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.

KISS 108: Rush Switching Stations In A Month

Is Rush Limbaugh switching Boston stations much sooner than previously believed? During this morning’s Matty In The Morning Show on KISS 108 FM, host Matt Siegel (below image) indicated that Limbaugh would be moving to his sister station at 1200 AM in just a month.

Until now, it seemed shifting Limbaugh’s show away from his longtime home at WRKO would take some time as contractual issues needed to be resolved.

Click here for the audio, it’s about two minutes into the segment.

Should Rush Stick With WRKO?

Based on what we know so far about the new Boston talk station run by Clear Channel, I’m convinced Rush Limbaugh is better off sticking with WRKO. The new outlet, WXKS 1200 AM, doesn’t look terribly promising. That would leave El Rushbo to prop up a weak lineup.

Key concerns:

— In a region known for hostility toward syndicated talk, WXKS will feature almost no local content. This alone makes it not much of a threat to established competition.

— Rather than build a line-up based on market demand, Clear Channel is using WXKS to dump Premiere Radio’s national shows, some of which have already failed here or have little chance of success in our area. If there is no budget for local talk, why run Jason Lewis (a Premiere host) at 6pm when Mark Levin (Citadel – ABC) is up for grabs?

— Instead of bringing major-market programming talent to the new outlet, Clear Channel appears to be recycling Providence management to save money. Yes, the Boston mafia was once run from the Ocean State, but the very folks who have done little with WHJJ-AM aren’t likely to succeed here. Boston is a top ten market, so the stakes are much higher.

If I were advising Limbaugh, I’d recommend he steer clear of 1200 until there’s a credible plan for success.

Another False Alarm Or Head-Chopping Time?

Entercommies are buzzing about a previously-unexpected visit to Boston by the WRKO-WEEI owner’s CEO scheduled for Wednesday morning. Though David Field does occasionally stop by for rah-rah sessions to put a happy face on his debt-laden operation (repeat after me: “easy comps, easy comps, easy comps”), this one seems rushed and may have a more significant purpose.

Some staffers apparently believe Empress Julie Kahn may finally find her days numbered for a myriad of reasons, both personal and professional. Her replacement may already be in the building, but names will be omitted here as I don’t want to jinx anyone’s chances of being promoted, particularly since this person is said to be a pleasure with which to work.

After the overnight success of rival CBS’s WBZ-FM sports talker, Entercom is now so far behind the curve that the Boston operation may be beyond saving. And with Clear Channel’s new political talker set to arrive on scene shortly, WRKO could become as endangered as WEEI.

Good luck, guys, you’ll need it.