Could Howie Leave WRKO Sooner Than Expected?

It’s no secret that Howie Carr’s career now depends on how fast he can successfully bolt WRKO’s sinking ship. With Rush Limbaugh now gone, Howie hosts the only remaining program of significance on the station, especially from a sales standpoint. When he departs, it’s officially over.

There are at least two scenarios (potentially more) that could have Carr out of WRKO sooner than anyone would expect:

— Contractual language that now allows him to leave: is Howie guaranteed a timeslot “adjacent to Rush Limbaugh”? That or any similar wording used as a safety measure to keep Entercom from banishing him to midnight could be key to a case for departure. This would be a good time to take a second look at the agreement (which I suspect he’s doing now).

— Entercom simply allows Howie to walk and folds up WRKO’s tent: it’s not as far-fetched as you might think. Without Rush, revenue opportunities are limited and the station may now be operating at a loss. We already know the far-left Field family dislikes talk radio very much (they’ve already run almost all of their talk stations into the ground). So there’s certainly no passion for the format that would overcome the bottom line.

For the sake of his future, I don’t think Howie can afford to wait for WRKO and Entercom to sink. He’s got to find a way out now and it may be easier to escape than is commonly believed.

Carr image: Boston Herald

Day One: What A Mess

Thoughts on Day One of the big Boston talk radio switcheroo:

— WRKO/Entercom blew it on a number of fronts, but these three stand out the most:

1) Rather than point the finger at Clear Channel/Premiere for yanking away WRKO’s marquee talent, Entercom used local media to make it appear it was their own idea, all in the name of going “local”. But that’s clearly backfired as longtime WRKO fans vent their anger at station management.

2) Of course, because it was “their idea”, they had to have a new local host in place in time for Rush’s removal from WRKO, so they rushed into hiring a rank amateur who will quickly be in way over his head with 15 hours of programming to fill every week. A clear tip-off: loading today’s show with big guests (as a crutch) instead of allowing the new guy to show his stuff.

A better plan: try out a number of people in the slot to see how they’d fare against the Talk Titan.

3) If it had any class, Entercom would have acknowledged Limbaugh’s role in BUILDING WRKO over the years and thanked him for his enormous contribution. But this is Entercom, a bottom-feeding outfit.

— The new station is baffling for several reasons as well:

1) There’s almost no outside promotion. How are listeners supposed to find where Rush has gone?

2) “Rush Radio” clearly wasn’t ready to go, even to the point where the schedule isn’t settled.

3) The new station’s weak signal locks out a lot of Rush’s former WRKO coverage area. Forget the South Shore, it’s now up to outlying stations such as WXTK 95 FM on the Cape to fill the gaps.

4) Rush himself has said little (nothing?) about the move and it was only mentioned at his site late today.

It’s one bizarre situation all around, with talk fans left scratching their heads. It can’t be fun for Howie Carr.

Boston Media Does WRKO’s Bidding On Rush Move

In a breathtaking display of corporate PR infused into local news coverage, Entercom has successfully been able to portray Rush Limbaugh’s move to a new Clear Channel-owned station as its own decision to cancel him.

But that’s a flat-out lie and everyone should know better. Clearly, local media outlets have allowed their dislike of Limbaugh to cloud good news judgment.

Lies! ALL LIES! Where is Frau when we need her?

Think about it this way: without the new station in town, which is owned by the parent company of Rush’s syndicator, Premiere Radio Networks, would WRKO willingly give up his show at any point during the next century? Of course not. This is a joke.

The Globies stand out with the worst coverage, claiming Limbaugh’s ratings are weak here. Did Entercom provide the paper with bona fide ratings data from the most recent reporting period (January 2010) to back up the assertion? Did the Globies independently confirm it?

Note the corporate spin here:

With Limbaugh leaving WRKO, the station will replace him with well-known Republican operative Charley Manning beginning Monday. “The Charley Manning Show’’ will air from noon to 3 weekdays on WRKO. Manning has served as an adviser to former Massachusetts governors William F. Weld and Mitt Romney.

“We think this is the best move for us,’’ said Jason Wolfe, New England vice president of AM programming at Entercom Communications Corp., which owns WRKO and WEEI. “Charley Manning brings top-notch insight and great credibility to us at a time when Boston politics are so intense and top of mind.’’

Obviously, we never expect honesty from The Globies on any subject, but using a well-known local advocate of liberal talk radio as some kind of an independent analyst on the subject of Rush Limbaugh is laughable:

“Charley Manning is very well connected locally,’’ said Donna Halper, a radio consultant and media professor at Lesley University. “He has a passion for politics. He has a tremendous amount of credibility. . . . There’s just so many stations that can air Rush Limbaugh.’’

Ask yourself why “conservative” Manning is praised by the left- what does that say about where his new show is headed?

Even funnier is the notion that a guy who briefly co-hosted a show 15 years ago is a threat to Limbaugh’s dominance.

And from the Patriot-Ledger, here’s another ominous sign on the Manning front:

Manning said he had heard “some complaints” that talk radio had focused too much on Scott Brown during his campaign for the U.S. Senate. He urged all campaigns to make their candidates available for talk shows.

“I’m just going to throw out the welcome mat to everyone,” he said.

Manning must know little about talk radio (and clearly doesn’t listen to Howie’s show) or he’d understand that stations are REQUIRED to invite all candidates. Coakley turned down repeated interview requests from Carr and many other area hosts.

Beyond that, talk radio’s demographic and Brown’s support base fit like a glove and the huge January ratings boost confirms that fact. Coakley appealed to the NPR / Globie crowd. Does he really not know the difference? Next time, Charley, think before you speak, if that is possible.

Ultimately, however, none of this changes the fact that WRKO is doomed without Rush. He’s been WRKO’s premium product for decades and provided Carr with a sizable lead-in audience. Manning will not.

Unfortunately, however, the new station appears slapped together and certainly won’t win these public PR battles until Clear Channel decides to get serious about creating a major market talk powerhouse. What we’ve seen so far is less than encouraging.

But Rush’s listeners will follow him anywhere and that won’t change no matter how inept the new operation might prove to be.

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.

Talk Radio: More Relevant Than Ever

Nearly three weeks after Scott Brown’s earth-shattering political triumph over the entrenched political establishment, it’s clear those on the losing end have barely begun to lick their wounds. They never saw this coming and were done in by extreme complacency.

Postmortems from the left have begun to focus on the role of talk radio in Brown’s victory, the importance of which can’t be understated. But in The Phoenix, Adam Reilly manages to omit entirely the key player- Howie Carr:

Talk radio was huge for Brown. Yes, the dearth of exit polling in the Brown-Martha Coakley contest makes it hard to quantify its exact impact. But if you listened to Boston talk radio during the race — commercial talk, as opposed to the sedate stylings of NPR affiliates WBUR and WGBH — you know that this segment of the airwaves was, overwhelmingly, Brown country: a source of hope and good cheer when things looked grim, and a high-volume ally as the Brown juggernaut headed down the home stretch.

Consider, for example, the love lavished on Brown by WEEI, the sports-radio powerhouse that doubles as a source of conservative commentary. On primary day, Gerry Callahan, half of the duo behind its morning drive-time Dennis & Callahan, tossed Brown this softball: “Does it make any sense to you that people follow this far-left agenda, and want another far-left loon like [Senator John] Kerry, like [Congressman Barney] Frank, like [Congressman Edward] Markey, like the rest of them?” And shortly before the election, Glenn Ordway, host of the afternoon drive-time Big Show, and three Big Show associates (Pete Sheppard and former New England Patriots Fred Smerlas and Steve DeOssie) appeared in a video in which they gushingly endorsed the Republican. (Brown “believes in a country that’s sovereign,” Smerlas explained, sort of.)

Yes, WEEI, WTKK-FM, WBZ, WXTK-FM on the Cape, WBSM in New Bedford, WCRN in Worcester and other stations all played a role, but I don’t think Scott would be where he is today without Carr, who is heard statewide on several of those stations.

Carr’s presence alone didn’t put Brown over the top, it was the longtime afternoon host’s change in strategy that made the difference. Until the primary election, Howie’s focus was on saving Scott from the embarrassment of likely defeat by insisting he was merely warming up for a later statewide campaign.

Something clicked, however, once the general election campaign was underway. Howie shed the defeatist attitude and learned to exercise some muscle for a change. The audience was more than receptive and got to work immediately. Once it became clear he truly believed Scott could win, it became a campaign worth an investment of time and money.

New England has always had the benefit of a great deal of local talk versus a national landscape cluttered with (largely unsuccessful) syndicated fare, but the US Senate campaign represented the first time in years hosts really stepped up to the plate and led the way.

From here, anything is possible. Let’s hope defeatism has been abolished for good.

BREAKING: SJC RULES AGAINST FELON FINNERAN

Does this mean we’re stuck with him on WRKO?

Felon Finneran’s stubborn bid to regain his ability to practice law has once and for all been snuffed out. The Dem-friendly Supreme Judicial Court didn’t side with one of its own this time, ruling the former House speaker should be permanently disbarred.

From the Boston Herald:

Finneran, who pled guilty in 2007 to obstruction of justice, had sought a lesser punishment of suspension, but the court sided with the Board of Bar Overseers. “(Finneran’s)” misconduct implicates both the integrity of the judicial system and the honesty of a member of the bar,” Justice Margot Botsford wrote for the court.

“We have no reason to disagree with the finding that (Finneran’s) conduct during the voting rights lawsuit represented an aberrant event in his long career of serving his constituency and the public with loyalty and distinction. But the respondent was convicted of a serious crime involving false testimony to a court under oath in a significant case about fundamental rights.”

The decision is retroactive to Jan. 23, 2007, the date when Finneran’s law license was temporarily suspended.

Finneran pled guilty in 2007 to making misleading statements under oath about a redistricting plan that was challenged by advocates for minorities. In arguing for suspension rather than disbarment, Finneran’s attorney said his 26-year career in public service, as well as testimony asserting that Finneran’s crime was “aberrant” from his normal conduct, should mitigate his punishment.

The big question: is he now locked in at WRKO? The program is as boring as ever, it’s astounding he’s still there after three long years. What motivates Entercom in their desire to keep him on their schedule?

The bottom line: it’s a great day to be Howie Carr.

Image: John Wilcox, Boston Herald

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.