Grumpy’s Pub was packed with enough journalists to staff its own newsroom Thursday.
Beer pints in hand, shoulders squared and somber, staffers from the nearby KGO Radio lamented lost jobs, and the lessening of a former radio news heavyweight.
At least 20 full-time staffers, and perhaps more, were laid off Thursday morning from KGO Radio and KFOG 104.5, a local rock station, by parent company Cumulus Radio.
The layoffs are a blow to the local news scene, as KGO is one of few remaining for-profit news radio stations in San Francisco.
“It’s just a really sad end,” said one former staffer, while sitting in Grumpy’s. None of the former employees wanted to be identified because it could impact their severance packages.
One anchor described reading the news on air that morning amid the layoffs, which were first reported by Rich Lieberman, a media blogger.
“We were trying to be happy and chipper,” this anchor said. All the while, sitting behind the microphone, they watched staffers leave one by one. “These pillars were falling around us.”
Though the departure of KGO legend Ronn Owens to famously conservative KSFO grabbed much of the media attention Thursday, many more were lost in the layoffs.
News anchor Jennifer Jones, sports anchor Rich Walcoff, business and tech reporter Jason Middleton, traffic reporter Mark Nieto, reporter Kristin Hanes, production director Mike Amatori, and KGO veteran anchor Jon Bristow were among the many KGO laid off Thursday.
In the end, the station shedded its entire full-time news team – what is rumored by employees to be a shift on the station to a “talk” format, pulling away from straight news.
The exact number of staff laid off was tough to pin down. When phoning into KGO, the San Francisco Examiner was told, “Yes we know,” why you’re calling, followed by, “no comment.”
Staff themselves learned of new layoffs throughout the day. One KGO staffer who is still employed and spoke on background for fear for their job estimated as many as 20 were laid off that morning.
Lieberman also obtained a mass email sent to staff from Justin Wittmayer, vice president and market manager of KFOG, KGO, KNBR, KSAN, KSFO and KTCT.
“Today we have set in motion new programming strategies for both KGO and KFOG that will help us better meet the needs and demands of our listeners, advertisers and community,” Wittmayer wrote to staff.
He continued: “Unfortunately, to achieve that goal, we had the difficult but necessary task today of restructuring our KGO and KFOG station staff.”
— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) March 31, 2016
The email was also obtained by media reporter Matthew Keys, and embedded, above.
While drinking an Old Hen at Grumpy’s, one former KGO staffer reflected back on their time at the station – covering the news of the day, from police to government and everything in between.
“There’s a kinship and a closeness that comes from going to war every day,” the former staffer said.
When they reported news for the first time, “chills went up my spine and exploded in my head.”