WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) is respected and admired, but it isn’t loved. Long defined by the prickly personality of former general manager Jane Christo, who transformed it into the essential news service that it is today, the public station’s image has suffered since 2001, when its signature personality, Christopher Lydon, was fired in the midst of an ugly contract dispute.
It only got worse recently, when interim general manager Peter Fiedler canceled Lydon’s former show, “The Connection,” and laid off its workman-like host, Dick Gordon, as well as “Inside Out” documentarian Michael Goldfarb. Given the financial straits in which Christo left the station, those moves were probably necessary. But they contributed to a sense that WBUR’s best days were behind it. And it didn’t help that Lydon has been back on the air since early summer, broadcasting his intriguing new show, “Open Source,” from the studios of rival WGBH Radio (89.7 FM).
So it makes sense that Boston University, which holds ‘BUR’s license, would name Paul La Camera as the new permanent general manager. (Phoenix coverage here; Herald coverage here; Globe coverage here. You can listen to WBUR’s own report, which includes an interview with La Camera, here.) As the longtime general manager of WCVB-TV (Channel 5), La Camera built a reputation as someone who was extraordinarily well-liked. Channel 5’s local news operation was regarded as among the best in the country before corporate-ordered budget cuts began taking their toll. Part of La Camera’s legacy is “Chronicle,” a half-hour magazine show that could be a model for the kind of local coverage that hasn’t exactly been ‘BUR’s forte. (That said, “Chronicle” is too soft for my taste.)
The coverage of La Camera’s hiring has focused on his ties to community leaders, which may translate into fundraising prowess. There’s no question that that’s WBUR’s greatest need. Despite complaints about La Camera’s lack of experience in radio and public broadcasting, the reality is that his most important job will be writing checks to National Public Radio, which supplies the station with “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered” and other programs. At this point in its history, WBUR needs a businessperson. La Camera happens to be a nice businessperson, which is a bonus.