You might call it splitting the baby. Sort of.
Progressive radio will be allowed to remain on our public AM airwaves in San Francisco, though with major schedule shake-ups, the removal of its popular progressive branding and several bizarre additions to the line-up, including far Rightwing extremists such as former Fox "News" phenom Glenn Beck in the place of what had been one of Green960's most popular morning shows.
The latest move in the strange back-and-forth saga follows on radio giant Clear Channel's announcement just over two weeks ago, that Green960 --- the only AM Progressive Talk Radio station on the dial in San Francisco, one of the nation's most progressive cities --- would be banished from the popular public airwaves and sent to the radio-ghetto of the little-known and even lesser-received HD2 band. Its progressive programming --- featuring the likes of popular lefty-ish talkers such as Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann, Randi Rhodes, Norman Goldman and Mike Malloy --- would be replaced (with the exception of Rhodes, who is syndicated by Clear Channel's Premiere Radio) by yet another so-called "conservative" talk station, featuring extremists such as Beck and other Fox "News" regulars.
The move by the media conglomerate, now owned by leading GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Bain Capital, LLC, was to occur on January 3. The move would have left Rhodes as the only progressive voice on the entire AM dial in San Francisco, as of the first business day of the new Presidential Election year.
But a funny thing happened on the way to 2012 on Bay Area talk radio...
As The BRAD BLOG reported in our follow-up last week, plans to move programming from Clear Channel's "Fox News Radio" KNEW 910 in San Francisco over to the 960 spot, where Green960 currently is, and to shuffle off the progressive 960 talkers into Radio Nowhere Land came to a quiet, if sudden pause last week.
CC, we were able to confirm, had decided to rethink its plans in the wake of the sudden sea change of programming at KGO, a long-time staple talk station in the San Fran market, featuring a well-loved mix of conservative, libertarians and moderate talkers. That change was announced just days after CC's original announcement.
Overnight, Cumulus-owned KGO released virtually all of its talk show hosts --- several of whom had been on the station for decades --- to flip the station to a more inexpensive all-news format. The move resulted in a lot of angry KGO listeners (to add to the already-angry Green960 listeners) and put a whole bunch of Bay Area talk radio ratings and talk show hosts up for grabs in the major broadcast market.
The result led to reporting at industry outlet All Access that "several sources" had informed them that "several of the shows scheduled to be dropped" from 960 had suddenly been "uncanceled."
Through our own reporting and information from insiders very familiar with Clear Channel's plans, we were able to confirm that their previously previous intentions had come to a full stop as the move was being reconsidered.
Yesterday, CC finally announced its newest plan in a press release published by All Access.
According to the statement, virtually all of Green960's current line-up will now be allowed to stay on the air in San Francisco, though the brand-name will still be changed and both Beck and Right-leaning financial talker Dave Ramsey will be added to the schedule in place of the current morning drive-time shows on Green960.
Beck is also syndicated by Clear Channel's syndication arm Premiere, and Ramsey is, according to one insider (though we've not been able to confirm it with Clear Channel) is now paying to be on the air in that time slot.
The new "KNEW 960" will use the tag line "Opinions. Finance. Advice."
Beck is scheduled to replace Stephanie Miller's very popular morning program from 6a-9a PT, with her live show scheduled to be delayed for evening broadcast instead, from 7p-10p PT. Thom Hartmann, who currently airs live from 9a-Noon in San Francisco, will also be delayed, running late-night from 10p-1a, though he is not mentioned in the release at All Access. His live slot will be replaced with Ramsey.
Similarly not mentioned in their release is the fate of Mike Malloy, whose show is currently broadcast live from 6p-9p on Green960. We're told that he will now be shuffled into the early morning hours of 1a-3a, with one hour of his three-hour broadcast lost to San Francisco entirely in the bargain. [FULL DISCLOSURE: I have been Malloy's regular fill-in guest host for several years, and am currently scheduled to once again be on board for him this Friday night before Christmas, and the following Thursday and Friday as well.]
The Malloy move is a strange one for Clear Channel as well. In 2010, Green960's then Program Director had told us that Malloy was his "best performer" on the station, presumably referencing the show's standing against other stations during the 6p to 9p hours.
Most of the other progressive talkers on the current line-up, including Randi Rhodes from Noon-3p and Norman Goldman from 3p-6p, will be allowed to stay where they are now, in their live time slot.
'Free Market, My Ass'
Though we sought comment on the new new news from the bulk of the current 960 progressive talkers, they all declined to respond on record, though Miller discussed the new changes on her show this morning.
The popular host and comedienne, whose radio side-kicks John Fugelsang and Hal Sparks have been touring the country with a sold-out "Sexy Liberal" comedy show for several months, leading to the release of a comedy album which debuted last week as the #1 comedy album in the nation, gently decried the Green960 changes and her replacement by Beck.
"They tried to take me off the air before in San Francisco," Miller told listeners. "There was such a demand that we were back on in...about a week or two." She went on to describe the moves in San Francisco, generously, while broadcasting from Los Angeles' Clear Channel affiliate station, as both "a mixed-bag" and "a little puzzling."
She encouraged listeners to express their thoughts to Clear Channel "respectfully," explaining that at least her show was not removed entirely, and adding again that listener feedback has had an effect on the giant media corporation in both San Francisco and other markets in the past.
Miller cited Clear Channel's plans to remove progressive talk from the public airwaves recently in liberal Madison, WI, a move they also changed their minds about. The station, The Mic 92.1FM, she says, is now the #1 talk station in the Madison market.
Stephanie Miller's full comments on the Green960 shake-up today on her show [appx 6 mins, hat-tip "Shane-O" Farnan]...
Miller also quoted a BRAD BLOG commenter who responded to our initial news about Green960's cancellation by writing "'Free market,' my ass."
The comment alludes to the long-time, well-supported charge from progressives --- as detailed in our initial report on the Green960 shake-up --- that they have been largely squeezed out of the corporate-controlled radio market, not based on a lack of interest in progressive programming, but by a lack of interest from the corporate entities that now control almost all of our public airwaves in the wake of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. There is, as we have long noted, no real free-market competition allowed anymore in talk radio, as major corporations such as Clear Channel often own both the "competing" Rightwing and Progressive radio stations in the same markets.
Previously, after CC had initially announced its now-aborted plans to strike virtually all of its progressive programming from the AM dial in San Francisco, Rhodes, the only progressive who was to have stayed in place on 960, found a bright side to the shake-up that would have otherwise silenced almost all non-Rightwing voices from the AM public airwaves.
"It does look like the beginning of the end of 'conservative format purity' has started," she told The BRAD BLOG via email. "That's a change in the industry that I've been fighting for for a long time and I'm happy to be part of it."
The newly announced line-up at 960 also seems to signal the end of "progressive format purity," at least in San Francisco for the time being, if Clear Channel sticks with their newest plans.
The seemingly bizarre additions will result in Beck, who has often said that he hates progressives, seeing his "hate radio" programmed side-by-side with many of those same progressives, a strategy questioned by an insider who will be directly affected by the changes.
"Apparently," the insider observed via email, with an allusion to the Christmas season, "the new 960 KNEW is the home of misfit, or at least mismatched, toys."
Whether those mismatched toys, or rather, their listeners, will be able to play nicely together on the same radio frequency is a question that remains to be seen.
Over on 910, the previous home of KNEW, which is now to be re-branded as "NewsTalk 910 KKSF," Clear Channel has snatched up two of the layed-off KGO refugees, non-partisan "Radio Lawyer" Len Tillem and Gene Burns, a libertarian seen as leaning somewhat to the left. They will fill out a schedule which includes at least one former Fox "News" Radio host.
"Recent changes in the talk radio market gave us the opportunity to adjust our plans for 960 KNEW," said CC's San Francisco Director of Operations, Don Parker, according to All Access. "We are excited to broaden 960 KNEW’s position to appeal to a wider variety of Bay Area listeners."
In his initial statement two weeks ago, announcing that Green960 was scheduled to be moved off the AM dial to the HD2 band and replaced with the hard-right leaning KNEW, Parker had touted the move as an "opportunity to expand our footprint in this crucial arena as we head into an election year [with] a population increasingly engaged in local, state, and national events and activism."
It looks like what All Access had described as San Francisco talk radio's "earthquake" may keep rumbling for quite a while in the Bay Area...