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

Public radio’s new local focus

Good news for fans of quality local radio: WBUR (90.9 FM) is expanding its “Radio Boston” program from one day a week to five. Along with Emily Rooney‘s and Callie Crossley‘s new shows on WGBH (89.7 FM), that’s three hours a day of local programming on the city’s two largest public radio stations. Adam Gaffin has the news, and Adam Reilly has more.

WBUR’s other news and public-affairs programs, “On Point” and “Here and Now,” are excellent but lack a local focus, as they are both nationally syndicated. By going daily, “Radio Boston” plugs a hole at WBUR that was left in the 1990s, when Christopher Lydon‘s legendary program “The Connection” went national.

My disclaimer: I am a paid weekly panelist on “Beat the Press,” a WGBH-TV (Channel 2) program of which Rooney is the host and Crossley is a regular.

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  1. Anyone who thought that having WGBH Radio compete with WBUR would cannibalize the public radio audience in town surely now must see the advantages of competition for ears. The real cannibalization question for me is whether there comes to be too much overlap between Greater Boston and the Emily Rooney Radio Show to the extent that, if you’ve heard one, you don’t have to tune in to the other. The solution for that is for ER to have enough resources to generate fresh material.

  2. Al Fiantaca

    I like it, although Emily is still climbing the skill ladder with the radio format. Shrugs and expressions (facial) that work for her on Greater Boston, don’t translate to the radio, but she’s improving daily, and just having an alternative to ‘RKO and ‘TTK, is well worth the wait. WGBH is now my wake up radio station.

  3. L.K. Collins

    Callie Crossley’s hour is informative and lively. It is a pleasure to listen to.

  4. Tom Underwood

    Enjoying both shows and having two options/times for Fresh Air. Local radio is definitely well-served with the new GBH format.

  5. Aaron Read

    There’s some fun speculation over on the BRIG listserv, that I myself have indulged in, about exactly what’s going to get bumped when Radio Boston goes to five days a week.

    It’s not as simple as one might think: no matter what they do, one of two things will happen:

    1. WBUR puts RB at 1pm and drops Fresh Air, a very popular show…and they’ll lose audience to WGBH because GBH carries it. And worse, they’ll lose audience to WGBH during the first hour of Talk of the Nation since GBH carries FA at 2pm. On the plus side, at least they won’t lose audience at the same time RB is on.

    BTW, I’m on record as saying that if WBUR drops FA from 1pm, they’ll drop the 9pm airing, too; shows like FA are too expensive to broadcasting solely during such a weak timeslot. Plus it opens a spot to rebroadcast RB every day, too – WBUR loves getting multiple airings out of its own shows; more ratings and less cost!

    2. WBUR moves RB to 3pm and nukes the second hour of TOTN. This preserves a lot of the lineup, and there’s precedent: for a while there WBUR only aired the first hour of TOTN. But this puts RB at a comparatively weak timeslot and up against The World on WGBH; a very different show that may or may not be strong competition.

    This approach has its benefits, not the least of which is that RB is not up against a “local show” from WGBH (The World is quasi-local; produced at WGBH but very much for a national audience). That does…probably…give it more of an audience draw. But if you’re going to spend the money on an expensive endeavour like a local show with call-ins that will have at least four staff positions (the job advertised was for an Associate Producer, which means there’s at least a Producer, a Tech Director and a Host, too)…then you believe that show is strong contender, and that means you give it the best chance for success at the better timeslot.

    Of course, WBUR could go for broke and put RB on at 4pm and nuke the first hour of All Things Considered. It’d be a move of raw nerve…or chutzpah…with huge risk but huge reward. Admittedly, I don’t think *I’d* do it…too much risk of annoyed ATC</I< fans (which means big hits to underwriting and fundraising dollars) when a mid-afternoon slot offers decent reward.

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