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

Chris Lydon and talk radio

When UMass Lowell announced last fall that it would stop funding Christopher Lydon’s radio show, “Open Source,” you had to wonder if its days were numbered. Fortunately, it stayed on the air — and now appears to have some guaranteed longevity.

Last week, the program announced that it’s received a $250,000 MacArthur grant “in support of the innovative use of internet-based tools in the production of a daily public radio program.”

Lydon and company have made a big deal out of using the Web to generate program ideas and discussion. Frankly, I’m somewhat skeptical of how crucial that’s been. The main thing is that “Open Source” is a good program, bringing back to the air one of Boston’s most distinctive voices.

I’ve been complaining a lot about the state of talk radio in Boston recently. Today I want to point out that you can fill up a pretty good part of your weekday with high-quality, locally based talk shows. Consider:

I’m not deliberately leaving out conservatives. Sullivan is pretty conservative, and I’d be the first to admit that many of the great talk-show hosts of the past were conservative — David Brudnoy, Jerry Williams and Gene Burns foremost among them. (I’d round out that trio with Peter Meade, who’s a liberal.)

The problem now is that the morning and afternoon drives are a talk-radio wasteland. On WRKO (AM 680), Tom Finneran shows some promise, so maybe the 6 to 10 a.m. slot won’t be a total vacuum.

In the afternoon, though, when NPR starts to drag, you’re stuck with Howie Carr on WRKO and Jay Severin on WTKK. Both can be entertaining at times. But you won’t respect yourself in the morning.

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Banned in Boston


Ron Borges and that disclaimer


  1. Anonymous

    EB3 here,the more i listen to Eagan and braude the more I believe they have little to offer. No in depth discussion or presentation of facts.Honestly Dan, finneran’s show is a wealth of information and opinion based on fact. Like the guy or not, he knows what he is talking about. I can’t say that about Eagan and braude. They still are obsessed with fluff and not facts.Braude is especially disapointing because he is a lawyer yet ignores the need to have facts.Eagan and braude are more and more knee-jerk.Michele mcPhee makes me change the station. Really.

  2. Anonymous

    What is it about hosts who can’t self-edit? Regardless of political tilt, Braude and Finneran both pummel us with every thought they ever had on a subject before anyone else gets a word in sideways, (never mind callers.) I stopped listening to E&B when it occurred to me that Jim’s opening monologues took up almost half the (60 minute) show. Whatever happened to listening skills? Larry King is starting to look good by comparison.

  3. Paul Levy

    As much as I like the Internet, I don’t think it is an essential or even very useful part of a radio program. When I was a government official, I had the pleasure of being on Brudnoy’s, Meade’s, and Burns’ shows. They were thoughtful and polite and well spoken and well read and were able to direct the conversation to an understandable and interesting level for a wide range of listeners. (I cannot say the same for Williams, who was really only in the entertainment business — facts and thoughtful conversation were not on the agenda.)I’ve listened to programs where the MC has read comments or questions from emails, and they just don’t flow well into the show, compared to oral comments.I put Robin Young in yet another category, in that her program in not interactive. But, she has to be the best interviewer in town, and she can construct story after story that is engaging, informative, and appropriately funny or sad depending on the topic. And — can I say this without getting into trouble? — she has a voice that I can listen to forever.The other person who was outstanding was Bruce Gellerman, whose path unfortunately was forced to diverge from WBUR under the previous management. I’d love to see him back in the saddle. He and Robin were an amazing team.

  4. Anonymous

    If only Tom Ashbrook would stop interrupting people with his constant rephrasings and superfluous clarifications.Caller: I was listening to Bush’s press conference …Tom: You mean George W. Bush, the 43rd president of the U.S. and former governor of Texas.Exaggeration to make the point intended.

  5. raccoonradio

    Some would call Burns and Brudnoy more libertarian than conservative. (Recently I got to hear some GeneBurns on KGO via an aircheck. he’s still got it!) Williams was seen as being liberal in the old days but later rebranded himself a “populist” and wound up going after waste in government, etc. (I remember when the likes of Ralph Nader would appear on Jerry’s show opposing “the Congressional pay grab”)No sign yet that prog talk will make it back (on a full-time station) to Boston though who knows. Meanwhile it may be offin Burlington VT (format change on way, we hear, for WTWK 1070)

  6. Anonymous

    anonymous @ 11:55AMMaybe the problem that you have with the length of Braude’s opening monologue–which is really a set-up piece for the show, is less the length of the monologue, but the fact that the show is so short. When Gene Burns was in Boston in the mid 1980s, his opening monologue would go on almost as long, but it was for a four-hour show. And it was quite good.But since Burns’s show was four hours, he had plenty of time for callers, guests, etc., after the monologue.Regarding Ashbrook (anon@6:50PM) I have a similar objection. He interrupts way too often, and that gets to be quite annoying. (Ashbrook’s frenetic interviewing style is also rather annoying.) Frankly, Brudnoy in the 1980s was a decent interviewer. He would actually let his interviewees go on for some time explaining their issues and rationales pretty much without interruption. But that, too, was on a four-hour show, and oftentimes he would have the interviewees on for two-hour segments. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, apparently today talk radio abhors two hours with the same interviewee.–raj

  7. Anonymous

    Paul LevyHe (Bruce Gellerman) and Robin were an amazing team.Yes they were, and since his departure the show has been much less interesting.I cannot say the same for Williams, who was really only in the entertainment business — facts and thoughtful conversation were not on the agenda.What Jerry Williams recognized is that talk radio was part of the entertainment business, first and foremost. A lot of people tend to forget that. He was, indeed, an entertainer. If you don’t get the listeners’ ears to the radio to listen to the commercials, you don’t stay on the radio very long. In that regard. Howie Carr was a perfect pupil of his–he learned a little of the art of entertaining from Williams, but he isn’t nearly as good at it as Williams was.–raj

  8. Anonymous

    I agree with anon 6:50 p.m. I think I’m more accepting of ashbrook now than I was when he started, but he can still be rather grating (in the same kind of pseudo-intellectual man of the people way the Lydon can be grating.)

  9. Anonymous

    At least having Jay Severin back in drive time and demoting Michael Graham was a slight improvement. I may not respect myself in the morning but I won’t have to scrub myself down with Brillo pads, which is the reaction listening to Graham causes.

  10. man who's an npr fan

    I don’t remember Gellerman and Young being co-hosts?I know Gellerman and NPR reporter Tovia Smith were the original co-hosts. Tovia left after a year or so…I had the impression she was never meant (nor did she want) to be permanent on H&N; she had and still has a good gig as a full-fledged NPR reporter.I thought Gellerman was forced out at one point and then there was a rotating series of hosts and co-hosts before they settled on Robin paired with a guy whose name I’m forgetting…Bill, I think. And then it was just Robin after WBUR decimated the news portion of the show and made it more of a fluffy mid-day snack.Please note, I don’t really disagree with that move; it was long past the time for WBUR to stop pretending that H&N was Monitor Radio reincarnated. It wasn’t and it never was going to be.Anyways, Bruce is over at NPR’s Living on Earth as their host these days. He’d been producing there for several years. It’s on locally on WBUR at 7am Sundays. I know Bruce personally; worked with him a few times. He can be a bit of a character to work with but damned if he’s not one of the best NPR producers/reporters in the city. Very good interviewer.Speaking of the mid-day dragging of NPR…why is it that Talk of the Nation has never managed to really be a fabulous show? They’ve had some weak hosts over the years, but Neal Conan’s been there for a while now and he’s pretty good. And they don’t lack for good guests or good callers/comments. So why is it that TOTN has never really taken off? Is it just that timeslot is too deadly for any show to overcome?—-On a side note, what is the proper format for including a link in the comments here? Ever time I do it Blogger somehow screws it up and erases half the link’s text.

  11. O-FISH-L

    I agree with anon 11:27 on Michelle McPhee. To paraphrase the old “a face for radio” routine, McPhee has a “voice for newspaper.” Former WRKO host John DePetro had it right when he labeled a McPhee on-air appearance “rough.”

  12. Anonymous

    E & B are ok as long as you’re not interested in content; the program exists as a platform of Jim to barrage the audience with jokes and one – liners while E punctuates with her canned laughter. Every now and then, they do the man vrs. woman / cat vrs. dog / liberal vrs. conservative bit, with a very predictable result. The topic changes each hour, opening monologue dominates the first segment then after the break, a few caller will be taken. The caller is allowed just enough time to get a statement out that can trigger B’s reaction and the beginning of the next comic riff with E. Regular callers ( friends of the show ) get more time. There are occasional exceptions but the general shtick is: take a serious topic and treat it with ludicrous contempt or take a frivolous topic and treat it with mock seriousness. Jim tries to crack as many sex jokes as possible, Margie tries to get a word in edgewise. Jim insults her diction, pronunciation or word usage, Margie grins – and – bares it. The program was tolerable in the one hour per day version but at three hours daily, it is way too much for me.” If only Tom Ashbrook would stop interrupting people with his constant rephrasings and superfluous clarifications.” -as written above – could not agree more, that statement perfectly sums up his style.Ref: Graham – he is brutal. It is as though he spends hours trying to imitate Beck from syndicated radio or cable and it lands with a terrible thud. Un – listenable!!The good news is that current talk radio has taken a local turn in this market. The bad news is that with almost everyone playing it for laughs – there is a little bit of sizzle and no steak.

  13. Anonymous

    NPR fanOn a side note, what is the proper format for including a link in the comments here?I presume it’s the same format for including a link in any other HTML page: cut and paste the link. Blogger might truncate the appearance of the link in the little comment window–which is what I believe you are seeing and objecting to–but the link would still be operative.I don’t recall trying it here, but you might also be able to use the HTML page link. It starts insert any descriptive text that you want to be displayed here Note that there are should be no spaces between the quotation marks and the URL. I have a Windows Notepad template of HTML page links (I compose my comments in Notepad, not in the little comment window, and then do a copy and paste into the comment window) which simplifies the process of composing links.–raj

  14. Anonymous

    My HTML example to NPR fan didn’t post correctly. I’ll use a different methology that should work.The template is(a href=”URL here”)linked text here(/a)Replace the front and back parentheses with the front and back angle brackets (shift-comma, shift-period) everywhere they appear here. “URL” is the full URL, including http, the colon, the double slash and so forth, for the page you’re linking to. The “link text here” is optional–it’s whatever text you want–usually I use the title of the page I’m linking to. –raj

  15. man who's an npr fan

    Raj, what you describe is what I’ve been doing with one exception…I haven’t been using quotes around the URL. Let’s give this a test and see if a link to Google with the words “give this a test” appear. :-)——–Dan, something that just occurred to me. We’re all acting like $250k has given Open Source guaranteed stability forever. However, we know roughly what Chris & the Crew were earning in salary alone ($300k-$400k annually), never mind studio rental fees from WGBH, office rental in Harvard Square, and miscellaneous other costs associated with running a business. I would postulate that it costs at least $500k per year (probably more like $750k-$800k).So this $250k means another four months of Open Source. Yep, that’s it.Granted, this grant can be used to attract other grants. And other underwriting. Nobody wants to support a show that looks like it’s teetering on the edge, and now ROS doesn’t look like that at all. And it’s not like MacArthur was, is or will be, their sole source of funding. So this grant is undeniably good news.But nobody should be thinking that EVERYTHING is now “good news”. In other words, it shouldn’t be construed that ROS fans can suddenly breathe easy. Like any independent public radio show, ROS still has plenty of work ahead to prove that it’s fiscally viable over the long term.

  16. Anonymous

    You’re right about Jay Severin. I just listened to one minute of Jay, and he made two errors of fact. He said Hillary Rodham was valedictorian at Wellesley. (She wasn’t.) And he said her father was a physician. (He sold draperies!) Who does his research?

  17. Anonymous

    “In the afternoon when NPR starts to drag…”Whats drags in the afternoon at NPR?-Talk of the Nation?-Fresh Air?-All Things Considered?You don’t like these programs?I would say that ‘All Things Considered’ is the signature program on NPR.

  18. hownow

    Bruce Gellerman was forced out of “Here and Now” perhaps because annoyed an excessive number of listeners with his condescending tone and his unwitting smugness. He is learning to avoid that now that he’s hosting “Living on Earth.” But, now and then, you catch a hint of his baseline whining self-righteousness

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