Because I’m on the wrong side of 50, you’ll have to indulge me for a few moments as I remember what WRKO Radio (AM 680) used to be. Twenty years ago, you had Janet Jeghelian and Ted O’Brien in the morning, Gene Burns during the midday and the late, great Jerry Williams in the afternoon. Jeghelian and O’Brien later gave way to Marjorie Clapprood and Pat Whitley without missing a beat. It was great radio, and you really weren’t tempted to change the station at any point during the day.
Now? Howie Carr is a pipsqueak compared to those towering figures, but at least he has some ties to that golden era. It was Williams, after all, who gave him his start. And Carr is a huge talent, even if he’s squandered it over the years, devolving into a homophobic race-baiter with a lazy show that usually sounds like it took all of five minutes to put together.
Even so, Carr is really all WRKO has. Now, with Carr leaving this October for WTKK (96.9 FM) — a deal we have to assume will come to fruition, despite some contract hassles — the folks at Entercom might as well turn out the lights, especially once baseball season is over.
(Disclosure: I was a regular paid guest on a late-morning show hosted by Whitley a few years ago, and one Saturday picked up a few bucks hosting a liberal program ‘RKO was then running. However, despite what N. thinks, I never had any sort of tryout at ‘RKO or any other radio station.)
The Herald, of course, is firmly in Howie’s camp, as he is the tabloid’s star columnist. But I wonder if Carr will be tempted to stop writing, or at least to cut back. A morning drive-time show typically is more heavily produced than an afternoon show, with guests and interviews. Maybe he thinks he can wing it. But if he’s going to justify the money ‘TKK is paying him, he’ll need to work harder than he has at ‘RKO in recent years.
Still, I’d rather have ‘TKK’s problems than ‘RKO’s. By far the two most important segments of the day are the morning and afternoon commutes. Consider:
- In the morning, Carr will compete against former Massachusetts House speaker Tom Finneran. As I told the Globe’s Carolyn Johnson, ‘RKO has already done much of ‘TKK’s promotional work by playing Finneran’s hiring earlier this year as a phony feud between the two men. My heart’s with Finneran, but my head is with Carr. Howie is going to beat the overly loquacious Finneran like a drum.
- In the afternoon, Jay Severin will have a clear field. Severin was actually ahead of Carr in the ratings a few years ago, then left to go national. Severin hasn’t been able to duplicate that feat since his return, but now he’ll have no competition.
As much of a coup as this is for WTKK, I would argue that station managers made a mistake by not giving the morning show to Margery Eagan and Jim Braude, who are on from noon to 3 p.m. Two can be better than one in the morning, and I think they’d do a better job of handling the fast pace, the guest interviews and the like that are characteristic of a good show in that time slot.
And what of the state of talk radio in Boston? Not good. With Paul Sullivan having semi-retired from WBZ (AM 1030) in order to take care of his health, by far the best talk-show host in Boston now is Tom Ashbrook, of “On Point,” on WBUR (90.9 FM). Ashbrook is very good indeed, but “On Point” is more of an interview program than it is a talk show; and because it’s syndicated by NPR, there’s not much local flavor. I’d love to see Christopher Lydon take Sullivan’s slot on WBZ, but, frankly, I can’t imagine its happening.
This would be a great opportunity for WRKO to try liberal talk, despite its long-term commitment to Finneran, a moderate conservative. Pair Finneran with a liberal co-host; run Stephanie Miller‘s and Ed Schultz‘s syndicated shows during the midday; and then come back with a talented liberal local host during the afternoon drive, and ‘RKO would have something with which to counter ‘TKK’s mostly right-wing lineup.
But I suppose that would make too much sense.
Howie Carr photo (cc) by Paul Keleher. Some rights reserved.