KGO was a dominant #1 for 32 straight years, (from 1976-2008). Most of that era was the pre-Citadel and Cumulus days. Corporate cohesion helped KGO maintain its prominence, but it was largely Luckoff and Swanson that helped define the brand and made the station an institution in SF broadcast lore and beyond.
Luckoff was notoriously known for his shrewd and sometimes contentious contract negotiations. His dealings with some of the station's heavy hitters, like Ronn Owens and Jim Dunbar, made the broadcast rounds. He was fierce, he was tough, but most importantly, he was respected. That was a constant that separated Luckoff from his colleagues. At times, it went overboard.
Luckoff and Owens routinely squared off in sometimes bitter battles; Owens wanted a syndication deal and in the early 90's developed a foray into LA radio. His show was extremely popular in the Bay Area but turned into a dud in the southland. (Owens replaced fading KABC's Michael Jackson). But it was soon evident the show didn't resonate. Ratings were worse and Owens would keep his show in the city. Luckoff could have pounced but instead was relatively happy his top player was back exclusively in SF. Luckoff was loyal too: he was the prime facilitator that secured the financial buyouts for some of the station's prime air talent like newswoman, Rosie Allen.
Jack Swanson too helped guide the KGO megaship. He was a hands-on Operations manager but was knowledgeable enough to know not to mess with an already successful venture and won numerous industry respect and admiration for maintaining KGO's extreme steadiness in a business known for its lack of stability. Most of KGO's talk hosts tended to stick around: Owens, for over three decades. The late Lee Rodgers and Jim Eason were longtime talkers. Jim Dunbar and Ted Wygant were longtime news anchor. Allen and Ed Baxter were decades-long constants and that extended itself all the way from traffic reporters to the sports department: Joe Starkey had over 30 years as a sports anchor. Rich Walcoff is nearing his 30th year. Indeed those were the days.
Both men are out of the industry now. Luckoff split for safety in 2010, (in the Citadell days, before the onslaught of Cumulus), but tried, unsuccessfully, to secure a new radio outlet here in the city.
The old KGO built its brand around the idea of local, unique and independent news-talk. It was top-rated, successful, and highly profitable. And while the air talent on the station were its zeitgeist, it was Luckoff and Swanson that helped make the glue stick.
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