Experimental station 6XG became commercial station KGO in 1924, broadcasting from General Electric’s facility in Oakland, California.
KGO’s early programming was comprised mostly of local talent, including a renowned dramatic group called the KGO Players. Local musicians also filled KGO’s broadcast schedule.
Initially, GE hoped to create a three-station network connecting KGO with Denver’s KOA and Schenectady, N.Y.’s WGY. But RCA, owner of GE, launched NBC in 1926. KGO joined KPO in San Francisco as members of the NBC Orange Network, which was the company’s Pacific Coast chain of stations. KGO became the key station for the network in 1929. NBC then took over management and operation of the station and moved it to San Francisco.
KGO became a 50,000-watt clear-channel station in 1941. Two years later, the FCC forced NBC to sell one of its two networks. NBC spun off the NBC Blue Network, which became ABC in 1945. KGO was a charter station of the new ABC Radio Network.
KGO-FM signed on in 1947, simulcasting KGO-AM’s programming. KGO-TV signed on in 1949.
As network radio’s golden age ended in the early 1950s, KGO carried many live and recorded music programs. It also aired the first exercise program, hosted by fitness instructor Jack Lalanne, which later moved to KGO-TV.
By the late 1950s, KGO’s ratings were sliding. In 1962, KGO flipped to one of the country’s first full-time news/talk formats. It focused on live, local programming, support from ABC network news and developing a strong local news operation. The audience steadily grew, and KGO dominated San Francisco radio ratings for nearly 30 years as one of the nation’s premier news/talk stations.
Citadel Broadcasting acquired the ABC radio stations in 2007.
As Arbitron’s new PPM ratings technology arrived, KGO’s ratings eroded. The previous diary method counted on listeners to recall and write down their listening habits, and KGO’s strong heritage may have led to over-reporting. All-news rival KCBS-AM overtook KGO for the top spot in 2010. KGO quickly dropped out of the top 10.
Cumulus Media acquired Citadel and KGO in 2011. It dropped the news/talk programming, firing many long-time talk hosts and drawing protest from listeners, for an all-news format. As of early 2014, KGO’s overall ratings have not rebounded.
According to a July 2013 article at SFGate.com:
According to several sources with strong connections to KGO, the station, along with KSFO, had $40 million in annual revenue in the years before the sale of the stations to Citadel, in 2007. Today, the figure is said to be around $9 million. Two of the sources (former KGO employees) credited the figures to an accounting firm that tracks station revenue, but, citing confidentiality concerns, an employee at the firm declined to comment. (Requests for interviews with KGO executives went unanswered.)
KGO advertisers have gone over to KCBS, said one former staffer. And, he added, sales people departed. One former on-air employee said KGO was slashing rates; spots that personalities read live, once priced as high as $600, could be had for $150, he asserted.
Another former staffer who has attended sales pitches told me, “They’re not selling ratings anymore. They’re saying they’re a news station and KCBS is expensive, and that if you want the news audience, KGO is less expensive.”
Meanwhile, KGO-FM flipped to a progressive rock format in the late 1960s. It was renamed KSFX in 1971. The station flipped to Top 40 in 1973. It switched to a disco format in the late 1970s before flipping to an album-oriented rock format in 1980. The station flipped to a talk format in 1982, reclaiming the KGO-FM call letters.
ABC sold KGO-FM in 1984 to the owner of San Jose’s KLOK-AM. The new KLOK-FM adopted an adult contemporary format known as “Yes/No Radio,” in which listeners phoned in votes for what the station would play. New owners changed the call letters to KKSF in 1987 and programmed a format known as “new adult contemporary,” which was a forerunner to the smooth jazz format KKSF eventually carried.
Clear Channel acquired the station in the late 1990s. The smooth jazz format continued until KKSF abruptly switched to a classic rock format in 2009. It flipped to classic hits in 2011 and was renamed KOSF in November 2013.
As of 2014, ABC/Disney still owns KGO-TV.
Read more about KGO’s history, including pictures, articles and audio at the excellent Bay Area Radio Museum site.
Sources: Wikipedia (KGO-AM), (KOSF-FM)