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(PROGRAMMING) Rock & Roll FM In San Francisco


You would think rock and roll on FM radio would still be flourishing in the city with Haight-Ashbury roots as well as being the birthplace of the Grateful Dead, but that's simply not the case in San Francisco.
The CBS FM biggie, ("Live 105"), still maintains decent ratings, and an ardent, loyal following, but is nowhere near the zenith it enjoyed in the recent past. Part of that, of course, is the generational turn away from terrestrial radio to the iPod/Pandora world. This isn't just SF's issue -- indeed this situation exists in all markets, notably Chicago and New York. Los Angeles too, to a lesser degree.
An industry vet here in the City by the Bay is nevertheless stunned. So am I.
Growing up in the 70s, I recall the days when legendary station KSAN, and its marquee jock Terry McGovern, was appointment radio. In fact, there was a distinct 70s element to that outpost: Winterland, the horseshoe-shaped concert venue in SF's Fillmore district was a part of many KSAN remotes. Elvin Bishop, Eddie Money, Jefferson Airplane, and the Mamas and the Papas graced its stage and it was a lively source of many of KSAN's playlists.
The late rock promoter, Bill Graham, (he died in a helicopter crash in 1991), was a major player in both the concert business and radio scene in the Bay Area. His influence stretched from backstage to the studio. Graham's major client, The Grateful Dead, were part of the city's rock and roll heritage. It was no coincidence that the very last show at the Winterland was New Year's Eve, 1978. The Dead, along with the Blues Brothers and Elvin Bishop, made for an historic show. Portions of it were broadcast on KSAN. Those were the days.
Today, R and R in this city has taken a downward turn. Live 105 still tries diligently but lacks true soul and inspiration. Former kingpin, KFOG, has seen its loyal listeners mostly abandon the house where Dave Morey ruled the FM forest. The baby boomers have been dismayed by a morning show fiasco -- a new team is still trying to gain traction after a train wreck a few months ago -- nevertheless, KFOG is still trying. Since Morey left in 2008, it's been a difficult listen.

Mostly, FM in this city, (and others too), has to find a new niche. Playlists alone don't bring traction. The jock/s have to discover new creative templates. In this era, that can be a challenge. There are only a few Howard Sterns, Cousin Brucies, Dr. Donald B. Roses, and Stephen Kapens.
FM content is now, unfortunately, automated. There is no creative zeitgeist, which is sad given this town's history. To find creative content, programmers must 1. want to fire up the jock's creativiry; 2. to play the distinct songs that deserve and gravitate toward the AOR folks, (they're still around); and 3. stick with that format and allow it to build an audience that hasn't drifted off to satellite or the Internet.
I've always maintained that no matter what format, what arena, San Francisco has a heart for R and R radio. It's ingrained in the 415 -- from the Haight to the Marina, from the Embarcadero to the Fillmore. I can still hear Mick Jagger singing "Start Me Up" at Candlestick Park in 1981. And Alex Bennett talking to John Lennon in 1979 on KMEL.
FM Rock Radio may be on the downslope but its cultural heritage here in San Francisco will forever be a part of the audio landscape.

Rich Lieberman is a veteran SF Bay Area news blogger covering radio and TV since 2001.His media blog, "415 Media" ( is the #1-read industry sheet in SF.

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