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

The no-news talk station

The Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam reports that WRKO Radio (AM 680), fresh off the John DePetro mess, has whacked its entire news department. Apparently the local news will be “outsourced.” (Do they cover Boston in Bangalore?) Heslam also documents the station’s plummeting ratings.

Heslam’s story follows Andrea Estes’ article in Wednesday’s Boston Globe revealing that former Massachusetts House speaker Tom Finneran is being considered for a talk-show slot at WRKO if he can beat the bogus perjury case brought against him over a redistricting lawsuit. Presumably Finneran will talk about the news — but he’ll have to tune in to another station to get it.

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  1. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    So since AFTRA was decertified, bodies litter the hallways at Entercom. One station runs jockless. Wait’ll the sports station hits bad times and the macho “we don’t need no pansy union” sports guys start getting whacked &c.

  2. man who's a red sox fan

    Perhaps I missed something, but let me toss this out here:This season, WRKO 680AM will carry a majority of the Red Sox games…but the sports talk/commentary will remain on WEEI. God only knows what WEEI 850AM will air during the games…they might as well shut down and save the electricity; I can’t imagine any 850AM listener WON’T be tuned to 680AM instead. :-)But this has always struck me as a strange move from a programming standpoint, because now you’ve got a huge interruption on 680AM for at least 162 days and nights each year. You’ve got to program around that interruption, but you can’t use the logical programming (sports) because that’s on 850AM.Granted, we all know the move wasn’t about programming…it was about politics with Red Sox mgmt…but I digress.Now you’ve just dumped the next-most logical programming: right-wing news. In favor all right-wing talk, presumably.Except WTKK 96.9FM already does right-wing talk. And has a better signal and clearer sound…and arguably “better” talk show hosts…and inarguably better ratings. So it would seem that going head-to-head with WTKK is a losing strategy unless you can get better hosts and Finneran alone isn’t going to cut it…even if he proves to be great. One host does not a successful station make.I know! Entercom should sell WRKO for the boku-bucks it’d draw in…and then buy the Washington Nationals (or some other NL outlet) and bring the team to Boston! Woo-hoo! New rivalry for the Red Sox! Just like the Mets and the Yankees. Build a new baseball stadium in Assembly Square…that’ll get a T stop built! :-)Seriously, though…this seems like a real pickle. WRKO has catered to a declining niche market (the rabid right-wing “compassionate conservative”) in Boston. The ratings are starting to show it and they’ve really tied their hands with this Red Sox deal.I remember hearing rumors back in the day that the Herald was interested in purchasing a radio outlet. Maybe that could still come to pass…it certainly would “solve” the problem of no in-house news staff at WRKO. I dunno about a straight-out purchase, though…perhaps a long-term deal?Or perhaps WRKO will just slide down into nothing but national syndication. The ratings will be lousy but the operation will be cheap to run so it won’t matter…not with the Red Sox games boosting ad revenue for 162 days a year. That would be personally depressing outcome, but it’s an economically viable one.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Man Who: You’re absolutely right about all of this. Entercom ought to switch signals — make 680 the all-sports station (and rechristen it WEEI), and make 850 the talk station. After all, 680’s a stronger signal, which is why the Red Sox are moving there in the first place. As it stands, it looks like Entercom’s got one and a half sports stations, without a plan for how to parcel out the programming. And yes — what the hell is ‘EEI going to broadcast during Red Sox games?

  4. Anonymous

    EB3I disagree. I think the move makes sense.Many many non-sport radio listening people listen to red sox games. I would bet they out number the regular sports radio listener. (They watch on tv – games aren’t on during drive time)So these others, many mature types will now go to bed with RKO and wake-up with it. And keep it on all day perhaps, waiting for the next game. Instead of switching to WBZ or 96.9 Talk. Which is what they have been doing when the games are on WEEI. The sports radio listener will still listen to EEI when not listening to red sox games (which they don’t anyway, they watch on tv) Jason just has to get rid of Scotto now, which he will, just a matter of how and who to replace him with.

  5. Anonymous

    Excuse my curiosity here for a moment, while we are discussing RKO ratings fall and mediocrity of programming, why are we asking first that Jason or Julie do this or that, and not asking the obvious question first:How safe are THEIR jobs? Why should THEY still have their jobs like they had nothing to do with the failure. Isn’t it a maxim that with ratings slides in TV or radio, the PDs and managers/news directors in charge are made to pay and the carousel turns??Why isn’t that being bandied about?Matt Mills would like to know as well -I bet.N.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    N.: Wolfe is perceived as having done such a great job with WEEI that WRKO was added to his portfolio recently. So he’s got time, although at some point he’s going to have to deliver.

  7. another face at zanzibar

    Dan, As someone who works in Boston but lives out west, I’ll go a step further. Entercom should ditch WAAF and put the sports signal on the FM. Neither 680 or 850 have a good Metro West signal–where a huge audience must use a patched-together network of low power AM stations and a rim-shot signal from RI to listen to the Sox. In the winter, after sundown, the 850 signal fades at Rte. 128, with 680 just behind it. If this happened, I’d be more than happy to have 850 and 680 be non-stop Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity because I’d never again tune in to that part of the dial.

  8. Anonymous

    I agree with your post. I was actually flabergasted when he got the promotion.The point is, the success isn’t due to him or his talent. He just happened to be there.WEEI’s success is due to the Krafts and New Red Sox ownership’s stewardship and the championships won, in addition to so many storied sports teams in this town, Auerbach, Orr, Ruth, Clemens, Russel and all.This id…errr ‘guy’ is a nothing. And if you look at every program on the line up, no program is really great or informative or classy. The formula is mediocre programs that are cleverly packaged to appeal to the lowest common denominators and the yahoos. It isn’t great sports programming BY ANY stretch of the imagination. The ratings unreliability and inconsistency show that.(A MArconi for Whom, again???)People are sick of bad news around, so they just tune more often to SPorts for relief, no matter how fratboy and irritating it may be.They got rid of the classiest and most knowledgeable guy there -Sarandis- and you can tell by the kind of callers he attracted. He was ridiculed and openly disrespected with the tacit cooepration of this dimwit. Add Neumy as another stupid move, cheap bast…corporate types, that is.Good job my…The Red Sox must be kicking themselves for signing such a long contract. THAT was to the credit of the Jasons in Entercom and to the detriment of Lucchino. Bad move.N.

  9. o-fish-l

    Dan – Where can a layman go to actually find the local radio (and TV) ratings? It’s an interesting subject but there doesn’t seem to be much available to the public without subscribing and paying the fee to the ratings agencies.Wasn’t it just recently that WRKO went to the annoying news every 20 minutes? It seems hard to get into a talk-show when the show is constantly interupted by news, traffic and commercials. First more news, now less news, what is the master plan over there?Lastly, I think WBZ radio started this nasty trend many years ago when they replaced the TV.4 meterologists doing radio weather segments with Accuweather. I wonder how many people realize that the folksy “Meterologist Eliot Abrams” is phoning it in from State College, PA?

  10. raccoonradio

    >>Except WTKK 96.9FM already does right-wing talk.Mike Barnicle? Eagan & Braude?From what I’m hearing Savage or Rush might get dumped by ‘RKO due to low ratings; also, consider that under the current schedule the Sox game would lead into the man who got fired by MSNBC for saying “you’re one of those sodomites. You should get AIDS and die, you pig.” Sound like something the Sox would want to be affiliated with? Besides, his ratings have dropped bigtime.Fox News is now their primary network.Either right-wing biased or “fair and balanced” depending on one’s view.

  11. amusedbutinformedobserver

    okay, let’s dispose of a few misconceptions.1. RKO was number 1 12+ when it had the Sox in the early 90s.2. Wolfe was anything but along for the ride on WEEI’s rise to the top. EEI started with horrible programs, Andy Moes and two schmos in the morning; janet prensky paired with ordway, and Andelman without his fastball, and oh-so-serious discussion of the technical nuances of games. Their first changes were just as silly, the Doyle morning show, for example. On Wolfe’s watch they identified a core audience and programmed to it. The core consists mostly of yahoo jock wannabees with normal sports fans tuning in occasionally for the ride. However, it would appear that Wolfe gets a lot of credit for what Ordway has done, since Ordway is a master at milking the audience for quarter hours and his long-ago work at WITS with Whitley (the best there is at grabbing one more quarter hour from a listener) has no doubt helped there.3. WBZ has had accuweather since stealing it from WHDH in the early 80s when both were traditional full-service AMs. Back then, they had in-house weathermen, like Norm MacDonald and Don Kent, who were primarily radio and who used the names they built on radio to add something to TV newscasts, they were radio stars first. Accuweather, with dead on forecasts of storms and non-storms in the aftermath of the blizzard of ’78 (and yes, from STate College PA) had helped make HDH the market leader (helped along with unabashed pandering to the anti-busing crowd and an ongoing cash call contest that drew a vast audience of traditional housewives). 4. We can moan and groan all we want about the loss of radio news, but what value did RKO’s news bring to the product? Would that expense be better used to buy better talent? When was the last time you grabbed a radio to hear the top of the hour news, rather than open a Web browser or turn on a cable news channel? Unfortunately, RKO wasted top news talent doing news in a style that presumed radio was a primary news source — and those days are gone.Entercom seems to think spending on high-priced talent will bring immediate dividends. Their most recent hires are simply not major market talk stars — depetro, miller, fineberg — and they’re not developing the next generation. Instead, they’re apparently looking to the quick gratification of a ‘name” in Finneran, who will have a hard time staking out positions he really doesn’t believe for the sake of show-biz. Boston’s talk talent is thin; Howie mails it in and nobody on RKO comes close to being compelling, Severin tries to build a career on preaching to the choir (a look at the Essex county registry of deeds Web site, by the way, reveals no property purchases on the North Shore under his nom de air or under his real name) and TKK endured a miserable failure with the utterly forgettable Michael Graham now working off his contract at night who temporarily replaced Severin in PM drive.Right now Boston does not have a major talk talent and it takes a couple of ratings periods for one to build an audience. One wonders what some of the greats such as the late Bob Lassiter would have done in this market, or what success a talk station would have in Boston developing talent the way WKXW in Trenton has done. Other markets are developing talk stars, Boston gets a newspaper columnist who doesn’t work at it; a failed political consultant, assorted would-be loudmouths trying to make a career out of slamming immigrants and Paul “Conflict of Interest” Sullivan pontificating on state politics while holding down a side job with the state. Good Grief.

  12. Anonymous

    Zanzibar is spot-on with his Western Mass. comment. As someone whose father still lives in Worcester County, I know that Sox fans have to rely on the spotty WTAG-AM 580 for games would love to hear the annual late-season swoon on WAAF, whose classic-and-hard-rock format is, frankly, being done better at ‘BCN and in national programming packages like “The Bone,” whose only regional airing, in my memory, is southern Maine. Wow … what a geeky post — accept the apologies of a guy who’s spending entirely too much time in his car.

  13. Anonymous

    Not sure of your point re Severin’s MBTS house. Globe got the info SOMEWHERE. If I were he, a MA Nominee Trust would be a no brainer, given his ability to irritate some folks and the small police force up there. All the nuts with guns are not right wingers. Also, rumors of Braude at ‘RKO are hilarious. It’s 12:20 before he inhales and Marjorie gets a word in edgewise. Despite that, he runs out of things to say prior to 1:00. (Doesn’t stop the logorrhea however). Poor Eagan is like a puppy unsuccessfully trying to nose her way to the dish. Love to see what his “Q” rating is by consultants.

  14. Rick in Duxbury

    Hey amused,If being an “Adjunct Professor” at a community college makes you a state employee, you really have it in for this guy. (What’s that good for, $4k/semester?) Political editor of the Lowell Sun and a nightly radio show in Brighton, all the while fighting brain cancer. While you are “disposing of misconceptions”, Sullivan is disposing of a tumor. And you say HE has issues? Good grief indeed.

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Rick: Let me add to that. Being an adjunct professor anywhere is basically volunteer labor with a small stipend.

  16. Anonymous

    What of Howie Carr? He seems to be the flagship of WRKO. What will happen when the Red Sox cut into his show practically every weeknight? I am sure that he is also wary of Wolfe’s p.c. tendancies. Even though Howie is treated differently than losers like Depetro, Howie can’t be too pleased with the way WRKO is running. Does he have any leverage locally? Or, is he expendable too?

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