Howie’s Sardine Can Saturday Show

Even on a Saturday afternoon, one can learn a lot about talk radio and its fans, as I discovered yesterday.

Packed like sardines in a small Plymouth bookstore, fans of Howie Carr waited to see their favorite host in a queue that was generally 30 deep at any one time.

While Carr munched on some kind of fried seafood platter (apparently the Kowloon doesn’t deliver this far south of Boston), his listeners snatched up hardcover copies of The Brothers Bulger, leaving the store with only paperbacks still in stock.

I sat well behind the group (mostly because my son had pulled me over to the toy section) and overheard discussions taking place at the back of the line. At one point, Col Hunt (who actually speaks easy-to-understand English in person, as opposed to his on-air mumbling) stopped to take photos with a group of listeners.

It was readily clear, however, that most were there to see Howie.

Other thoughts from observing the crowd:

– The event left little doubt that Howie is WRKO at this point. I don’t believe there’s much loyalty remaining for the station beyond his show.

– How many other Boston-area talk hosts could bring this many people to a bookstore during a Red Sox – Yankees game? I was chuckling at the thought of how few would likely show up to see an unpopular figure like Tom Finneran.

– While I have long believed Howie spends far too much airtime plugging a year-old book (especially in the crucial first segment of each hour, where listeners quickly need to be grabbed by compelling topics), the upside is that he’s meeting face-to-face with substantial numbers of fans at these events.

– In the half-hour or so that I was there, at least 100 people came through the store, with a good cross-section of age and income groups seemingly represented.

While it should be a piece of cake to sell to this audience, WRKO’s sales leadership has badly underperformed similar talk stations for many years. This is the same team that has now taken over WRKO’s programming, with Finneran & Co as the sorry result.

– Rather than sounding defeatist after losing both the governor’s office and a good chunk of WRKO to the other side, this obviously conservative crowd seemed fired up to me.

With Deval Patrick off to a horrible start and Kerry’s Bay State poll numbers in the crapper, this mood may very well be warranted. On the way out, I noticed “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Muffy” bumperstickers being affixed to cars in the parking lot (Carr hands them out at events).

In the end, this event to me sums up the tremendous disconnect between WRKO’s management and the listenership it has worked so hard to alienate.

If Kahn could be pulled away from one of her snooty downtown cocktail parties long enough to see where and how radio listeners really live, she might have a chance at saving WRKO. At the same time, CEO David Field and the sales team could benefit greatly from this as well.

Until then, Carr is left to plug the holes in WRKO’s sinking ship.

Drobnys Invade Boston, Push For ‘Progressive’ Talk

Look out, Boston, Trouble has arrived right here in River City.

Still seeking an outlet for NovaM, his “progressive” talk radio network, eccentric Air America co-founder Sheldon Drobny is here, partly to give the local progtalk movement a boost.

An event was apparently held last night for libtalk supporters, with Drobny estimating 200 would attend. Meanwhile, an online petition has been collecting signatures and a local pressure campaign is underway as well.

After a year in operation, NovaM is struggling, with perhaps a dozen or so affiliates carrying some or all of its programming. Founded after Drobny had a falling out with Air America, the network features several libtalk hosts.

In 2005, Michelle Malkin and I did a considerable amount of research into the Drobnys, feeling as though we had barely scratched the surface.

More recently, Sheldon made a failed attempt at purchasing Air America, but his token offer was swiftly rejected.

From a statement at the NovaM site:

Bringing Progressive Talk Radio Back To Boston

The Drobnys are now in Boston for an event today to bring progressive talk radio back to Boston. Clear Channel has dropped many of its progressive talk stations including the Boston affiliate. Now that Clear Channel is going private, its politically correct strategy is now off the table and they are going back to their traditional right wing roots. What Clear Channel has done is irresponsible and not in the best interests of their shareholders. But what they started in Boston and other cities that they have now dropped, Nova M Radio plans to resurrect as we did in the Phoenix area.

We plan to bring back progressive talk to Boston and other cities that are hungry to get it back.We have met with many of the leaders n the Boston progressive community to accomplish that goal. The event in Boston tonight will have over 200 attendees, which is the capacity of the venue. There are over 2,500 signatures on a petition to bring back progressive talk to the Boston community as we did in Phoenix. We also are working on bringing progressive talk back to Dallas.

The best way to bring progressive talk radio to cities around the country is to rally the communities together to build a community supported approach to radio ownership and operations. In that regard we at Nova M Radio want to use the Green Bay Packers model of community ownership to radio stations to prevent changing the programming without community support. The community owns the Packers in order to prevent the team from moving to another city. This kind of grass roots support is the best way to keep what you love in the city that you love and reside.

Drobny may prove a victim of his group’s success, however. With local libtalk supporters busy pressuring area talk radio managers into hiring local lefties, there may be no room for NovaM’s programming elsewhere on the dial.

Local “progressives” have much to be thankful for, after all: a watered- down WRKO is moving away from conservative talk, with hack-in-chief Tom Finneran leading the way.

In addition, a big push to move WTKK-FM’s programming sharply to the left may yet bear fruit.

Though Air America failed badly in Boston and the area has long been one of the strongest markets for conservative talk, some local radio managers strongly share their “progressive” views and are looking for excuses to program accordingly.

Your Turn: How Should New Talk Station Be Programmed?

If CBS really is planning a new FM talk station for Boston, how do you believe it should be programmed?

With this thought, I’ll kick off the conversation: if in charge, I would make sure its focus is on generating ratings and revenue, rather than sucking up to Tom Menino, Deval Patrick and the provincial media – political establishment.

For one thing, a total ban on area newspaper columnists as hosts would be set in stone, with Howie Carr as the only potential exception (should he choose to leave WRKO).

In addition, I wouldn’t be afraid to make an enemy or two on Beacon Hill and would focus on the audience, rather than worry about whether a station manager can feel comfortable at the next snooty downtown cocktail party.

How about you? Leave a comment below.

New Talk Station On The Way?

When the Boston Herald earlier this year ran an item about a possible new CBS FM talk station emerging in the market, some radio people were snickering.

Why would the company flip an area music station to talk? Especially with the total failure of the company’s nationwide FREE FM “hot talk” or “guy talk” format, it seemed unlikely CBS would pour any additional resources into a lost cause.

Now, however, I’m hearing that an FM talk station for Boston is not only being considered, it is well into the planning stages. In addition, a name or two you already know may be in the mix.

Instead of shock jocks, who are rapidly moving out of favor in today’s social climate, the station will likely feature local issues- based talkers.

Why the change in sentiment? For one thing, CBS radio’s had a major leadership change at the top, with many in the industry breathing a sigh of relief. New national honcho Dan Mason is a lot more popular than the previous boss and is said to have a good feel for the Boston market.

Other reasons for a new FM issues talker:

– A busy and exciting election season is just kicking off, with the first presidential race in ages without an incumbent in the race, plus well-known figures jumping in. We may also have some interesting races in the Bay State, as well, particularly given John Kerry’s poor showings in recent polls.

– A market rich with local stories that provide perfect fodder for talk radio. Boston is one of the nation’s best in this regard.

– Competitive weaknesses elsewhere in the market have created an opening for a newcomer. In particular, WRKO has essentially begged its longtime audience to turn their dials elsewhere. At this point, it’s a sports station with time for little else.

– Unlike many other cities, Boston currently lacks a talk station that truly dominates the region.

– While talk radio is rapidly moving from the AM band to FM, Entercom oddly passed on doing the same in Boston.

– As young listeners focus on downloading and their iPods, the future of many music formats is shaky. Talk may save the FM band just as it did for AM 20 years ago.

The big question: can they pull it off? It all depends on whether they can learn from the mistakes of others. Learning how to meet the needs of area listeners would be a great place to start.

Did They Overplay Their Hand?

Don’t mess with Empress Kahn, that’s the message to Guest Street residents from the ruler herself.

Following recent publicity about the possibility of WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan jumping ship, the Queen Of Mean had a highly conspicuous hallway conversation with one half of the station’s morning team.

While Kahn poured on the charm, Callahan looked like he was undergoing a painful dental procedure, according to a bee buzzing around Shoe Central.

The message couldn’t have been clearer: I eat sports jocks for breakfast! Will the ploy backfire?

Boston’s Anti-Syndication Trend

Found this item interesting, it’s from radio industry trade publication All Access:

O&A Out, Jagger Moves Up At Free FM/Dallas Out

OPIE AND ANTHONY are out and CHRIS JAGGER moves up to morning drive at CBS Talk KLLI (LIVE 105.3 FREE FM)/DALLAS. The station is dropping O&A after today’s show and moving JAGGER up from his late-morning slot to handle drive time 6-10:30a. Middayers PUGS AND KELLY expand to 10:30a-3p CT for now.

O&A teased listeners by saying one city would be losing the show after today but not immediately saying which market would be dropping the show, eliminating cities from the lost one at a time throughout the show. The show is on vacation for the next two weeks.

OPIE added that “I completely don’t agree with” affiliate WBCN/BOSTON’s decision to preempt the “best-of” shows scheduled for the next two weeks with afternoon show TOUCHER AND RICH.

Why does this matter? Radio managers, including those in our area, are finally beginning to rise up against corporate dictates that force them to run unpopular syndicated shows.

Instead, there’s a real push to bring more local programming to area stations. A year or two ago clowns like O & A would have been able to get away with taking two weeks off during a ratings period.

Now, WBCN has decided to temporarily plug a local show there instead. Will they yank it altogether, as has happened in Dallas?

Watch for this emerging trend to have a big impact on our local talk stations in the coming months.