Monday, on your commute over the hill, don't be surprised when the talk shows you listened to for more than 30 years are gone.
San Francisco's KGO-AM (810) radio fired most of its staff Thursday and announced Friday that it will be a mostly news station, like its neighbor KCBS-AM (740). The only weekday host who remains is Ronn Owens, from 9 a.m. to noon. Among those let go were Gil Gross, John Rothmann, Lloyd-Lindsay Young, Gene Burns, Ray Taliafero and their producers.
It's a change that Michael Zwerling, the owner of Santa Cruz talk station for the past 20 years, relishes.
"I want to pick up all those listeners who are looking for a new home," said Zwerling. "We are the only station now with local talk shows."
(There is also a liberal talk station KRXA-AM (540)in Monterey.)
Zwerling, 60, said he is reaching out to the fired KGO staff to see if he can hire some. He did an on-air interview with former KGO weekend night host Bill Wattenburg Saturday, who said he would be interested in being on the air in Santa Cruz.
Zwerling's station is quirky and local and reaches a broad demographic. Although it is about a fifth the size of KGO's 50,000 watts, the location of its three antennae on a Corcoran Lagoon at Portola Drive reflects the radio signal as powerfully as if it were 50,000 watts. It can be picked up as far north as Mountain View and Fremont in the daytime and as far south as King City. Sometimes it stretches as far as Sacramento and Bakersfield.
Once strictly conservative, the station has opened slots to local hosts. (In the interest of full disclosure, I do a show there Wednesday's 2-4 p.m. as a volunteer.)
Its early morning show "Good Morning Monterey Bay," hosted by from 6-9 a.m., has no political bent and has interviews with local people and artists from other areas who are performing locally. From 9 a.m. to noon, syndicated conservative flame thrower Rush Limbaugh holds down the fort. The most-listened-to host in the country, Limbaugh is a big draw.
The rest of the day is a mix of local and syndicated hosts. Zwerling says he is mulling the possibility of going with all local talk shows and picking up as much of KGO's audience as he can.
KGO had been at the top of the ratings for 32 years, a record in any market, but has fallen recently to 7th place, either because its audience is dying off or because the new method stations use to determine ratings isn't reflecting the audience.
Ratings used to be done by asking listeners to fill out diaries that report what they listened to all day. It was common for a fan of a station to just write that he only listened to that station all day long. Now, listeners wear a device like an iPod called a Personal People Monitor that records what is actually being heard.
Some in the industry, including former KGO president Mickey Luckoff, say that the Arbitron ratings service doesn't pass out enough of the monitors to get a fair sample. Several stations with minority audiences have sued Arbitron for the same reason, adding that because the PPMs aren't stylish, their listeners don't wear them.
None of that matters to Zwerling. He doesn't pay for ratings and doesn't get them. The last time he looked into buying the service it cost $8,000 a month and he didn't think it was worth it. He bases his decisions on conversations and emails from community members, a rarity among commercial station owners who use the ratings to sell ads.
"We tell advertisers to try us out and if it works, stay with us," said Zwerling.
Zwerling hopes that listeners who still crave the talk format will find his station, on the AM dial or at www.ksco.com. He says radio has been hurt, like most other media, by what is available free on the Internet but hopes he can build a brand of original programming that will be popular there as well.
He said he doesn't know if he can afford the KGO hosts and thinks they may end up together on another Bay Area station, but he is in talks to see if he can make something happen here.
"Golliath is dead and David is alive and kicking," he said. "The loss of talk up there opens up a whole new audience for us."
Patch blogger Valerie Lemke weighs in about the loss of KGO in this .