had been at KGO for 40 years holding down the 9-noon time slot.

Armstrong & Getty, who broadcast from Sacramento, are politically more conservative than the typical KGO host, which may signal a shift in philosophy at that station.

Armstrong & Getty work for Cumulus’ arch rival, iHeart Media, and are syndicated on several West Coast radio stations. KGO now will be one of the stations taking their syndicated feed.

Cumulus also owns KFOG-FM (104.5, 97.7), which will also see a format change. KFOG’s deejays were pulled off the air yesterday, some were fired, and the station is just playing music with no local hosts until its new format starts on April 20.

Like KGO-AM, KFOG’s ratings have fallen in recent years. KFOG’s current format, which is called “adult album alternative” in the radio industry, features an eclectic mix of blues, reggae, folk and rock from the 1960s to the present. The station has had a loyal group of listeners known as Fogheads. KFOG’s best days, in terms of ratings, were in the 1990s and early 2000s, and the station began to drop after longtime morning man Dave Morey retired in 2008.

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