Honesty In Talk Radio

Though most of this post directly addresses the fallout from the murder of a Seattle-based talk host, the first few paragraphs just might apply to one or two Boston-area talkers.

See what you think.


New Boston Ratings Released

With Boston’s Phase Two Arbitrends for the Spring 2007 Arbitron Ratings Survey just out, there are several especially interesting swings to note.

The figures represent the second month of a critical ratings period and reflect a three-month rolling average. In just over 30 days, the entire spring book will be released and will be far more important than this update.

Nonetheless, with two out of three months in the bank, some trends are emerging:

— Despite the loss of most Red Sox games and morning host Gerry Callahan, WEEI is exploding, moving up from 4.5 to a 5.2 share, which takes fifth place.

— Despite gaining the Sox, WRKO continues its sluggish climb where the team’s first-place performance ought to have it surging. It moved from a 4.4 share to 4.7, good for sixth.

— WTKK had a rough month, falling to 11th place with a 3.0, down from 3.5 in the last update. Since there was no immediate post-Imus drop last month, I don’t think that’s WTKK’s issue. And it’s hard to believe baseball is to blame, since WTKK’s evening lineup has already been weak for some time.

As I previously covered at length, WTKK has imaging, marketing and lineup issues that urgently need to be addressed. Obviously, acquiring a top-quality morning show is the highest priority.

— Without any trouble, WBZ once again breezes into first place, holding a huge 7.2 rating. But the station has big decisions to make about its evening lineup and the long term demographic trend is still difficult for large AM “heritage” stations.

As for WEEI and WRKO, it’s now quite clear that confusion by diarykeepers is causing baseball fans to enter the former’s call letters while listening to the latter.

Based on what I saw while working in Seattle (when the Mariners moved from Entercom’s KIRO-AM to Fisher’s KOMO-AM), I know it can take three to five years for this kind of listener confusion to fade. And because a handful of games are still heard on WEEI, I think it will be even more difficult to get the situation straightened out here in Boston.

This mess help helps WBZ greatly, as WEEI had recently been beating it on occasion during baseball season, or at least taking away enough listeners to force it out of first place. Now, ‘BZ has nothing to worry about.

Overall, can anyone remember when more of these stations were in such a state of upheaval? WBZ needs a new evening lineup, WEEI’s morning show is a huge question mark, WRKO needs to get rid of the Finneran disaster and WTKK is facing an identity crisis.

Who will step into this void and choose to dominate Boston-area talk radio?

Suck-Up Journalism 101

As a newspaper columnist, what’s a great way to score points with the corporate head office? Follow Steve Bailey’s lead. You might not respect yourself in the morning, however.

In today’s Globe, Bailey takes suck-up journalism to the extreme, timing his simplistic anti-Rupert Murdoch hit to coincide with an investigative series published by the New York Times, its parent company.

Bailey, who has also contributed to WRKO’s morning drive show with business updates and liberal political rants, mixes heavy doses of embarrassing provincialism into his piece, suggesting that good New Englanders (as Howie would say, the Beautiful People) should know better than to do business with the likes of Murdoch.

In a delusional manner, Bailey insists we should care about self-serving industry awards that make no difference to the average reader.

His snooty style no doubt also scores extra points with his personal friend the Empress, who has been known to force Bailey onto unsuspecting WRKO hosts for less-than-pleasant radio segments.

Even more asinine, Bailey suggests that Murdoch is trying to “buy” his way into success. Since when have corporate acquisitions been looked upon this way? No doubt he has little problem with Boston firms taking over foreign (read: non-New England) outfits.

In addition, since when is Murdoch criticized for having too small an empire?

Take a look at this excerpt, note the extra suck-up nod to his employer, the New York Times Company:

Just say no to Rupert

By Steve Bailey, Globe Columnist | June 27, 2007

NEW YORK — I was lucky enough to find myself here Monday night at the Gerald Loeb awards, the Pulitzers of business journalism. Too bad the Bancrofts of Boston couldn’t have been here, too.

The family that has controlled The Wall Street Journal for a hundred years is on the brink of selling one of the world’s great newspapers — and the most important voice in business journalism — to Rupert Murdoch. The Loebs were a timely and excellent measure of why this quiet New England family has more to lose than to gain in selling to Murdoch, a man who has grown rich and powerful by never over estimating his audience.


Now Murdoch, at 76, wants to buy what he has not been able to build in a lifetime.
His $5 billion bid is a rich premium for Dow Jones & Co., owner of the Journal, which has made more than its share of management missteps over the years. But the Bancrofts need to ask themselves: Do they really want to be the generation that sells the Journal to a man whose contribution to American journalism is the New York Post and Fox News? Because that is who they will forever be. And they will be poorer, not richer, for it.

Fifteen years ago the Taylor family sold this newspaper to The New York Times Co. Frankly, I liked things the way they were. But if the paper had to be sold, the Taylor family understood it had a duty to find not just a buyer, but a buyer that shared its values. Given the options, Journal editors and writers would be very happy with The New York Times or The Washington Post Co. as a buyer. But it is not going to happen. Plenty of the Journal’s best talent is already looking for the exits.

The Bancrofts are about to make a pact with the devil. Over the past couple of days The New York Times has spelled out in detail how Murdoch uses his media reach to promote his vast business interests, whether in Washington or in China. Fat book contracts for congressmen. Another one for Deng Xiaoping’s daughter, and a sensitivity to the Beijing government that has made him “the Chinese leadership’s favorite media baron,” as the Times put it.


This much we know: The Journal is a great newspaper. The chances of Murdoch improving it are much less than the chances of him compromising it. There were no finalists from the New York Post at the Loebs.

The builder of the Journal, Clarence Barron, got his start in Boston by reporting the financial news on State Street. The Bancrofts of Boston still have time to do something really unusual, even heroic, by just telling Rupert no.

I’m glad Bailey managed to leave Boston and discover the big and scary Outside World, but frankly, a trip to London would be especially useful in this case. There, the Murdoch-owned Times and Sunday Times are among the best Quality Broadsheets available in Britain. From tabloids to satellite television networks, Rupert’s holdings vary substantially around the world.

That’s why there’s no reason to object to the deal unless your real agenda is to serve New York-based employers through a column oozing with unflattering, old-fashioned New England provincialism.

Big Changes Hit Salem Communications

A long-awaited top-level managerial shakeup has finally hit Salem Communications, the troubled owned of Boston’s WTTT-AM and hundreds of other stations across the country.

In part, it means programming duties will be shifted to others within the company. From Forbes, here’s the scorecard. In addition, Radio & Records explains the moves in a way that may be a bit more clear.

In addition to its Christian talk and teaching format, Salem runs a conservative talk syndication effort which is featured on most of its struggling stations.

Boston’s WTTT has been among the worst performers, with no measurable ratings, despite carrying two popular shows: Sean Hannity and Dr Laura (which for some strange reason it buries in the overnight hours).

Beyond those programs, however, the station is saddled with Salem’s underperforming network lineup. Within the company, local program directors are generally given little power and rarely have a budget for local shows.

Beyond the fact that a portion of Salem’s syndicated lineup should have been cancelled years ago, the lack of local talk development has kept the company from establishing a solid presence in most of its markets. Instead, stations have been forced to carry its sometimes dull offerings.

In the past few years, I’ve heard from more than one industry insider expressing bafflement when Salem’s programmers were more concerned with how often a host says “hell” or “damn” than whether the show was compelling.

Another complaint I’ve repeatedly heard is that Salem’s pay and benefits are considerably lower than what one can expect from similar broadcast companies.

In Boston, some have blamed WTTT’s underperformance on its signal, but we didn’t let that excuse fly with Air America and it shouldn’t work here either. The station urgently needs local programming and a marketing effort, especially to publicize the presence of Sean Hannity in afternoon drive. In addition, it needs a decent website.

We’ll soon know if real changes are coming to Salem or whether this is a mere reshuffling of the Titanic’s deck chairs. In the meantime, WTTT’s local managers should fight like mad for changes urgently needed to make the station a success.