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.

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Pro-Life Groups Protest WBZ’s Ad Censorship

Pro-life groups are up in arms today over the refusal of WBZ Radio to air one of their ads, a spot that has already run without incident on many other stations in the region.

The censorship incident reinforces WBZ’s longstanding reputation as a partisan left-wing news outlet.

From LifeNews.com:

Boston CBS Affiliate Won’t Run Pro-Life Group’s Ads on Abortion, Health Care

by Steven Ertelt

Boston, MA (LifeNews.com) — The Boston, Massachusetts CBS affiliate, radio station WBZ, has refused to sell time to a state pro-life group seeking to run ads asking that abortion funding be kept out of the health care bills in Congress. When asked to put in writing their reasons for declining the ads, the station declined.

Anne Fox, the president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, the pro-life organization seeking air time to run the ads, told LifeNews.com they have aired without problem on other radio stations.

“These ads and similar ads have already aired on WRKO in Boston, WTAG in Worcester, and WHYN in Springfield,” she said. “They address abortion, rationing, and denial of care based on age or disability.”

Fox said the WBZ told her the ads were inaccurate but would still not say how so or why they would be denied even after she offer proof about the group’s claims.

“At first WBZ told me that we had to substantiate our ‘claims’. Then, even as I offered to do so, they decided they would not take the ads,” she said.

“This is a news station which should be dedicated to presenting all sides of an issue – especially one of such importance to their listening audience,” Fox continued. “The media, in general, is unquestioningly in favor of these bills. As a premier news station WBZ should be happy to air views that may not be exactly the same as theirs.”

Fox said the ad is something most listeners won’t hear when they watch or listen to the news reporting about the health care bill.

“When they hear the ad, I am sure people will agree that is a valuable addition to the health care debate,” she said.

ACTION: To complain, contact Chris Hill at chris.hill@CBSradio.com, write WBZ NewsRadio 1030, 1170 Soldiers Field Rd., Boston MA, 02134, or call (617) 787-7171

‘Green Shoots’ Wilt: Media Fallout Ahead?

Since early March, we’ve been hearing about “green shoots” of supposed economic recovery almost daily. Just the suggestion of this concept, heavily promoted by the current political regime, has sent many banking and retail stocks up a dot.com bubble-like 300 – 400% in a short period of time.

But the more actual economic data we receive, the less it appears the recovery is real. And several recent stories have me wondering how this will impact our long-suffering local media:

— With a large number of car dealerships in Massachusetts closing, how can this not hurt local newspapers, television and radio? Auto advertising represents an important percentage of revenues in the media business. Does this impact the Globe’s survival prospects?

From the San Francisco Chronicle, take a look at how this is already impacting the badly-hurt Bay Area:

In flush times, television stations are accustomed to 30 to 40 percent profit margins. But the recession is goring even these cash cows with a 14 percent drop in advertising revenue in the first quarter of this year compared to last at Bay Area TV stations, analysts say.

Ad revenue took an even bigger tumble at Bay Area radio stations, with a 27 percent decline during the same period.

The main culprit is the imploding auto industry, which provides from 20 percent to one-third of the advertising revenue for broadcasters. With General Motors and Chrysler announcing plans last week to close 1,900 dealerships during the next year, it will take years for advertising levels to recover at TV and radio outlets. “And when it does return, it will be different,” said Robin Flynn, senior analyst at SNL Kagan, who recently conducted a nationwide study of advertising on radio and TV stations and projected the 14 percent TV decline.

“All advertising-driven media have been hit hard by the recession, not just newspapers,” Flynn said. “So companies are really trying to get creative to make up for that revenue.”

Spot TV ads drop

Broadcasters in top-10 markets like San Francisco are generally still profitable, Flynn said. Outlets in large markets are more dependent on national advertisers, so they’ve taken a bigger hit than broadcasters in smaller markets. In the first quarter of 2009, spot TV advertising by the top 200 Bay Area retailers dropped to an estimated $58 million from $62 million the year before, according to regional TV estimates by TNS Media Intelligence. And Bay Area radio stations – which collectively reach 5.5 million listeners a week – saw advertising revenue decline 27 percent in the first part of the year, according to a regional study by Miller Kaplan Arase Co.

“Never seen it this bad. Never,” said Mickey Luckoff, president and general manager of KGO-AM, who has been at the station more than three decades, much of that time with the news-talk broadcaster on top of the ratings chart. “It’s as close to a depression that I’ve seen in my lifetime.”

— Today, the Boston Herald reports JP Morgan Chase is largely exiting the mortgage market here in Massachusetts. That means they clearly don’t see an impending housing recovery here, or they wouldn’t be leaving New England. They’re voting with their feet.

I’m not sure how much local advertising Chase does here, but as a macroeconomic factor, it’s not encouraging.

What do these deteriorating conditions mean for already-weakened media outlets? How much worse does it get from here?

Westminster Dodge / Dorchester image: Mark Garfinkel, Boston Herald

Sackings At CBS Radio – Boston

Several trade sites are reporting another round of fresh layoffs at CBS Radio Boston today, but it’s not yet clear who was affected.

It seems that no media company can escape the collapsing revenue environment these days.

Where will that leave WBZ? Probably in no better shape than its lower-rated competitors. With car dealers going broke, radio has lost its primary source of ad dollars.

And Obama’s ill-advised push to bail out the automakers (obvious payback to the labor unions) won’t help one bit as long as their finance units remain unwilling or unable to provide new loans.

All Obama’s plan does is postpone the inevitable, as Detroit is clearly well beyond saving at this point. Until those bloated union contracts are nullified, which the Dems will never allow, the Big Three don’t have a prayer.