By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Wolfe at WRKO’s door

Irene Sege’s profile of Jason Wolfe in today’s Boston Globe raises a lot more questions than it answers. Wolfe, the 38-year-old vice president of programming at all-sports WEEI Radio (AM 850), was recently named to the same position at its news-talk sister station, WRKO (AM 680).

Wolfe helped turn WEEI into a huge success by encouraging a crude, locker-room approach that often veers into homophobia. (To be fair, he also presided over the hiring of Michael Holley and Mike Adams, the two best things to happen to the station in years.) Now, what will Wolfe do to WRKO? It’s a station many of us still care about thanks to the glory days of Jerry Williams and Gene Burns, even though it has offered less-than-compelling listening in recent years. (Disclosure: I’ve been known to cash a few freelance checks from the station, although not for quite a while.)

Wolfe tells Sege he wants to make the station “more exciting.” That sounds like a code phrase for something bad. Certainly mid-morning host John DePetro has made things more exciting by telling his listeners that murder victim Imette St. Guillen was “asking for trouble.” I don’t want to make too much of this — I’ve also heard DePetro says that what happened to her was not her fault (obviously). But I agree with Mark Jurkowitz’s observation that WRKO has been “shamelessly milking this for all its worth.”

Also, Wolfe seems to have liberated afternoon host Howie Carr to be himself, which is surely an ominous sign. I’ve definitely noticed that the David Scondras tape, which had been banned for a while, has been restored to airwaves.

When Wolfe took the helm, WRKO was in the midst of adding more local programming with a greater emphasis on quality. It would be a shame if he decided that what the station needs is WEEI-style towel-snapping “excitement.”


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24 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    You are right dan, but the station cannot stay the way it is. It is downright awful. Like fingernails on a chalkboard

  2. Steve

    Who is at fault if a radio station becomes a “huge success” by adopting a “crude locker-room approach”? I’m turned off by the antics of D&C on ‘EEI, but if it sells, it’s gonna happen.If Wolfe brings in Chris Lydon to replace DePetro, and the station gets more erudite but less profitable, is this a good thing? Certainly not for Wolfe.If Wolfe is good at gauging the desires of the listeners, then he will succeed, no matter that it might not deliver the “quality” you or I might want to see.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Jerry Williams and Gene Burns put up far, far better numbers than anyone on WRKO does today. (And you certainly can’t say Jerry wasn’t entertaining.) Paul Sullivan on WBZ and Tom Ashbrook on WBUR do very well. I’m not sure how well Chris Lydon is doing on WGBH, but certainly he had a huge audience back when he was on ‘BUR. Don’t be so sure that locally based quality won’t work.

  4. Big Fat O

    WEEI’s sucess stems in large part to no viable compitition. As the saying goes “the one eyed man is king in the land of the blind”.Wolfe needs to tweak more than change. People listen to Howie Carr because they like Howie Carr so he doesn’t need to change to go after another demographic.In this case maybe less is more.

  5. Anonymous

    can i be the first to suggest putting dennis and callahan on mornings at ‘rko.they suck at sports anyways.

  6. Anonymous

    **towel-snapping “excitement.**Wow! I’ll be listening for sure!;-)RT

  7. Anonymous

    the Scondras sound effect has been back for years. Can’t pin that on Wolfe. And I hadn’t noticed Howie being PC before Jason arrived five weeks ago.

  8. Fred West Lynn

    I thought that — from a media critic perspective — it was odd that Sege’s article never mentioned that the Globe sports columnists have been banned from EEI (or at least THe Big Show) for years. Does this portend the return of Shaughnessy to the afternoon show? Would EEI want them back, seeing where Globe-bashing is pretty good ratings-wise. Whatever the backstory, it should have seen some light in the article.

  9. dbvader

    I thought that — from a media critic perspective — it was odd that Sege’s article never mentioned that the Globe sports columnists have been banned from EEI (or at least THe Big Show) for years.The Globe banned themselves from D&C and The Big Show, and in response, WEEI banned all Globe empoloyees. There is much discussion regarding who is responsible.

  10. Anonymous

    Wolfe is given too much credit for the success of WEEI,and Ordway too little. I happen to think anybody would do well in the morning slot and to prove it I wish Wolfe would take D&C with him. This station is a cash cow with the Red Sox: without that contract, it may be a bit more problematic.

  11. radiofan

    Here is the deal on WEEI. Ordway had a lot to do with its success… and Ordway learned a lot about programming from Pat Whitley when they were both at WITS. Say what you want about his fawning restaurant show, but there is nobody, repeat NOBODY, in the business as good at milking the audience for additional quarter hours, turning cume into share, or recognizing and seizing on a topic that will do well than Whitley. I can’t stand his politics, can’t stand his style, and he’s not good enough himself on the air that he could ever personally do monster numbers as a talent, but the man is absolutely brilliant at the basics, and a lot of the stuff that WEEI did when transitioning from the Phil Sirkin era to Ordway to, then Wolfe was right out of the Whitley playbook. If that can be contemporized,RKO has a chance to reclaim the glory days that were trashed when the non broadcasters of American Radio systematically ripped the station to shreds under a series of ineffective non-entities in the GMs chair

  12. Anonymous

    To go back to the article for a minute, it’s great to learn something about the man – behind – the – curtin but with journalism like this, who needs a press flak? Even as a Living / Arts piece, shouldn’t readers expect something beyond tongue – bath adoration in a personality piece? There are plenty of questions about the content of his programing that might have made Mr. Wolfe a little uncomfortable that simply were not asked. To pander to the radio audience and bring in ratings, women, minorities and gays are routinely lampooned by the air talent, sometimes in an overt fashion and sometimes with a knowing wink and nod. Howie Carr is the biggest offender, many of the sports talkers follow suit yet there was no discussion of content in the article. Clearly, Mr. Wolfe sets the boundaries, yet in the press, he is not held to account?Ms. Sege also simply passes on the Mike Adams – locks himself in studio to get hired – story without question. This was nothing more than a thread worn radio stunt that has been pulled in markets all over the USA for years as a bally – hoo for new talent roll out.

  13. Berto

    Dan, Dennis and Callahan are fair targets, but I think you’re a little too quick to paint the entire programming day as crude and towel snapping. It’s like calling an entire family no-good drug addicts when it’s really only the younger brother you have in mind.Also, consider the time slot: The morning drive is the traditional venue for the more vile shock jocks from around the nation. I think it’s more a matter of counter programming that keeps the popular D and C in that slot.The rest of the day at WEEI is pretty high standard, especially in the world of sports talk radio. Dale Arnold and Michael Holley, who follow D and C, don’t delve into the trashy gutter talk that D and C use as a calling card. Neither does Glen Ordway, whose show is dominated by journalists from across town (It’s important to note in this context that it was on the Big O’s show that a Globe columnist engaged in some racist banter, which resulted in the Globe pulling its people from the show, and led to the overall ban).Mike Adams is new and his show’s been pretty straight up, though he does have a penchant for juvenile humor (something which you gave him a pass for, oddly).If you still think that WEEI is some irredeemable bastion of low brow antics and repressed frat boy chuckles, I suggest you listen in to some sports radio talk from around the nation. It’s appallingly homophobic, xenophobic, and literally dumb. Even D and C can handle a real argument about sports and not resort to the usual rah-rah-isms found elsewhere. Listen to the overnight national programs aired on WEEI and the new ESPN station if you want an idea of what bad sports talk radio sounds like.WEEI is way ahead of the curve and the most popular sports station in the country precisely because it keeps that sort of jocular, homophobic banter to a minimum and in a time slot devoted to that unfortunate content across the entire dial. If you want to push hard on Dennis and Callahan to at least clean up their act, if not get them off the air, that’s cool. I may not protest outside the building with you, but I agree with your larger point.But the rest of the station is a pretty class operation, and it’s better than what RKO has produced in years. If you’re worried about homophobia, xenophobia, and mindless conservative talk radio, anything change Wolfe makes will be better than DePetro, Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh, Howie Carr, Dr. Laura, and the rest of the nitwit brigade they have on the air now. For God’s sake, aren’t you clinging to the Idea of WRKO, rather than what’s really there? Instead of poking Wolfe in the eye for one bad program on a highly successful station, why not charge him with cleaning up a failing station with ALL bad programs?

  14. Fartknocker

    I’m stunned that anyone would suggest that Mike Adams on WEEI at night is a positive thing. From the phony lock-in stunt, to his overall lack of sports knowledge, I find his show unlistenable. WEEI is king because they are the only show in town with a signal, and have the benefit of playing in a sports crazed market. Two five year olds talking about the Red Sox would get ratings in this town. Wolfe is appealing to the lowest common denominator…certainly no glory in that.

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Berto –I praised Mike Adams and Michael Holley (by implication, that meant I was praising Dale Arnold, too). But “D&C” and “The Big Show” take up all of drive time, and thus define the station. I will admit to listening to “The Big Show” from time to time, but let’s not get carried away.As I think about this more, one point I could have made but didn’t is that a news-talk station ought to have different standards from a sports station. “The Big Show” may not bother me a whole lot, but I don’t want to see a political show built around the same format.

  16. Anonymous

    Two severly disadvantaged three year olds with cleft pallates could get ratings in this town while talking about the red sox.Ordway is surround by “journalists”? Steve Burton – an empty suit at best who’s “journalistic” claim to fame is that he is friends with Jose Canseco. Larry Johnson – a pudgy old washed – up talentless hack who draws pictures for a living. Can I download some of those jems on my ipod? Drawing is such a happening medium.Bill Burt – He works for the penny saver up in the merrimack valley. Want to find a good insurance lawyer up in lawrence after your hit and ran by a “resident alien” see it in the eagle tribune.

  17. Anonymous

    I agree that Larry Johnson is a talentless hack, but I’m curious as to where he’s been lately. His smarmy, insipid Saturday partner won’t say. He hasn’t been on WEEI in over a month. Did he eat himself into another coma?

  18. Anonymous

    Here’s something I’d like to see! Let’s bring back The Big 68! Yeah, that’s right! Make WRKO an AM Top 40 music station again. Put together a playlist that appeals to Generation X & Y listeners with new wave and alternative rock. Have newscasts at 20 minutes before every hour day and night! LIve coverage of the Red Sox and the Revolution when WEEI is committed to other games! Let’s bring back those Million Dollar Weekends and Much More Music! Come on! Let’s hear it! Bring back the Big 68! Then it will truly be Now Radio For Boston!

  19. raccoonradio

    The Scondras tape (clearing his throat) has been back for a long while but he hasn’t aired the “911” tapes in awhile(the ones with Little Walter’s “Juke”as a music bed).Adams show isn’t bad–better than Sarandis

  20. raccoonradio

    >>Ordway learned a lot about programming from Pat Whitley when they were both at WITSAnd Whitley had the sense to do a media criticism deal on Fridays featuringone Dan Kennedy, IIRC 🙂 Somewhere I have a tape, though, of Whitley’sfamous “heat and eat” blooper (which turned into “eat and heave”, and Patlaughing himself silly). Will have to dig that one out.My faves in talk radio currentlyare Carr, Ingraham, and Hannity (though he’s starting to wear thin).Local programming: good. But Taste of Boston does not interest me. Speaking of local programming, in a liberal town like this why is Air Americastrictly national shows?

  21. Anonymous

    the food show at night, Scott Miller having to deal with the embarassingly bad Bailey, Macero and geriatric infommercials on the weekends is “quality?” We know you hated Savage but jesus, call a spade a spade. The new stuff is awful.

  22. Anonymous

    Make the pundit review guys regulars. They put Depetro to shame when they filled in for him.

  23. Anonymous

    Time to dump Coast to Coast, the overnight show, from WRKO. And someone in town needs to pickup John Batchelor’s Show, the only place you can get the lowdown on the really major issues globally. That was a perfect program to listen to late at night, since the way it does topics in 15 minute chunks let you fall asleep, wake up and listen and then fall asleep again. We don’t need erudte per se, as someone mentioned, but we do need at least one intelligent yet entertaining source of information about what’s happening globally. We could get that from Brudnoy, from Burns, from Batchelor, and for some issues, from Williams, but there’s really no such source now. I’m unaware of any such people other than Batchelor, which is why I’ve swtiched from late night radio for the moment to late night internet radio, where I can pick him up.

  24. Anonymous

    I will not sign this, for reasons which shall be obvious.I worked at ‘RKO, during the heady days. It was already an icon…no, an ICON… just turned talk from years of awesome CHR!Jerry, Syatt & Sobel (later Gene Burns), Bruds, the news room that was velcro for awards, Tony and Janet (later Ted and Janet). It was the Murder’s Row of radio and brought the great ‘BZ to its knees.What the hell has happened to it? I am in another part of the country now and have not paid attention to home. ‘RKO’s ratings read today like their ratings in the dark days between Dale Dorman and the flip to talk.Entercom needs to blow the place up and start from square one. Blow out the dipshits from Providence already…enough of that experiment! Enough of the greenhorns from West Springfield and other provences too. Hell, they’ve even moved the station out of the f**king city to the boonies of Brighton!!! Why not just plunk it down into downtown Ware and just be done with it?I miss what was a great radio station, staffed by great Bostonians who just happened to be broadcasters…. not a bunch of hacks from the suburbs trying to play big city.

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