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

No rush to listen to Rush on new station

Rush Limbaugh

The Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam reports that WXKS (AM 1200) — the home of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck — is tanking, and that it shows Boston may be a lousy market for right-wing radio.

She’s right, but the Clear Channel-owned ‘XKS is hardly proof, given its less-than-clear signal. The real story is farther down in her piece, where we learn that the city’s two major talk-radio stations, WTKK (96.9 FM) and WRKO (AM 680), are performing poorly as well. Both ‘TKK and ‘RKO are mostly right-wing.

Heslam makes no mention of it, but I’m sure the ratings for Boston’s one liberal talk station, WWZN (AM 1510), are minuscule, given its poor signal.

Fact is, talk radio was once a phenomenon, but now it’s grown stale. The only show on the commercial dial that sounds even remotely like talk radio in its Boston heyday is Dan Rea’s, on WBZ (AM 1030). Rea’s a journalist who knows how to ask questions, and he hosts a guest-heavy, non-shouting program that doesn’t grate.

That’s not to say there aren’t talk-show hosts in Boston who are doing a pretty good job. I’d cite Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on ‘TKK and Charley Manning on ‘RKO. But the glory days of Boston talk radio are over.

Photo via WikiMedia Commons.

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  1. Dan, Your line about “the glory days of Boston talk radio are over” reminds me of the assertion after Democratic victories in 2008 that the Republican Party is in shambles. Hello?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Margie: The glory days of radio soap operas are over, too. This isn’t cyclical. Obviously I have a conflict of interest in saying this, but the action has moved to public radio.

  2. Lou Gawab

    You’re going to bring up Dan Rea as an example of talkradio’s heyday without mentioning his ratings?

  3. Bob Gardner

    Assuming that this is true, it raises questions:
    1) are talk shows losing their hold nationally? If not, what makes Boston different?
    2) is the statewide democratic sweep a cause, or a symptom of the decline of talk radio?
    3) What happens to Scott Brown if right-wing talk radio is less of a factor?

    I don’t pay attention to talk radio, but I would be curious to know how volatile overall ratings are for talk radio, and whether fluctuations have had any correlation to the politics around here.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Bob: Any number of Republican candidates in Massachusetts have made the mistake of confusing talk-radio callers with the electorate as a whole. Kerry Healey did it, and so did Charlie Baker — both were liberal Republicans who moved way right during their campaigns, to their detriment. Scott Brown’s political instincts are far better than theirs, and he managed to pull off the neat trick of appealing to the talk-radio crowd and to everyone else simultaneously. Part of it was maintaining a nice-guy persona, part of it was avoiding strong stands on most issues.

  4. Nial Lynch

    Dan- I dare you to pop open a Winter Lager every time that Manning says “That’s for sure” or “lie-berry”.

  5. Laurence Glavin

    I’m not sure what you mean “WWZN’s poor signal”. I live well north of Boston and it comes in where I live almost as well as WBZ-AM. It runs fifty-thousand watts day and night with a better-than-average-efficiency antenna system. Sure it’s up the dial at 1510, but the facilities I described help a lot. Stations in other cities with 50K in the 15s(Buffalo, NY; Sacramento, CA; Spokane, WA;)used to dominate their markets. WWZN’s multiple towers are phased differently during the daylight hours vis-a-vis its nighttime operation. During these winter months of only 9 hours or so of daylight (setting aside a small amount of diminution during what the FCC calls “critical hours, just after sunrise and before sunset: don’t ask), its footprint is smaller for a good portion of the day. In summer, it’s a powerhouse for 15 hours. As an experiment, if you can stand the commercials, try listening to WWZN from Danvers to the Northeastern campus between 7:00 AM and 4:15 PM and see what happens.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Laurence: Tried it today, and it was better than it’s been in the past. Usually I have to get to Saugus before I can stand the reception. I don’t know about 50,000 watts, I just know how it sounds.

  6. BP Myers

    No attribution required for the photo anyway.


  7. Doug Shugarts

    Public radio, or online? It’s hard to imagine NPR attracting and retaining the Rush / Hannity crowd.

  8. Matt Kelly

    Why no mention of WBUR and WGBH here? Much of their programming during the day is, in fact, talk radio. I would certainly put them in the same category as all the other talk shows.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Matt: It was a post about commercial talk radio. Can’t do everything in every post.

  9. Aaron Read

    1510 transmits 50k watts but it’s also high-band (more watts needed to achieve the same coverage as a lower-frequency station) and highly directional. The directional pattern was worse before 1998 when same-frequency WNLC in New London, CT was deleted. They still have some issues with same-frequency WLAC in Nashville, though. Plus stations on nearby frequencies in Middleboro and Milford, MA.

    But WWZN’s biggest albatross around its neck was…and presumably still is…it’s tower rent. The four-tower array sits in the middle of an office complex and the landlord demanded the station pay the equivalent rent of a office building that could’ve occupied the space where the towers are. That’s a TON of money (rumor was it was over $20k per month) and that makes it a lot harder for 1510 to be profitable.

  10. Matt Kelly

    I’d question how many listeners make the distinction between commercial and public radio. The prime fact in talk radio (from listeners’ perspective) is left or right, not commercial or public.

  11. Laurence Glavin

    Aaron: I previously mentioned that the upper frequencies of the AM dial are at a disadvantage PER WATT, but I also mentioned that 50KW outlets up there used to do very well in the heyday of AM radio. Even the old WMEX-AM 1510 was competitive with WBZ-AM amd WHDH-AM 850 years ago with only 5,000 watts. And again, after critical hours, WWZN uses only two towers, and if you look at the pattern data, every radial has four digits. I’ve picked up WWZN at noontime in midsummer in Pittsfield.

  12. Loug Gawab

    WBZ’s Dan Rea is tied for 16th place at night…according the the latest ratings.

    A far cry from the Brudnoy, Meade, Finnegan days!

  13. Eoin O'Carroll

    It was six years ago this week that David Brudnoy passed away. Man, do I miss him.

  14. Speaking of WWZN AM 1510…

    “Rea’s a journalist who knows how to ask questions, and he hosts a guest-heavy, non-shouting program that doesn’t grate.”

    If you like “guest-heavy, non-shouting” – try the Jeff Santos Show M-F 6:30-10a.m. on WWZN – AM 1510 Revolution Boston. It’s local progressive talk radio, and thoughtfully presented, without shouting, despite the political leanings.

    Jeff Santos always has terrific guests; for example, among others today he talked with Jonathan Alter (Newsweek) about the State of the Union Address, and regular guest Alison Willmore (Independent Film Channel) gave a live report from the Sundance Film Festival.

    You can see who other guests have been at this link:

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