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.

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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.

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.

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.

Ratings: A Surge For The New Guy

It’s monthly ratings time again and September’s results brought confirmation that CBS has successfully tapped into market demand for an alternative sports station in the region.

WBZ-FM’s first full month to be measured by Arbitron brought good news for the fledgling outlet: a 2.5 share and seventeenth place overall, much better than would reasonably be expected at this early date. It logged 488,000 listeners, some 100,000 more than beleaguered talker WTKK-FM, which has been on the air for ten years.

Since WBZ-FM’s body count was just 160,000 below WEEI’s, which carries Sox games, it’s no wonder Entercom is in panic mode.

Beyond that battle:

— WBZ-AM again took second place with a 6.5 share and 836,000 listeners, down from 847,600 last month.

— WEEI: a Sox surge, fifth place to 5.2 share and 642,600 listeners.

— WRKO: took a hit from the loss of Sox games, seventh place, 4.8 versus 5.5 last month and 445,100 listeners.

— WTKK: flat with 3.5 share and down to fourteenth place overall. Body count: 382,400 vs 408,400 in August.

— WCRN of Worcester registered in the Boston ratings with a 0.3 and 51,100 Hub listeners. Not bad for a distant signal from a separate market.

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