Tag Archives: Christopher Lydon

Flashback: Emily Rooney and public broadcasting in 1997

On Feb. 6, 1997, just after the debut of “Greater Boston” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2), I wrote an article for The Boston Phoenix on the state of the city’s two major public broadcasters, WGBH and WBUR. It was the first time I’d met the host, Emily Rooney. The original is online here, but, as you will see, it’s unreadable; thus, I have reproduced it in full below. In re-reading it, I was struck by what an interesting moment in time that was, with many of the same names and issues still with us 17 years later.

Making waves

With commercial stations going lowbrow, Boston’s public broadcasters are fine-tuning their strategies. The question: are WGBH & WBUR doing their duty?

Copyright © 1997 by the Phoenix Media/Communications Group. All rights reserved.

GB_largeplayerEmily Rooney is taping the intro to a segment of WGBH-TV’s new local public-affairs show, Greater Boston. Or trying to, anyway. It’s been a long day. Her feet are killing her. And her first few attempts at hyping an interview with Charles Murray, the controversial academic who’s currently promoting his new book on libertarianism, haven’t gone particularly well.

After several tries, though, she nails it. “That was warmer,” says a voice in the control room. “That was very nice.”

She sighs, visibly relieved at getting a break from the unblinking eye of the lens.

Rooney, the former news director of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), may be a respected newswoman, but the debut of Greater Boston last week showed that her transition to an on-camera role is going to take some time. And if Rooney and Greater Boston are struggling to find their voice, so, too, is WGBH.

This is, after all, the first significant foray into local public-affairs programming for WGBH (Channels 2 and 44, plus a radio station) since 1991, when it canceled The Ten O’Clock News. The new show is a huge improvement over the one it replaces, The Group, an unmoderated roundtable discussion that rose from the ashes of the News. (“A tawdry, pathetic little show,” huffs one industry observer of The Group, widely derided as “The Grope.”) Still, Greater Boston is going to need some work. Week One’s topics, which included the Super Bowl and cute animals, were too light and fluffy to qualify the show as a must-watch. And Rooney, who doubles as Greater Boston‘s executive editor, needs to overcome her on-the-set jitters.

It’s crucial that ’GBH get it right. With commercial broadcasters in full retreat from serious news and public affairs, public-broadcasting stations are the last redoubt. Boston’s two major public stations — WGBH-TV and WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) — are among the most admired in the country. It’s by no means clear, however, that the people who run those stations are willing or able to fill the gap created by the commercial stations’ retreat into sensationalism and frivolity. Continue reading

The return of Christopher Lydon

Christopher Lydon

Christopher Lydon

There’s big news in the Boston public radio world, as Christopher Lydon returns to the airwaves tonight at 9 with “Radio Open Source,” the radio/podcast interview program he’s been doing for some years now. He’ll be on for an hour every Thursday, with weekend rebroadcasts.

And in a sign that times change, he’ll be doing it on WBUR (90.9 FM), from which he and producer Mary McGrath — who still works with Lydon — memorably departed in 2001. Lydon and McGrath got into a dispute with then-general manager Jane Christo over the ownership of “The Connection,” the show they helmed at the time.

Lydon officially announced his return on Monday. The Boston Globe’s Joe Kahn reports on it today, the morning of Lydon’s debut.

Technically this is more of a ramp-up than a return: Lydon had been appearing regularly on Jim Braude and Margery Eagan’s show, “Boston Public Radio,” on WGBH (89.7 FM). I’m a paid contributor at WGBH, but I think it’s self-evident that the rivalry between the two public radio powerhouses has led to better local programming at both stations.

Here is what I reported for The Boston Phoenix in 2005 as “Open Source” was about to launch at UMass Lowell. (Lydon and company eventually affiliated with the Watson Institute at Brown University.)

Lydon is an on-air legend and McGrath knows how to do terrific radio. Best of luck to both of them.

Photo (cc) 2012 by Mark Fonseca Rendeiro and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Public radio’s new local focus

Good news for fans of quality local radio: WBUR (90.9 FM) is expanding its “Radio Boston” program from one day a week to five. Along with Emily Rooney‘s and Callie Crossley‘s new shows on WGBH (89.7 FM), that’s three hours a day of local programming on the city’s two largest public radio stations. Adam Gaffin has the news, and Adam Reilly has more.

WBUR’s other news and public-affairs programs, “On Point” and “Here and Now,” are excellent but lack a local focus, as they are both nationally syndicated. By going daily, “Radio Boston” plugs a hole at WBUR that was left in the 1990s, when Christopher Lydon‘s legendary program “The Connection” went national.

My disclaimer: I am a paid weekly panelist on “Beat the Press,” a WGBH-TV (Channel 2) program of which Rooney is the host and Crossley is a regular.

Chris Lydon’s re-return

Christopher Lydon is back — again.

A couple of days ago I was checking my podcast subscriptions on iTunes when I saw that some new content had popped up in “Open Source,” his late, lamented public radio program. I made a mental note to investigate. Then, yesterday, Lydon and his producer, Mary McGrath, sent out an e-mail announcement that began, “The summer is over, and so is our hiatus,” and that explained the program has moved to Brown University.

It sounds as though Lydon has given up on radio: “Podcasting is the cheap, democratic, speedy, listener-friendly universal means of sharing and archiving original sound files of every kind.” But that’s fine with me. I’m not sure I ever listened to more than a few minutes of “Open Source” on the radio, but I frequently downloaded programs that sounded interesting. (They were.)

Looks like some good stuff is available. I’m going to start with Kanan Makiya — also the guest during a rip-roaring hour on Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” recently — and Oliver Sacks.

Photo of Lydon (cc) by Andy Carvin. Some rights reserved.

“Open Source,” closed doors

Christopher Lydon and Mary McGrath have announced that this is the last week of “Open Source” for the summer — and, let’s be honest, maybe ever. I hope it returns, but I’ll miss it if it doesn’t. (Via Adam Reilly.)

Hidden in plain sight

While we wait to hear whether Christopher Lydon’s radio show, “Open Source,” can survive being dropped by WGBH Radio (89.7 FM), have a look at Mark Glaser’s MediaShift column on how “Open Source” uses its Web site to develop program ideas.

“Open Source” producer/co-creator Mary McGrath writes: “Alas, we never stopped running into people who didn’t know we were on the air in Boston at all.” I’ve heard the same thing, and I’m not sure why. “Open Source” has been on the air Monday through Thursday from 7 to 8 p.m. for about two years, and people still occasionally ask me if I know whether Lydon is up to anything these days. A shame.

Funding crisis hits MediaChannel

The MediaChannel, a nonprofit watchdog organization founded seven years ago, is in danger of going under by the end of June.

The organization was begun in 2000 by two former Boston journalists, Danny Schechter and Rory O’Connor. Schechter recently released a new documentary, “In Debt We Trust.” O’Connor is a founder of NewsTrust, a social network that rates news stories and organizations.

Here’s an excerpt from MediaChannel’s fundraising appeal:

“It is sad to have to shut down an important service in the public interest because our not-for-profit site can’t attract sufficient resources to support a very small staff or to pay necessary bills including rent, server fees and utilities,” said Danny Schechter, co-founder of the international web platform that launched February 1, 2000. “The ultimate irony is that MediaChannel has never been better — its traffic is up and its impact strong, as is the quality of its timely and diverse offerings, which include original reports, blogs, videos, features and media news from across the world.”

MediaChannel may not get as much attention as Media Matters for America, which also analyzes the media from a left-of-center point of view, but with a more partisan political edge. But it does good work, and it would be a shame if it disappeared.

Also banging the tin cup: Christopher Lydon’s excellent public radio program, “Open Source,” which lost its funding from UMass Lowell last year. Clea Simon has the update in Wednesday’s Globe.