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

Boston’s talk devolution

While the focus on the talk-radio wars here and elsewhere has generally been on the dysfunctional station that is WRKO (AM 680), it seems that the real mess may be at WTKK (96.9 FM). Globe columnist Steve Bailey reports that WRKO is charging — and presumably getting — considerably more money for advertising than its rival during the all-important morning and evening commutes.

In the morning, ‘RKO’s Tom Finneran show (on which Bailey appears) is charging $400 for a 60-second ad, compared to $250 for the same ad on the syndicated “Imus in the Morning” program on ‘TKK. In the afternoon, Howie Carr (WRKO) gets $600, while Jay Severin (WTKK) lags at $350.

I imagine this needs to be taken with at least a grain of salt. In the newspaper business, ad-rate cards tend to feature more creative writing than anything you’ll find in the actual paper, and that may be true of radio as well. But Bailey’s numbers make a certain amount of sense.

Finneran, the born-again non-lobbyist, hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but the aging Imus’ return has essentially been a non-story. I suspect that most of Imus’ few remaining listeners found a new morning routine during his richly earned hiatus, and they’re not going back.

As for the Carr-Severin war, it’s a shame both sides can’t lose — but Carr does manage to bring intelligence, wit and an encyclopedic knowledge of Boston to the table, despite his laziness and his occasional indulgences in homophobic snickering. Severin possesses a large vocabulary, but his ranting, his mindless cheerleading on behalf of Mitt Romney and his mundane-yet-offensive insights into politics are tiresome. I’m not sure why, but Severin has become much less listenable since his return from syndication a couple of years ago. I guess listeners agree with me, given that Severin was beating Carr in the ratings before he left.

WTKK could have solved its drive-time shortcomings. Part of it wasn’t the station’s fault — Howie Carr wanted to switch and become the station’s morning host, but his contract didn’t allow him to do so. If I were running ‘TKK and had somehow found a way to land Carr, I’d have kept him in the afternoon and moved Severin to the less important mid-day slot. Then I’d have moved “Eagan and Braude,” the station’s best program, to morning drive.

Not that they asked me. But you know what? They’d be better off if they had.

One final note. Bailey also reports that the ad rates charged by the sports-talk programs on WEEI, a sister station to ‘RKO, absolutely blow away both ‘RKO and ‘TKK. To paraphrase Henry Kissinger’s famous dictum about academic politics, the infighting between ‘RKO and ‘TKK is so fierce because the stakes are so small.

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  1. Anonymous

    Dan,I agree with you in Severin’s being more difficult to suffer since his return. I don’t know what I find most annoying: his references to Hillary Clinton’s bottom; his references to “super duper pooper scooper Tuesday” (both coming from the man who often talks about how his program serves the “best and brightest” and who regularly jabs at the juvenile nature of AM talk); or his embarrassing pimping for Mitt Romney. Afternoon drive is fast becoming a radio-free zone for me, at least until the Whiner Line at 5:45. I’m going through more and more podcasts each week.

  2. Brian F.

    I love Howie but got used to his absence this fall. I got in the habit of listening to Sirus on the way home and have not turned back really. I never listen to WRKO and WTKK anymore whereas before it was all I listened to.

  3. Anonymous

    They can charge whatever they can convince the suckers to pay. Don’t care, don’t listen to either station.

  4. Anonymous

    Despite being left of center, I used to enjoy Jay, but I agree that his constant pimping for Romney has made him nearly unlistenable. I will still flip him on briefly, unlike, say Michael Graham. Just being subjected to 5 seconds of that guys voice is enough to make me scream.

  5. Anonymous

    Concur with the “don’t listen to either” statement. All radio has changed, and not for the better. But in several ways, the talk radio well has been poisoned forever. Before his fall I thought the first hour of Imus was terrific radio. Bringing additional voices to the show has been a net-minus.

  6. Aaron Read

    To add to the fiction, expect to see these numbers change DRASTICALLY…yet with much griping…once the Arbitron Portable People Meter hits Boston in less than a year. In its prototype markets, the PPM has already show dramatically different listening habits than the ridiculously old and inaccurate diaries.Interestingly, though…I’ll bet you’ll see WEEI/WRKO ad rates get even higher during Red Sox games than they already are, since the ad breaks are time-constrained just enough to prevent tune-out during the games themselves…whereas during most of the rest of the day I’m sure the PPM will show massive tune-out as the 10 or 15 minute (no joke) commercial breaks on WEEI drone on and on and on and on….

  7. Tony

    I meant to blog about how frustrating radio is right now earlier this week – but we got bombarded with snow and now I have this nasty cold. Anyhow, Tuesday night, I’m driving home from work at around 9 p.m.-ish, and I want to hear some live commentary on the Potomac primaries. Since I’m stuck in the car for an hour, I figure I should be able to find something on the air. I thought wrong. I put on WBZ to see if Dan Rea was on. Nope, it was hockey. I spin over to WRKO. Michael Savage is on off the bird. He makes a random comment about Barack Obama winning. I’m surprised that he doesn’t say Barack Hussein Obama and I flip the dial over to FM. WBUR has a repeat of “On Point.” Wow, one of the largest public radio stations in the country and they are on repeats at night. Shocking. I clicked on NHPR, which comes in scratchy until 495, repeats of “The Exchange.” I flip over to WTKK and Michele McPhee is talking about crime. Sigh. So, not one station in the Boston area had live election coverage during one of the most important presidential elections of our time.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Tony: It is astounding that WBZ continues to be stuck with hockey. David Brudnoy used to tell me occasionally that management was promising to put the Bruins on a sister station, but it never happened. What a lost opportunity. When you look at the stations CBS owns in Boston, you can only wonder why management chooses to hamper its best nighttime program.

  9. Anonymous

    This whole kerfuffle pales in comparison to the news that Jess Cain, Boston morning radio’s last class act, died this week at 81.

  10. Kellybelly

    I couldn’t agree with you more! Don’t let Jim see you calling his show that it’s Jim and Marjorie. LOL!

  11. AmusedButInformedObserver

    The next company to pay rate card for radio advertising will be the first.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Amused: Surely there must be some suckers out there. Isn’t that why they have a rate card?

  13. Tony

    Great point Dan. And, BTW, in case no one saw it, there have been a slew of layoffs during the last week at radio stations across the country, including at CBS, Entercom, and Clear Channel. These layoffs include jobs lost in Boston and New England. The hammer is really coming down on folks who like/love to work in the media. I wish I could have some hope for the future, like a Democrat could get into the White House and force the deregulation of the telecom industry and go back to the way it was before 1996. But I keep reminding myself that it was Democrats AND Republicans who brought us to this place in time. And the Dems have control over the Congress and the Senate and we can’t get them to have a hearing about the Fairness Doctrine, never mind the corporate consolidation of radio and television stations. Hell, the Democrats had a mandate to end the war – they were soundly swept into office to end the Iraqi occupation – and they keep voting to fund it! The two Dem candidates left for president agree the troops will be there through 2013!! The earth is flat … the sky is green … up is down … why are there only a few of us out here who see this?

  14. Anonymous

    The sound that’s getting to youin Severin’s voice?It’s desperation.Especially since he’s hitched his wagon to that “Rushmorian president,”Willard Mitt Romney.As the ad revenues go downfor the time slot devoted to Boston’s Best…-I’m sorry, I just can’t write it-the clock is ticking on the Adjustable Rate Mansionian Mortgage on the fixer upperin MBTS.Let me live long enough to see this racist, lying oops-I-guess-I-didn’t-graduate-fromBUnon-journalistslide his way out of town on the oozing slime that WTKK pays him to sling.And the guy from South Carolina who arrived on Monday and attacked Boston and the rest of Massachusetts on Tuesday?Then please, leave.

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