April 8, 2016
Let's pick up where I left off last week. I asked at the end of that column what you would have done had you been given the opportunity to "save" KGO/San Francisco had you been able to go back in time and be there at the onset of symptoms, and I thought the challenge was a tough one, because I don't have a good answer myself. I'm pretty convinced that there wasn't much anyone could do, under the circumstances, to stave off the inevitable drop-off, and I still think that's the case, even if it doesn't excuse some of the moves that were made in recent years. KGO was going to be saddled with the "grandpa's station" image no matter what, I believe, and that got me thinking about something else.
Warning: Jargon ahead.
We're all sick of marketing experts talking about "branding," right? Corporate brands, personal brands... we kind of burned that out a few years ago, I think. But the KGO situation got me thinking about that again, because it tied into what I think most of the industry reaction was based upon, namely that we, as an industry, sure do live in the past. As I noted last week, while the elimination of a news department and several jobs is a bad thing for the people involved and for the community, the gnashing and wailing over the destruction of KGO -- I can't type larger-than-capital letters to emphasize the station's image among radio people -- seemed to be for a KGO that had long since left the building, the KGO of bygone days that dominated the market when the Giants were at Candlestick and Herb Caen was still in the Chronicle. Those days, as I pointed out, were gone even before things fell apart.
But the reaction was to the perceived diminishing, or even loss, of KGO the image, KGO the icon, KGO the... okay, here it comes... the brand. KGO meant something. It meant full-service local radio, it meant news, it meant the place you went to find out what was happening. It meant the Bay Area. But by the '90s, it was changing. And within the last decade, it came to mean something else: Dad's station. Grandpa's station. AM radio. Or worse: Nothing. If you're in your 20s and in San Francisco, you might not even know what KGO is, because other than for KNBR's play-by-play sports, you may never bother with the AM button on your car radio.
So, wounded brand. KGO doesn't mean anything to a few generations coming of age. What do you do with THAT?
How about this: You have a station and a staff that is capable of creating and producing audio of interest to a local audience, right? You have a potential audience of younger demographics that is aggressively telling you that it's not going to listen to your AM signal and is increasingly online for everything, right? And to them, KGO is, if anything, an old folks' thing?
So, leave KGO as KGO, and while that ship lists in the bay, create a new brand. Produce programming for the audience you want. Call it something other than KGO. Put it out as podcasts, as a stream, as an app. Promote the hell out of it... on your FM stations and social media. There are companies who would burn through a ton of cash to do all of that from scratch. You have a staff and studios and, most importantly, the expertise to create audio programming that's far beyond what others are capable of assembling? Why wouldn't you try that?
You wouldn't if nobody at your company is thinking of your business as a creative production entity rather than a collection of licenses and transmitters and call letters. And most radio companies are thinking like that. What they do online in audio is usually tethered to the call letters and stations, but it doesn't have to be. Using a new name and a marketing effort untethered to the mothership may not resurrect the old station's name and legacy, but it could build a new, lasting legacy of its own, without the need for a tower or antenna.
In short, I got the question wrong. It's not "what would you have done to fix KGO?," it's "How would you build the NEXT KGO?" Because there WILL be a "next KGO." It just won't look or sound like those 50,000 watts on 810 AM. The monetization will eventually come. It'll be its own thing. And there's no reason the people in traditional radio can't be a part of it.
Whether it's on AM or FM or online or shortwave or tin-cans-and-string, if you do a show, you need All Access News-Talk-Sports' Talk Topics, with news items and kickers and bad jokes for any kind of show, and you can get it by clicking here and at the Talk Topics Twitter feed at @talktopics with every story individually linked to the appropriate item. And there's the new Podcasting section at AllAccess.com/podcasts. Plus, speaking of trying new stuff online, read my interview with WGN/Chicago "WGN Plus" online/podcast network hosts "Jones and Mike," who are putting their radio experience to use on a show that's breaking the mold of traditional talk.
Full Disclosure: I also serve as Director of Programming for Nerdist Industries, a division of Legendary Pictures and Legendary Digital Networks, which includes the Nerdist Podcast Network, one of your major podcast entities.
One more reminder: the Worldwide Radio Summit in Hollywood is coming up NEXT WEEK -- April 13-15, 2016 -- and I'm doing a panel on podcasting for talent and programmers with Chris Hardwick -- yes, THE Chris Hardwick on your Tee Vee -- along with Dave Anthony, Jackie Kashian, Alison Rosen, and Katie Levine, so it's a bunch of people who have been in podcasting since before most people knew what a podcast is and who will tell you all about how and why to podcast. And they're all very funny people. This is not going to be your typical convention panel.
Anyway, you gotta be there, and you gotta register right now. Go to worldwideradiosummit.com for all the details.
I would be remiss if I didn't take this space to note VILLANOVA WE DID IT YAAAAAAA I CAN'T BELIEVE IT NUMBER ONE NOVA NOVA NOVA AAAAAAAwhat? Hey, you'd do the same if YOUR school won.