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

A setback for Lydon

Christopher Lydon’s year-and-a-half-old radio program, “Open Source,” has been dealt a blow, but apparently not a fatal one. Since its inception, “Open Source” has been ostensibly based at WUML Radio (91.5 FM), the UMass Lowell radio station. Now, according to this post by Lydon, interim chancellor David MacKenzie has decided to end the relationship.

The Lowell Sun editorializes that “Open Source” was just too expensive, noting that Lydon is paid $12,500 a month.

The UMass Lowell connection has been an odd one from the beginning. As I reported in March 2005, the move was highly unpopular with the students and community activists who were involved in WUML.

Still, it sounded like it could be a good deal for UMass. At the time, there was talk of building a new state-of-the-art studio at the university, and of Lydon hosting a Lowell-only show on Fridays with the help of students. That never came to pass, and Lydon is still only on the air four evenings a week — from Boston.

Lydon’s partnership with PRI is intact, and he continues to broadcast from 7 to 8 p.m. at WGBH Radio (89.7 FM).

Lydon writes:

It’s not easy to get a radio show off the ground, and UMass Lowell supported us through a year and a half of a then untested concept that debuted on three stations. Support from UMass Lowell gave us time to build an audience of more than 150,000 listeners a night on thirty-one stations. Around 80,000 different people come to our website each month, from more than 150 different countries. 8,000 people download our podcasts.

“Open Source” is excellent, and Lydon was off the air for too long before his return. Let’s hope this is no more than a temporary setback.

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  1. Leslie

    As I remember, at the time that Lydon and McGrath were booted unceremoniously off Boston University’s WBUR airwaves, the war concerned Lydon/McGrath’s wanting (and not getting) Connection ownership in addition to mega-bucks salaries. I mention this just so we don’t let ourselves get too terribly dewy-eyed and choked up over the winsome ideas of helping struggling new university radio stations and “thriving young conversation[s] and .. new global community,..” (quoting Lydon) and all those other heart-rending ideas. Open Source was a pretty good show, but let’s not accuse Lydon (and co.) of walking on water, here. Leslie

  2. Hoss

    I posted this over at Adam’s blog too, but here it is again:Why doesn’t WBUR take him back? I’m sure that after the Christo fall-out, most of her loyalists are long gone. Couldn’t BUR just run one hour of On Point repeat at 8 (when no one is listening anyway) and run Chris live at 7?It’ll never happen, but maybe it should…

  3. Anonymous

    Lydon’s pretty good, but if that paycheck is correct, that’s about $1000 per hour of radio show! Do you get that much to be on Greater Boston? I mean, you’re pretty good too…

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Well, I’m only on for a half-hour, so it’s prorated. 😉

  5. Anonymous

    I think you could demand a higher-than-scale rate on Greater Boston, as you are the “dreamy one” of the group.

  6. DougH

    RE: Leslie’s comment:I think we can separate the concept of highly-paid announcers and producers from the missed opportunities at UMass Lowell. I will not get dewy-eyed for Chris and Mary either, as it appears the show will go on, to the benefit of the listening audience.If there was an unfulfilled, or missed, opportunity for students at WJUL (ok, WUML,I’m nostalgic) — prospective broadcasters, journalists, bloggers and podcasters– to learn at the feet of a master, than that is worth being sad over. I am an Emerson grad, and having the radio station (WERS) as a lab was a great thing– if we had the opportunity to work with a Lydon-equivalent back in the day, I would hope he or she would have been willing to teach and that we would have taken advantage of it.

  7. Anonymous

    This is a great show and could be a real asset to the UMass system, giving it a little national exposure and some cachet. It’s surprising that no one has picked up on that, and given him a home at UM Boston or even Amherst.

  8. Man who's a Lydon fan

    Hoss: Hardly. Enough of the loyalists are still around. Plus WBUR already tried running two talk shows with big name personalities and found it didn’t get the ratings to justify the costs…toss in how the potential for the problem to flare up all over again is still there…why take the risk?Leslie: the quarter-million salary for Lydon that leaked during the WBUR flare-up was a proposed salary being offerred by WBUR to Lydon. That was not what Lydon was actually paid, which IIRC was in the $150k range. Good money, no doubt, but well within the normal range for successful talent on a national show. WBUR leaked that salary info to make Lydon & McGrath look “greedy” and it worked perfectly, as evidenced by your post.Mind you, part-ownership in a The Connection on NPR would have put Lydon & McGrath into a position to make a lot more than $250k/year!! But knowing Chris I have to think it wasn’t really about the money so much as it was about the control; he knew full well that Jane Christo could never be trusted to keep her mitts off the creative control of the show. Not after the decade-long hissy fit she threw about losing control of Car Talk, and not after how much The Connection changed when it first went national on PRI (back in approx. 1995) I think he knew that eventually he’d want (perhaps need) to take the show in the direction Open Source eventually went, and that Christo would never allow something so experimental and risky.Admittedly, I think Chris overestimated how important he was to WBUR and also how easy he could get another gig. But, hell, he’s on the air and Christo is gone. I don’t think you could argue that he exactly “lost”. :-)Dough & Anon.11:46 : For what it’s worth, Lydon & crew did approach Emerson College & WERS about what you describe…they turned him away. Their loss. WUMB can’t afford him and a talk show really is a big departure from what they do over there anyways. I don’t know about WFCR in Amherst, but I don’t imagine they’re swimming in the cash, either.

  9. Anonymous

    Now that the wicked witch of the east is gone, why can’t Lydon come back to WBUR? Who are these loyalists of whom ‘man who’s a lydon fan’ speaks?Banish them.

  10. DougH

    “Man who’s…”Your post is pretty much right on– and the Car Talk hissy fit is exactly why Lydon and McGrath were never going to get the ownership of The Connection that they sought.I should have disclosed that I am a former WBUR employee– with fond memories, 1989-94 and 1997-98

  11. man who's a lydon fan

    Well, let’s see. I’d prefer not to name names, but I think titles are fair game… The current program director was news director under Christo. I think he’s all that really matters in regards to this discussion…but FWIW, the director of engineering & operations is the same guy, and I know of three other senior people that are either still around (I don’t know what their titles are, though) or are fairly involved as regular consultants.But really I don’t think it matters. WBUR is not exactly a risk-taker when it comes to programming, and bringing Lydon back into the fold – even just as an Open Source affiliate – is a big risk. I don’t see them taking it; not when they’ve still got some $10+ million of debt to pay off.

  12. Aaron Read

    Hey – anyone notice that longtime (20+ years) UMass Lowell Chancellor William Hogan retired this July? And that one of the driving forces behind change at WUML (namely, Lou DiNatale) is under fire with sexual harassment allegations?Lowell Sun: UML drops Lydon…the decision will likely be popular in the campus community. The deal with Lydon was one of only a handful of things former Chancellor William Hogan was criticized for during his evaluation by students last year.(snip)News of the move comes shortly after news that pollster Lou DiNatale, the university’s director of public affairs, who played a role in bringing Lydon to the university, is facing a complaint that he sexually harassed a female fundraiser at the university. Earlier this year, DiNatale also faced scrutiny for having worked with private political clients while serving as a pollster with the public university, though he was cleared of any wrongdoing in that controversy.(note – the emphasis above is mine)No wonder the boom was lowered on Open Source…sounds like the interim Chancellor David MacKenzie might be doing some “housecleaning”.

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