Rush Radio 1200: Winners And Losers

Here’s how I expect the Boston talk radio landscape to look from here forward:

— WRKO: watch as it limps along without Rush Limbaugh and is put to sleep when Howie somehow manages to exit the building for good. Until then, expect a slow and painful demise. Given the troubles at both WEEI and WRKO, I’d hate to be a Entercom salesperson right now.

Hope Rush’s “replacement” enjoys the futility of competing against him for the next six months or so, until the show is inevitably cancelled and replaced with fee-free syndicated programming.

— Rush Radio 1200: Limbaugh himself can prop up this otherwise-weak station to a point, but ultimately it will require major-market management and a real commitment to programming.

So far, it appears to be run from Providence (by the same people who have failed to make an impact with WHJJ and resent any intrusion from Boston radio types into their market) and will be burdened with some of Premiere Radio’s unsuccessful syndicated shows. That’s not a recipe for ratings or revenue.

Beyond Rush, syndication has never fared well in New England and I doubt that will change now.

— WTKK: with WRKO and the new station struggling in the ratings, WTKK might appear to “win” on occasion (by ranking higher than either one), but I’m still not sure how it can afford a live-and-local lineup without a viable programming focus or successful air talent.

The bottom line: we’re entering a new era where no one station really dominates the market (even WBZ ain’t what it used to be) and the audience is carved four ways or more.

Boston Ratings: The Scott Brown Effect Lifts All Boats

As we’d anticipated last month, the latest batch of Boston ratings brought a huge surge for local talk stations. As nothing else could explain a January spike, we’re safe in calling it the Scott Brown effect.

Even sad-sack WTKK benefited, which ought to prove instructive to Greater Media’s generally-clueless regime, but probably won’t.

A brief rundown:

— WBZ-AM moved up to 5.9 share of overall (6 and older) audience from 5.7. Good for second place. Dan Rea’s now-infamous interview with Martha Coakley (Schilling / Yankees debacle) provided WBZ with a tremendous (nationwide!) publicity boost. He deserves the credit for any January gains, even if they came during other dayparts.

WBZ actually lost listeners during this period, from 822,400 to 740,900. But those who remained tuned in longer, leading to the overall boost. That normally signals talk show over drivetime newswheel listenership. Again, this one goes to Rea.

— WRKO scored explosive share gains, now tied for seventh place with 4.8, up from 3.6. Body count: 379,000, up from 347,800 last month.

— Beleaguered FM talker WTKK also saw a rare boost, to 3.7 from 2.6, tied for eleventh. It actually has more listeners than WRKO, by about 50,000, but has lower overall ratings because it fails to keep them tuned in for longer periods.

Interestingly, it was political talk that fueled WTKK’s rare bit of success, but it promptly returned to “lite talk FM” after the election. Why is an advice host filling in for Jay Severin? It makes no sense whatsoever.

Nationally, talk stations are also way up, but it’s mostly confined to outlets that carry Rush Limbaugh.

Another Local Media Basketcase: WGBH-FM

While WGBH was busy building a gleaming monument to itself in Brighton, the public broadcast outfit’s FM operation continued to languish. LEED certification (a fuzzy concept to say the least) was a priority, programming, not so much.

Now, in a tough climate where donations have declined, the public television giant is now forced to pay attention to previously-ignored aspects of its operation.

WGBH-FM certainly qualifies as neglected: thanks to Arbitron’s new electronic PPM ratings system, public radio stations are now included with their commercial counterparts. And while Boston University’s WBUR-FM has fared well so far, taking seventh overall in the most recent survey, WGBH is stuck in twenty-second place, just ahead of a distant Providence-based country outlet, WCTK-FM.

Public radio stations need ratings as well, otherwise, the potential donor base becomes too small to sustain the operation. In addition, businesses making grants in exchange for on-air plugs get little for their money.

With that bleak outlook, GBH suits have decided to revamp its programming, modeling it somewhat after WBZ-AM, with news and talk, while music is generally phased out (or moved to WCRB-FM). But where does a leftist outfit acquire talk shows in this climate of conservative “hate” that fills commercial airwaves?

From WGBH-2′s boring, pro-establishment public affairs programming, of course! Yes, let’s turn unwatched television into unheard radio! The result: radio talk shows hosted by Emily Rooney and Callie Crossley.

If you’ve got two short hours to sacrifice from your daily routine, Emily and Callie will be glad to fill you in on why Mayor-For-Life Menino is such a great guy, why Deval Patrick deserves a second term and how it doesn’t matter whether Martha Coakley campaigns on any actual issues, her partisan affiliation alone is enough.

Whether WBZ or anyone else is shaking in their boots over this move is questionable, but it is interesting that WGBH sees its future in news and talk, while Entercom has so much contempt for the format and Greater Media allows WTKK-FM to experience a slow and painful death.

Powerful Conservative Women Bring Out The Worst In Margery

While she defiantly backs lackluster Democratic opportunist Martha Coakley for the open US Senate seat, WTKK’s Margery Eagan used her Herald column yesterday to point fingers elsewhere, seemingly unaware of how America perceives Bay State moonbats.

What is it about powerful conservative women that has Margery in cat-fighting mode?

From the piece:

A little nutty or totally wacked?

Totally wacked, for my money.

But this is the question some Republicans still ponder about the two most “hated” women in the country, as Fox superstar Sean Hannity lovingly calls them.

The first: probable GOP presidential contender Sarah Palin, whose 13-week “Going Rogue” tour starts tomorrow on Oprah.

The second: rising-star Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, relegated to wacko world last year after numerous bizarre moments (some detailed below). Last week she came roaring back as her anti-Obamacare rallies drew thousands to Washington, and they practically ignored GOP big shots John “tan-a-rama” Boehner and Eric Cantor to chant, enthralled, “We want Michele!”

Here, she squeezes one last drop of Outrage (!!!) out of the footage editing mistake made by Hannity’s producer (without mentioning outright dishonesty by his MSNBC competitors):

A quickly rehabilitated Bachmann now averages a major TV appearance every nine days. Conservative superstars Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and all of the Fox News network, in fact, pushed her anti-Obamacare rallies.

Hannity did apologize after Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart caught him using pictures of Bachmann’s rally that in fact were pictures of last September’s much bigger “Tea Party” rallies. And Bachmann apologized for ralliers carrying Holocaust skeletal body posters. Then there are her own freaked-out constituents. “When your captain is crazy it’s time to jump ship,” declared Dennis Coleman of Oak Park Heights in a letter to his local paper. Bachmann’s Tea Party set, he went on, is “not in touch with the mother ship.”

As long as Margery truly believes do-nothing Martha Coakley should be handed a US Senate seat for doing absolutely nothing, her credibility regarding other women in politics will remain low.

New WTKK Bragging Rights: We’re Number 15!

Monthly Boston ratings were released tonight, here are the news-talk-sports highlights:

— WBZ took a big hit, falling to third place overall from second (listeners 6 and older). Audience share dropped to 5.8 from 6.5 in September. About 45,000 listeners shifted listening elsewhere, leaving it with 791,300.

— WEEI was essentially flat, taking fifth place with a 5.3 audience share. Listeners: 696,700, an increase of over 50,000.

— WRKO fell to eighth, 4.8 to 4.5 share, 60,000 listeners lost, leaving it with 385,000.

— Sports WBZ-FM continued its dramatic surge, moving into fourteenth place, a stunning 0.6 to 3.6 share advance in just two months and an amazing gain of nearly 300,000 new listeners to 780,100. Its head count is now just below WBZ AM’s. The new kid on the block is a smash success, there’s no other way to argue this.

— Sad-sack FM talker WTKK continued its long and painful decline into total oblivion, sinking to fifteenth and a share drop to 3.2 from 3.5. Interestingly, it actually gained listeners, about 4500 (to 386,900), but they aren’t sticking around for long, quick to hit the scan button for better choices.

The key difference between WRKO and WTKK is that the former’s listeners leave the radio on for long periods of time (Rush, Howie, Savage), while the latter’s jumbled programming mess causes tune-out.

UPDATE: The Herald has more detailed data here

Peter Smyth’s ‘Tell’

Whether Peter Smyth is a decent poker player is unknown, but in the game of broadcasting, he’s just given away his hand. The Greater Media CEO is quoted in today’s Boston Herald as saying he won’t take another stab at bringing Howie Carr to long-suffering WTKK.

That’s a classic “tell”: making it clear he’s not going to invest the time and energy it takes to finally bring success to the struggling FM talker. Peter’s clearly given up.

Smyth’s stubbornness has held back the station for a decade as his own personal programming preferences trump what’s best for the station. When his friends (Mike Barnicle, Don Imus, etc) are bumped from the lineup, it’s usually because a (suddenly endangered) lower-level manager put up a fight and won.

There’s little doubt he despises Carr’s conservative stances, but was temporarily convinced Howie was needed to save the station from ruin.

From his political contributions (and love for Barnicle, etc), one can see that Smyth is a firm believer in our state’s corrupt ruling political establishment. Until he’s out of the picture (most likely never), WTKK probably doesn’t stand a chance.

There are other Peter Smyths in broadcasting, executives who try and fail at force-feeding unpopular talk programming to an unwilling listenership, but he’s a great deal more secure in his position than the others, who often eventually fade from the scene.

WTKK Rearranges Its Deck Chairs

Has Boston’s hapless FM talker WTKK finally acknowledged that it must repair its sinking ship?

At Radio-Info’s Boston discussion board, several listeners have noted how the station has tinkered with its “clock”, breaking up WTKK’s notoriously-long breaks and getting to programs earlier in the hour. It’s a necessary move that should have occurred years ago.

But it doesn’t address the key issue: unpopular programming, positioned poorly and sinking fast under the new Portable People Meter (PPM) ratings system. WTKK is now a minor player in the Boston radio scene, absent from the top ten locally.

Greater Media has shown itself to be incredibly stubborn at a time when the boat is quickly sinking. It consistently responds to WRKO’s programming blunders with even bigger mistakes.

If WTKK sinks much lower, it could be at risk for a format flip to music. At a time when talk radio is on fire nationally, that would be unfortunate for both the company and Boston alike.

Even Margery Gets It: It’s Time To Revolt

Clearly, Massachusetts Corruptocrats have learned nothing from California’s overwhelming rejection of tax-and-spend initiatives Tuesday. The attempt by Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Democratic-controlled legislature to shove this bloated excess down their throats failed uniformly across the state.

As the Golden State’s results and impact is felt across the country, this tidbit from the San Francisco Chronicle’s analysis stands out:

Focus groups run by the “yes” campaigns were so uniformly negative that consultants thought there was a problem with the groups.

“We moved to different cities and tried different questions, but we got to the same place with every group,” said Gale Kaufman, a consultant for education groups supporting the ballot measures. “People sent a very simple message: ‘It’s not our job.’ “

Even before the election, focus groups were sending a clear message to Sacramento: after a wild spending spree, you created this mess. Now that it has become unmanageable, you want us to fix it?

In the Bay State, the key difference is that politicians aren’t inclined to place anything on the ballot when they can simply sneak in big tax hikes during a late-night session.

But the public anger is the same: anyone assuming Massachusetts taxpayers are going to roll over and play dead (like they usually do) may be proven wrong this time.

In today’s Herald, even WTKK’s Margery Eagan gets it, to the point where she’s quoting Howie Carr in her column. An excerpt:

The Tax Stealers – aka, our legislators – just did again what they do best: Tell us taxpayers to drop dead.

And we taxpayers just did what we do best: play dead.

Reform before revenue! That’s been Senate President Terry Murray’s mantra.

Guess that’s gone by the boards.

Several dutiful taxpayers told me yesterday they’re doing all they can to fight back: e-mailing and calling to harass The Stealers.

Either The Stealers ask for lots of personal information before responding, or they don’t respond. Or they send a form letter answering nothing. Or they do call back, and lie.

But there are signs that taxpayers are ready for all-out revolt. From Hillary Chabot in today’s Herald:

Outraged small businesses and tax watchdogs promised yesterday they’ll be heard on the hikes, be it at a rally planned for the State House steps today or at the voting booth in November.

“It’s completely out of control,” said Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. “The only thing they care about is not getting re-elected. We have to throw them out.”

Corie Whalen, who organized the conservative anti-tax Tea Party in Boston last month, invited anti-tax citizens to gather at the State House starting at 11 a.m. today.

“They’re misleading people when they act like necessary cuts have to be made when they haven’t worked to clear up real waste,” Whalen said.

Jeff Golden, a buyer at Downtown Wine & Spirits in Somerville, said the vote to remove the sales tax exemption from liquor at package stores means many smaller shops would close their doors.

“It’s frustrating for a smaller place. We’re operating on the margins already,” said Golden. “We’re going to have a hard time convincing people to come here when they can get it for less in New Hampshire.”

In the end, it’s not enough to simply write columns about unfair tax increases. How about using that microphone? It’s right there in front of you.

First task: removing Therese Murray from office.

Time to raise some hell.

Arnold image: KCBS

Potential New WTKK Talker Hobnobs With DC Elites

*** UPDATE BELOW ***

Who exactly is Michael Smerconish, the Philly-based talk host who may end up on WTKK’s lineup?

From FishbowlDC, here’s some insight:

The Buzz at Smerconish Book Party

An iconic group from Capitol Hill, K Street, NIH and the media gathered at the home of Marina and Daniel Ein’s home on Thursday to celebrate the publication of Michael Smerconish’s new book, Morning Drive: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Talking.

Folks chattered about Pennsylvania politics (Senator Arlen Specter’s chances for re-election post-party swap…deemed “excellent” by most) and swine flu. MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews extracted an “I’m not running for the Senate” from popular Democratic Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy while former Senator Ted Stevens talked up WaPo’s MaryAnn Akers.

Yes, Chris Matthews of “thrill up my leg” fame is Smerconish’s idea of a great guy to pal around with, as are other DC elites.

This sounds like exactly the kind of guy stubborn Greater Media brass feel should be on their suffering station. Smerconish fits in perfectly with the Barnicle/Imus/Kerry politics and media scene.

But what about the audience? Why does the company believe it can succeed repeatedly making the same mistakes?

Greater Media has two choices: it can remain out of touch and low-rated, or once and for all get a grasp of the talk radio listenership and its needs.

UPDATE: here’s a note from a reader:

Brian,

I’m surprised that the Grace Blazer and Smerconish connection has not been mentioned. She was his PD for years at WPHT. Could it be that the 3 share he gets in Philly will transfer to a 3 share in Boston? Perhaps Imus will get the boot and the Smerc will take over mornings from Philly. Then again, there’s always the Youtube guy and Huggybear show…

Image source: nobilephoto.com via FishbowlDC/MediaBistro

Gays Thrilled Severin Has Joined Them

I’ll let this speak for itself as we await your (sure to be inspired) reaction below:

(Bay Windows)

We lost California but gained Jay Severin

Boston’s bad boy of talk radio, Jay Severin (96.9 FM WTKK) has had a change of heart about what he used to call “homosexual marriage”. It seems the national protests for same sex marriage rights caught his attention. On his November 17th broadcast ( listen to the podcast here ) Jay says that the “Jeffersonian standard” that “rules” his political life indicates to him that if it doesn’t break his leg or pick his pocket, then it’s of no harm to him. He indicates that “we can all be proud of ability to evolve” without “caving in”. Jay further state that he’s” always been for human rights. And that means no discrimination against people for whom they love, with whom they sleep.”

Severin Jay - Boston Herald.jpg

As a long-time listener to Jay I’ve always been confounded by how a practical, Libertarian leaning, fiscal conservative could be against gay marriage. I lean Libertarian and I think the government has no business in the marriage business, for gays or straights. Jay is also a self-described libertine (which would make him a Libertarian libertine).

It’s been a long time coming but I’m glad he’s finally arrived at our party.

Severino bug eyes image: Boston Herald