Text and photos by SCOTT FYBUSH
One of the things we most enjoy doing here at Site of the Week is catching a broadcast facility in the process of transition. On the West Coast, nobody’s been transitioning more lately than KGO (810) and its sister station KSFO (560) in San Francisco.
For many decades, KGO was an ABC owned-and-operated flagship, operating in tandem with KGO-TV (Channel 7) from studios at the old NBC building at 420 Taylor, then at 277 Golden Gate Avenue and, for many years, at 900 Front Street. But after Cumulus bought KGO and KSFO as part of its purchase of Citadel (which had in turn bought them from ABC), it was time to move out – and so not long after we visited them at 900 Front Street in 2010, KGO and KSFO packed up and moved a few blocks south of Market Street into the existing Cumulus space that it had acquired with an earlier purchase of Susquehanna.
Cumulus had two floors of studios and offices here at 55 Hawthorne Street, which was plenty of space for the five stations it acquired from Susquehanna (sports KNBR 680 and sister station KTCT 1050, AAA KFOG 104.5/KFFG 97.7 and rocker KSAN “107.7 the Bone”) when we visited there in 2010 but made for a somewhat cramped home when KGO and KSFO were added to the mix.
When KGO moved over, its studio and control room ended up in the 11th floor space that had been used by KTCT, with only minor changes to the layout and signage. That’s KSAN down the hall on the corner of the building and a revised rack room across from engineering down below.
KSFO’s mostly syndicated lineup came from a small control room/studio pair just down the hall from the rack room, on the way down to the former sales bullpen that was reworked to become a new KGO newsroom with space for the staff that was added when Cumulus transformed the station from mostly talk (when it used to be a perennial #1 signal in town) to a hybrid of news and talk.
Downstairs on the 10th floor, little had changed from our 2010 visit: KNBR was playing Giants “best-of” games (not hard to find in this championship year) on this Christmas Eve morning, giving its usual talk hosts a break.
KFOG occupies the corner space here, right below KSAN upstairs, and after KGO took its former 11th floor space, KTCT moved down the hall from KFOG, right below the engineering shop upstairs.
And having shown you all of that at 55 Hawthorne Street: it’s all history now. Cumulus moved out just a few weeks after our December 2014 visit, taking over space at 750 Battery Street that had its own radio history as the former studios of Clear Channel’s San Francisco cluster – which means we need to get back and see KGO, KNBR and their sister stations all over again.
Another site we always enjoy visiting is the famed Sutro Tower, but we didn’t make it up there on this visit, which was primarily a family trip.
Just because we didn’t actually go to Sutro doesn’t mean we didn’t get to see Sutro: these pictures are from Golden Gate park, taken from the observation gallery atop the DeYoung Museum and the nearby Japanese Tea Garden.
Which brings us to the last San Francisco stop we have to show you from 2014: in addition to founding the San Francisco Chronicle, the DeYoung family put KRON-TV (Channel 4) on the air in 1949 and ran the station for decades as a top-rated NBC affiliate.
When the DeYoung heirs sold, the pieces of their empire went in different directions: the Chronicle to longtime newspaper rival Hearst, KRON to Young Broadcasting, which paid a record price for the station only to find that NBC was ready to pull its affiliation, forcing KRON to become an independent station with sharply lower ratings.
Perhaps the most valuable piece of KRON, once the dust settled, was its real estate at 1001 Van Ness Avenue. After taking over Young, Media General sold that property for about $26 million in 2014 so that developers could raze the 106,000-square-foot building and build condos instead.
That left the downsized KRON looking for a new home, which it found…yup, on the third floor of KGO-TV’s building at 900 Battery Street, in the very space that had been filled by KGO radio from the mid-1980s until 2012.
It’s disconcerting indeed to walk into the “ABC Broadcast Center” lobby and see these two longtime rivals’ logos side by side. This was a long and brutal rivalry, indeed – KGO owned the original tower site on Mount Sutro, for instance, forcing KRON to broadcast instead from Mount San Bruno to the south until all of San Francisco’s major stations came together in the late 1960s to form a consortium to build the current Sutro Tower.
As of just a couple of weeks before our visit, KRON now makes its studio home on the ground floor of 900 Battery, in a former KGO production studio just steps from KGO-TV’s control room and its own studio.
Upstairs, KRON uses the same glass entryway that once greeted KGO/KSFO radio visitors, but inside it’s all been gutted and reworked. Much of the third-floor space is now the KRON newsroom, with a million-dollar view out over the Bay Bridge from an area that used to be walled in as the KGO newsroom and studios.
Walk over toward the Front Street side of the building and you’ll pass the KRON production control room and the master control room and rack rooms next to it.
It’s dramatically slimmed down from what used to be at Van Ness (and don’t I wish I’d taken pictures when I toured that plant back in the late 1980s!), but it’s about all you need for a TV station in the 21st century.
A few more quick notes before we leave 900 Front Street: down the hall from KRON’s suite, a single door leads into the small area leased by Radio Disney as the studio/office of KMKY (1310 Oakland), but not for long: that station just recently sold as part of Disney’s exit from AM radio and will likely be moving any day now. And we didn’t get to see some other corners of the building: KGO-TV’s newsroom and offices take up most of the second floor, and there’s space here used by ESPN for its San Francisco offices, too.
Thanks to Cumulus’ John Buckham and KRON’s Mark Burnette for the tours!
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Next week: Fort Wayne