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

Progressive talk and WRKO

AlanF has posted an entertaining account at the Daily Kos about the recent FCC hearing on localism that was held in Portland, Maine. Alan is with Save Boston’s Progressive Talk, formed last year after Clear Channel dumped syndicated liberal talk shows from two weak-signaled stations and replaced them with Latino programming. He writes:

Although progressive talk attracted a loyal following among those who managed to discover it, Clear Channel switched it off abruptly in 2006, replacing it with a Latino music format (“Rumba”). Despite the fact that Clear Channel suddenly managed to find local staff for Rumba, Rumba has done worse in the ratings than progressive talk. This pattern that has been repeated across the country.

You’d think someone would take a chance on liberal talk in Boston, wouldn’t you? I continue to think that ratings-challenged WRKO (AM 680) ought to give it a try, now that afternoon host Howie Carr is jumping to WTKK (96.9 FM) this fall. Let me play WRKO consultant for a moment and try this out on you:

  • Steal Jim Braude and Margery Eagan from WTKK and put them on in the morning against Carr, who’s slotted to be the ‘TKK morning guy. Braude is the only liberal radio host in Boston; Eagan is a moderate. They’ve also got a breezy style that’s better suited to the morning drive than Howie’s sneering putdowns.
  • Move Tom Finneran from morning to afternoon drive and pair him with a liberal co-host. Instead of competing with the lazy but talented Carr, he’d be competing with the foul-mouthed libertarian Jay Severin. I don’t know who’d win that one, but my guess is that Finneran and company, by focusing on local issues, would at least hold their own.
  • Develop a new local show for the 10 a.m.-to-noon slot to go up against whatever ‘TKK is running. I’m guessing that’s where Michael Graham will land once Howie arrives, and if you can’t compete with Graham’s yipping, upper-octave rants about illegal immigrants, you can’t compete.
  • Now, here’s a tricky one. I’d definitely put syndicated liberal host Ed Schultz in the noon-to-3 p.m. segment. But Schultz works best as a counterweight to Rush Limbaugh, whom ‘RKO would be replacing. I say go with Schultz and hope ‘TKK management is stupid enough to pick up Limbaugh, a ratings monster nationwide but not here.
  • From 7 p.m. on, it doesn’t matter all that much, especially since WRKO carries the Red Sox. I guess I’d run Stephanie Miller‘s syndicated show from 7 to 10 p.m. on nights when the Sox aren’t playing. She’d be up against Bill O’Reilly — not a problem in this market.

Now look at that. I’ve solved all of WRKO’s problems, and it only took me 20 minutes. What do you think, Brian? Next?

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  1. Steve

    Interesting ideas, Dan, but I have one quibble. Stephanie Miller. If I recall correctly, Miller’s show is morning drive-time fare in LA. It has that kind of whacky “wake-up” energy. I don’t think it would play well at night.If WRKO is going to air Red Sox anyway half the year, why not go with a sports-oriented show? Many people here miss the voice of Jerry Trupiano – can he do a talk format?If you want to take another tack, I think there’s one politically-oriented voice out there that really deserves a larger audience – Rachel Maddow. She’s AAR-affiliated, though, so I don’t know that WRKO could pick up her show alone.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: Rachel Maddow would be a good choice, too, and I don’t see why ‘RKO couldn’t pick her up. When Clear Channel was running “progressive talk,” it mixed and matched, running Jones and Air America programming as it saw fit. Air America isn’t exactly in a position to make any demands right now.

  3. Man who prefers NPR over AAR

    What? No room for Christopher Lydon? ;-)I also take issue with Alan’s assertion that Rumba is doing worse in the ratings than Air America did. From what I’ve heard (direct from CC-Boston employees) the opposite is true. Or, if not the ratings, then the revenue is better…which is what really matters.Obviously I’m speaking anecdotally, but I have a feeling Alan is, too. By chance does anyone have access to Arbitron info more meaningful than the useless 12+ numbers? Of course you can’t post the numbers publicly…but can someone at least confirm whether Alan’s right or not?

  4. Anonymous

    1. Eagan is not a moderate. She’s a pro-war, antigovernment conservative, and Carr’s got nothing on her in the sneering putdown department.2. Tom Finneran is boring.3. Yipping rants about immigrants, illegal or not, is what most people listening to talk radio want to hear.4. Re: Limbaugh: see point #3, above.5. Don’t you think ‘RKO maybe ought to do a Red Sox oriented sports show on evenings the Sox aren’t on ‘RKO? They are quite popular around here, you know.

  5. dlhalper

    Time spent listening is way down. If sales are so great, why was the sales manager replaced? And no, Rhumba has NOT shown in the ratings. I’d be delighted to consult any progressive talk station in this market (as I do in other cities) but alas, nobody is returning my phone calls or e-mails at WRKO. But Dan is right– if done correctly, with a combination of live personalities who are local and the best of the national talkers, progressive talk does have some very real success stories.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 1:19:#3 – It’s all in how you yip. Graham doesn’t yip compellingly enough for ‘TKK to want him in either morning or afternoon drive.#5 – Well, here’s my other idea. WRKO has a stronger signal than WEEI. ‘EEI is apparently the most successful sports station in the country. Entercom could undo the harm it’s done by making ‘RKO its all-sports station, reuniting its talk shows with the Red Sox. Then you could make ‘EEI the all-liberal-talk station.

  7. Chris

    Why do they all hide behind a silly shield called ‘progressive talk’ when it’s simply Liberal talk? When they’re disingenuous about who they are and what they are, then it’s no wonder the format dies a quick death everywhere it’s tried.

  8. Man who prefers NPR over air america radio

    Hi Donna! Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see Air America/Liberal Talk on the radio in Boston. Well, maybe not since it might compete with my beloved NPR, but in theory I’d like to see it. :-)When was the sales manager replaced? Very recently? Could his/her replacement be considered just part of the changeover to Rumba?I don’t mean to be an obnoxious devil’s advocate, but I have to believe that my CC friend knows what he’s talking about (although admittedly he is not in a direct position to know the sales figures). So maybe Rumba costs less even if sales are down…so ultimately CC comes out ahead? I’m just wildly speculating with that, though.It could also be that CC plans to make more money off Rumba when WKOX’s hefty (well, heftier) new signal comes on line in a few weeks, and the switch last year was just to get people used to tuning to 1200 & 1430 for it.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Let’s assume for a moment that what Man Who suggests is true: that the two Clear Channel stations are making more money with Rumba even though ratings are down because ad revenues are up, costs are lower, or some combination of the two.This brings me to one of my other favorite topics — the fact that public radio is actually based on a healthier free-market system than commercial radio.We all know that government subsidies to public radio are so insignificant that they could be ended tomorrow. The real money comes in the form of listener contributions and corporate underwriting. Public radio could never profit from driving away its listeners the way commercial radio can.Consider that radio stations used to get paid (maybe they still do) to run Bill O’Reilly’s syndicated program. Well, it becomes a no-brainer to add it to the schedule, doesn’t it? Where do listeners figure in? They don’t.

  10. Steve

    “government subsidies to public radio are so insignificant that they could be ended tomorrow”I’m not sure that that is generally true. Last time I looked (about 15 years ago), this was true for stations in large markets, but most small market stations needed the subsidy.Is there (easily available) evidence on this anywhere?

  11. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    “Progressive” is a euphemism for the term liberal, which is rapidly becoming discredited. Liberals love to subsidize the poor, so they don’t have to go to work, staying home to suckle at the public teat. That makes liberals feel good about themselves. It also gets them elected.

  12. Realist....

    RKO to Progressive talk?What planet are you on???;-)

  13. Rick from Dorchester

    Liberals always rant about how small the government subsidies are to Public Radio. But cry when those government subsidies are threatened with elimination.Private radio has it’s flaws taking our tax money is not one of them.

  14. Dan Kennedy

    Rick: I’m not ranting. More than two years ago, I suggested that public radio take the final step and get rid of its government subsidy. I’d be curious to know whether you can cite any liberal who’s ranting about “how small the government subsidies are to Public Radio.” Go ahead — give it a shot.

  15. Steve

    Don: “Liberals love to subsidize the poor, so they don’t have to go to work, staying home to suckle at the public teat.”While I’m asking for evidence here, do you have anything to back up this incredibly stupid remark? Or was it meant as a joke?

  16. Anonymous

    This Liberal RKO chimera is so senseless, a couple of stumbling blocks need to again be highlighted:What Dan and Donna don’t get is that the problem is more serious than that of ratings and popularity or being backed by close to 50% of the voting public; it is a problem of PR and public perception. Liberals have been cornered into a weaker spot where they are perceived and easily stained as being weaker on -fill in the blank x or y – issue or not really patriotic people – look at the Sirius Left and Sirius Patriot flap as a rcent example.So it is easier for a major company with multimarket exposure to carry dead weight like these ratings and talent challenged Rumba stations or whatever other noise, rather than carry a “controversial” lefty station. It is like carrying a firecracker in their eyes. They always have to be watching for stemming controversy and defending affiliation and “endorsing” views, even they are correct views or not as vicious and deceiving as some rightleaning ones can be. It is a perception problem that is far beyond the radio arena. It is why Dems haven’t had sustained success at the polls and why Fox is winning ratings despite being a despicable outlet that is wrong on every issue.That’s why you have any Joe Shmoe come out of the woodworks and tar the Dems with mud and still smell like a rose. You can recognize many on this site alone. No one side is right all the time and no one side has the keys to all answers but be sure that one key has the upper hand in PR.Beyond Radio and before Jetblue fallout, a lot of very popular lefty blogs don’t get as much major corp ad money compared with less travelled less honest right leaning ones. It always struck me that these companies don’t view them as their fellow citizens, agree or disagree but rather view them as political lepers that are bad for business. It is the reality of it unfortunately and until that changes, this radio aspect is going to draw petitions and consternation.Look at Congress’ popularity ratings after a reversal of fortunes in November and continued incompetence from one side, they are still not winning hearts and minds and their mistakes/weaknesses are amplified.So you are are barking up the worng tree. Entercom is another cowardly media company. Don’t expect them to be trailblazers, ecpecially when liberals themselves are not able to assemble great radio talent and produce really compelling radio. No, sorry not Ed Shultz, Not Stephanie, not Maddow, not Al franken not anyone you have heard already. Not good enough for radio yet. If you get the greenlight, talent HAS to be ready.N.

  17. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    Steve: What’s funny about the destruction of the American family, especially the Black family? Didn’t you watch the Katrina coverage, where people who were on the dole didn’t know what to do next? They looked like deer caught in the headlights, because liberal largess had robbed them of all self-respect, and deprived them of the means and desire to fend for themselves. Wake up!

  18. Rick from Dorchester

    Dan I was referring to you. And now that I see you called for an end to public radio subsidies.. I stand corrected.

  19. jvwalt

    I’ve been wondering what could possibly be going on with WRKO’s machinations over the last year or so: moving the Sox, installing a radio newbie in morning drive, and alienating Howie Carr (by cutting his regional syndication, if nothing else). It seemed to be a scorched-earth policy, doomed to failure. Dan K’s theory of shifting sports talk to WRKO and doing something else with WEEI — liberal talk or something else — is the first notion I’ve seen, that serves as a semi-logical explanation for the above moves. As for Don’s notion that “liberal largess” caused the human devastation of Hurricane Katrina, I haven’t heard anything so simultaneously mean-spirited and laughable in a long time. Were the poor blacks of New Orleans really any more traumatized by Katrina than, say, the affluent beachfront residents of south Mississippi? Even if they were, it clearly has a lot more to do with relative affluence and the availability of help from the public and private sectors, than the alleged psychological effects of welfare. I guess we should pull out of Iraq, because our military effort is obviously creating a “culture of dependency” among Iraqis. And we should definitely end Social Security and Medicare, because they stifle the creative energy of our senior citizens.

  20. Steve

    Don – evasion noted. I could ask you again where your evidence is to support your assertion that “Liberals love to subsidize the poor, so they don’t have to go to work, staying home to suckle at the public teat”,but I expect you’d give me more evasion.

  21. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    Steve: I guess you don’t own a television. It was all there for you to see: the entitlement generation in full bloom. “The government let me down. What do they expect me to do, go to work?” One woman had the nerve to complain about the FREE trailer she had been provided, and her FREE food wasn’t gourmet enough.

  22. Anonymous

    WRKO shouldn’t “flip” to “progressive talk” because nobody should be foolish enough to image their ideology (see Air America) Outside of Randi Rhodes, nothing did well on AAR except Jones Radio Show cherry-picked to air on AAR stations (see Schulz, Miler.) Egan and Braude are not proven ratings winners, so that choice is suspect. You’re right about Schultz and Miller. Tom Finneran should never be a host of any radio program, dressing him up with a co-host is a waste of money. They would be in the same boat they’re in now. Finding drive time professional RADIO hosts who aren’t right wingers. Not an easy thing to do.

  23. man who's an npr fan

    Steve – I think there’s been some articles on about how much of stations’ budgets the grants from CPB typically account for.IIRC, at major market stations like WBUR, the CPB funding typically is 5-10%. But at the smaller stations, it can run as high as 40-50%. This is especially true in places like Alaska, where there’s often just two stations for a town: the public radio outlet, and a religious broadcaster.This also doesn’t really include the only-done-as-needed but still crucial PTFP grants. While bastardly difficult to apply for with no guarantee of an award, the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program grants have been absolutely critical for public broadcasting outlets to upgrade their aging analog studio plants to digital, and also their older analog transmitter systems to the new HD Radio digital broadcast standard. Even bigger stations like WBUR and WUMB have made excellent use of PTFP grants.

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