A trio of updates to ongoing stories today.

First, the backpedaling has begun at KFOG. They’ve announced that Rosalie Howarth, one of the fired DJs, has been re-hired and will return to the air this weekend.

According to the program director*, this move was planned all along. I’m dubious. Who lays someone off for six weeks? It seems even more improbable when you consider that at the time of the layoffs, Rosalie was only on-air six hours a week. Even allowing for the fact that she had the longest tenure of any of the staff who were let go, if the plan was really to bring her back, it wouldn’t have killed the station’s budget to put her on paid leave for those six weeks.

* A gentleman by the name of Brian Schlock. The petty-minded are welcome to make jokes about appropriate namings…

And let’s not forget that those six hours a week were hosting the popular “Acoustic Sunrise” and “Acoustic Sunset” shows on Sundays. Wouldn’t KFOG have wanted to counter some of the ill-will generated by their programming changes by announcing that the shows* would return?

* Actually, only “Acoustic Sunrise” is coming back–and it’ll be subject to the same anathematization of pre-nineties music as the rest of the station. On the other hand, “Acoustic Sunrise” will be an hour longer than it used to be.

KFOG clearly considers bringing back Rosalie as tossing loyal listeners a bone. Given the dubious spin, I suspect most of those listeners are going to consider it more of a chicken bone than a meaty T-bone.

Moving on, remember the Bay Bridge?

It looks like the Chron has a replacement for our old friend Jaxon on the Bay Bridge Bolt Botch Beat. Say hello to Melody Gutierrez. Since her main focus is politics, we can hope that she’ll spend some time looking into those apparently non-existent approvals we’ve been asking about.

Her first bridge report is a brief update on those improperly-grouted rods. You know: the ones that anchor the bridge to its pilings.

Steven Heminger and his colleagues on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission have approved a plan to re-grout the rods to prevent further corrosion. The cost is only $15 million–a drop in the bucket (sorry) compared to total bridge budget. The commission is satisfied that the rods don’t need to be replaced, which would have cost a hell of a lot more, so this seems like a reasonable expense. So does the additional million they approved for a corrosion survey of the bridge foundation.

But I’d still like to know why the grout wasn’t properly tested when the rods were installed. Melody, keep us posted, OK?

And finally, here’s the latest in our intermittent series of posts documenting the feline campaign to rule the world.

A group of cats in Britain has decided to wipe out the British economy by targeting the advertising industry. They plan to replace the usual subway advertisements urging commuters to buy, buy, buy, with photos of, well, cats. They’re only going to take over one station, but you can be sure that’s only the beginning–have you ever known a cat to be satisfied with only one toy?

The felines aren’t about to pay for their nefarious plan themselves. There’s a funding campaign running on Kickstarter. As I write this, the pledges are a bit short. With three days to go, they’re only 53% of the way to their goal.

Whether you want to help the cats’ plan for global domination is, naturally, a matter for you to settle with your own conscience.

End of an Era

Brace yourselves. It’s another “Decline of Civilization, Film at Eleven” post.

This story goes back about a month and a half. On March 31, San Francisco radio station KFOG fired five of their seven DJs*–the five with the longest tenures at the station.

* I’ve seen a number of comments making much of the fact that three of the five are women–and that the three were the only women on staff. I suppose it’s possible that gender played a part in the decision, but frankly, I doubt it. This is widely seen as a cost-cutting move, and I’d be willing to bet that in this case “longest service” also means “highest salary”. If anyone has data to prove otherwise, I’d be happy to see it.

KFOG, for those of you outside the Bay Area had an album-oriented rock focus. When I started listening, ten or fifteen years ago, the tracklist skewed toward classic rock. Over time, it’s shifted more and more toward contemporary artists–Lorde, Imagine Dragons, and (ptui!) Mumford and Sons spring to mind–but until recently they’ve held on to a good chunk of the 25-54 age bracket. Despite the shift, many of the station’s most popular features remained those that focused on the older tracks, most notably, the daily “10@10” show (ten songs from a specific year) and the annual “KFOG A to Z” (a multi-week alphabetical ramble through the station’s archives). But in recent years “10@10” has rarely gone back further than the eighties, and last year’s “A to Z” was shorter than it had been and included a heavy dose of tracks from the past two or three years.

So it probably shouldn’t have surprised anyone that ratings slipped badly. It certainly didn’t surprise the listeners who remained: any time a station’s advertising relies heavily on two or three advertisers*, it’s a bad sign. But apparently it was a surprise to Cumulus Media, the station owners, who went into a mad “fix-it-now” scramble mode.

* In KFOG’s case, every commercial interlude included a mattress seller, a questionable diet or medical product, or a food delivery service–and usually all three.

On April 1, the station went DJ-free, alternating music and bland ads promoting “The Evolution”.

The Evolution proved to be the hiring of one Matt Pinfield, a veteran of MTV and SiriusXM. The playlist hasn’t changed significantly*. Pinfield hosts the morning commute with one of the two surviving DJs filling the role of sidekick. The other hold-over has evening commute duties. And the rest of the time, the station remains mostly DJ-free.

* Yet. Frequent references to “The Pause” suggest that Cumulus is giving listeners a chance to grieve for the “old KFOG” before they make a formal format change.

So where’s the decline of civilization I warned you about in all this? It’s not the demise of the “old KFOG”. Stations change format or go out of business, and have since radio was invented.

What’s different here is that Cumulus has made it clear that they don’t believe there’s a demand for local radio. Their “new KFOG’s” long stretches of no-DJ programming and Matt Pinfield’s focus on Matt Pinfield* could be dropped seamlessly into an Internet streaming site or satellite radio channel.

* Seriously. I haven’t done an actual count, but I’m pretty sure that every sentence he speaks begins with the word “I” or “My”. “I remember…” “I met him…” “My good friend…”

Local associations are terrestrial radio’s only significant differentiator. Canned press releases, thinly disguised ads for local shows by nationally-touring performers, and outsourced traffic reports are no substitute for a local DJ who can talk knowledgeably about local artists and events.

There’s a parallel here. The position of local radio stations relative to Internet and satellite stations is pretty much the same as neighborhood restaurant have towards the McDonald’ses and TGIFs. Or, to take a slightly different angle, the local hardware store compared to Amazon and Walmart. They survive by offering personalized customer service and products you can’t get anywhere else.

Unless Cumulus pulls a rabbit out of its hat when “The Pause” ends, their “new KFOG” will be lost in the mass of generic Modern Rock stations. But even if they do have a good surprise waiting for listeners, their tone deaf (sorry) approach to the change has alienated so many of the remaining listeners, I seriously doubt they’ll stick around.