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

Shuffling the deck at WGBH Radio

WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) has announced some changes to its schedule that suggest station executives are planning to up the ante in their competition with WBUR (90.9 FM) for the news-and-information audience on public radio.

Disclosure for those who don’t know: I’m a paid contributor to WGBH-TV’s “Beat the Press,” and appear occasionally on the radio station as well.

The most significant move is that “Eric in the Evening,” the daily jazz program hosted by Eric Jackson, is being cut back and moved to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9 p.m. to midnight. It’s a shame, but I suspect not many people listen to terrestrial jazz radio in the age of Pandora.

The individual one-hour local talk shows hosted by Emily Rooney and Callie Crossley will be melded into a two-hour block called “Boston Public Radio” that will be hosted by Crossley on weekdays from noon to 2 p.m. Crossley will be joined by Rooney, Kara Miller, Adam Reilly, Jared Bowen and others. “Boston Public Radio” will be rebroadcast Monday through Thursday from 9 to 11 p.m.

Two NPR staples are notably absent from the line-up: “Fresh Air” and “The Diane Rehm SEO Services Show.” (Update: The original schedule sent by WGBH had nothing listed for 10 to 11 a.m. Turns out that’s when “Diane Rehm” will be broadcast.)

The full text of the WGBH press release appears after the jump, supplemented by a few additions emailed in response to an inquiry.

Boston Public Radio, 89.7 WGBH, is expanding its programming to include more NPR, more “Marketplace,” a focused jazz destination and a seamless local talk block from noon to 2 p.m.

Beginning Monday, July 2, 89.7 WGBH will expand its exploration of economic issues and trends with additional broadcasts from “Marketplace,” American Public Media’s program focusing on the latest business news both nationally and internationally, the global economy, and wider events linked to the financial markets. WGBH will begin airing “Marketplace,” hosted by Kai Ryssdal, weekdays at 6 p.m., and will expand to four “Marketplace Morning Reports” instead of its current two. The station also will Hintroduce a daily, four-minute “Marketplace Tech Report” focusing on the innovation and technology sectors of the economy.

“Our audience appreciates the high quality and the creative reporting done by ‘Marketplace’ on weekday mornings during WGBH’s ‘Morning Edition,’” says Phil Redo, 89.7 managing director. “As we add the full ‘Marketplace’ report at 6 p.m., WGBH Radio now will be the place where Boston listeners turn for relevant economic news to start and finish their day.”

The expanded partnership between WGBH and “Marketplace” will include a “Marketplace” reporter actively working with the WGBH editorial team to provide more locally focused coverage on a weekly basis, allowing both entities to enhance their coverage in Boston, a key economic region of the U.S.

In addition, WGBH Radio is expanding the popular program “Morning Edition” to air an hour earlier, beginning weekdays at 6 a.m., and run an hour longer until 10 a.m.

WGBH’s “Morning Edition” includes content generated by NPR as well as local news and feature reports produced by WGBH News.

“We’re pleased with the listener response to WGBH becoming ‘Boston Public Radio,’” Redo adds. “Our emphasis on local coverage of innovation, health care, the MBTA and Occupy Boston is part of our vision to provide listeners with a deeper exploration of the many issues facing our region.”

The focus on important topics with a diversity of voices will continue as 89.7’s mid-day centerpiece “Boston Public Radio,” beginning Monday, July 9, with a seamless two hours of local talk led by Callie Crossley, who will be joined by Emily Rooney, Kara Miller and other WGBH contributors. The program will reflect that 89.7 truly is “Boston Public Radio” by drawing on an array of stories, and storytellers, from across our community that allows for expanded conversations of the day’s top stories and showcases a breadth of opinions and opinion-makers.

This summer also will bring a new focus on jazz on 89.7 as the program “Eric in the Evening,” featuring Eric Jackson, the “dean of Boston jazz,” moves to weekends airing from 9 p.m. to midnight Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

The 89.7 schedule will continue to evolve, reflecting listener feedback and drawing on the resources of Boston’s only combined multi-platform (radio, TV, Web) newsroom.

The 89.7 WGBH weekday schedule changes include:

  • “Marketplace Morning Report” airing at 5:50 a.m., 6:50 a.m., 7:50am, 9:50 a.m. with “Marketplace” airing from 6 to 6:30 p.m.
  • “Morning Edition” expanding from 6 to 10 a.m.
  • “The Diane Rehm Show” airing daily from 10 to 11 a.m.
  • The Takeaway” airing daily from 11 a.m. to noon.
  • Boston Public Radio” (local talk format with Callie Crossley, Emily Rooney, Kara Miller, Jared Bowen, Adam Reilly and others exploring local news, politics, culture and technology) airing from noon to 2 p.m. with a daily replay from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.
  • “Eric in the Evening” airing Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9 p.m. to midnight.
  • Tell Me More” (NPR program hosted by Mishel Martin, examining U.S. and international news, ideas and people; its range of topics covers politics, faith and spirituality, the family, finance, arts and culture and lifestyle) airing from 2 to 3 p.m.
  • “The World” airing from 3 to 4 p.m. and then again from 8 to 9 p.m.
  • “All Things Considered” airing from 4 to 6 p.m. and from 6:30 to 7 p.m.
  • The audio of “The PBS NewsHour” airing from 7 to 8 p.m.

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  1. Brad Deltan

    Wait…what’s airing from 10am to 11am?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Brad: Diane Rehm. Just updated.

  2. What a shame – chasing after BUR’s ratings instead of holding fast to what they were doing well. I love “Marketplace,” don’t get me wrong, but I can hear that on WBUR at 6:30. What I can’t hear are Eric on weeknights and Steve Schwartz on weekends anywhere else. And soon not on GBH either. Pfffft.

  3. Brian C. Jones

    I’m astonished that WGBH would cut off Terry Gross. It takes my breath away, and any chance I’d contribute from RI, where the Great Blue bullhorn comes in loud. Fortunately, I mainly get my NPR fix from RI Public Radio, which carries Fresh air. Gross is one of the best interviewers in the history of broadcast.

    I disagree that jazz lovers are content to get their fix from Pandora, tethered as it is to low quality computer speakers, when the Jackson program shuffles off to its “focused destination.” I’ve no dog in that move,admittedly: WGBH broke my heart when it tossed its aging folkies like over the side (except for tear-jerker nostalgia fundraisers concerts on TV).

  4. Brad Deltan

    Ahhhhh…so they’re not dropping Diane entirely, eh? I thought that would’ve been really odd.

    But man, they’re really giving the shaft to The Takeaway. Way to show confidence in a show you’re paying to produce. :-/

  5. BP Myers

    “I suspect not many people listen to terrestrial jazz radio in the age of Pandora.”

    Wow. Seems kind of dismissive, setting aside it might have been easy for you to get the numbers. And even if the numbers are low, I suspect those who do listen are quite loyal.

    At any rate, I’m saddened by this development.

  6. Donna L. Halper

    I love talk shows as much as anyone, but NPR has a long history with jazz (and folk too), and a passionate audience that loves this music. If these folks wanted the impersonal jukebox like Pandora, they’d listen to that. But they don’t. They want a particular show, with a particular announcer. They want what radio has always been– a best friend, with announcers who care about the music and want to provide it to the listeners. I don’t think this is a sensible move and it’s going to create some animosity from that devoted and loyal niche audience that relied on WGBH for jazz programming.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Donna: You are as knowledgable a radio consultant as anyone I know. What do you say to the argument that a station should not change formats during different time slots? Doesn’t it make sense to go with news and information all day and into the evening rather than running WGBH almost as if it was two different radio stations?

  7. Laurence Glavin

    These changes may have been inevitable. Even before they were made known, it had crossed my mind that WBUR was doing the rational thing by repeating taped version of their morning talk show “On Point”, thus amortizing the cost of each segment. Just the other day, I emailed a friend informing her about a show I had heard on “on Point” that she might find interesting in the morning and advising her that it would repeat at 8:00 pm. But on WGBH, their local programs disappeared into the ether (I know, such a thing does NOT exist)unless a person were to access the podcasts of same. There is a canard in the radio biz that listenership drops like a stone in the early evening as people flip from radio to TV (myself, I migrate from WBUR to “Jeopardy!” at first then to Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC later at night). When I’m on the road in the evening, WWZN-AM 1510 no longer offers anything interesting and Dan Rae is not my snifter of bourbon, so maybe, JUSY MAYBE I’ll be checking out GBH radio’s offerings under those circumstances.

  8. Mark bulger

    Eric Jackson replaced with the painful pair of retreads, Emily Rooney and Callie Crossley? Good God. And no, I never listen to jazz on Pandora or any other streaming radio service. I trust the decades of experience and taste of Eric Jackson to serve me up music that will surprise me, not some machine algorithm that makes ridiculous choices.

    First WBUR drove me away,now WGBH follows them chasing the same audience. So much for ‘public service.’

  9. Allan Chase

    The idea that jazz listeners generally listen via Pandora is absurd. I’m very much in touch with greater Boston’s lively and diverse jazz community, from students to elders, musicians to casual fans, and have never heard a soul mention Pandora for jazz listening. I listen to 80% of my talk “radio” via podcast, and 100% of my daily jazz radio live over the airwaves, never through a computer. Steve Schwartz and Eric Jackson provide some of the best jazz radio in the US. Like many in the music scene, I had already protested WGBH’s choice to rely partly on nationally syndicated jazz radio, which defeats much of the purpose of radio because there is no relationship with local events, visiting and local artists, local history, and cultural context. This choice to become yet another almost-all-talk station, competing not only with WBUR (which dropped good jazz programming ostensibly because they wanted to differentiate themselves from WGBH, or so jazz audiences were told) but with all the other media for talk, seems ill-conceived and unlikely to net more revenue. Consider this decision in relation to WGBH’s mission and “Our Commitments:”

  10. Donna L. Halper

    Dan, many public radio stations historically have offered a varied menu of news, talk, and music you might not hear anywhere else. If this were, let’s say, a top-40 station, then yes you do want to be consistent with the same format. But part of WGBH’s charm has been these well-loved specialty music programs.
    People have looked forward to hearing these programs and came to think of the hosts as close, personal friends. Why drive away a dedicated part of your audience? I know that WGBH wants to compete with WBUR, and I’m a big fan of locally produced talk shows, as you know. But those music programs are something unique, and you recall how much negativity ensued when the folk and blues shows got cut back. Okay fine, other stations do play some of that music, but again, it is not just the music: it’s the entire experience of the program along with the personality of the announcer. I don’t think alienating a niche group of loyal listeners is a wise move.

  11. Jean Wiecha

    I’ve been listening to Eric in the Evening since the 70s. Taking him off the air during the week is a TERRIBLE decision. It’s not just the great music, it’s his voice and his commentary– which Pandora and other streaming radio don’t have. Eric is part of our lives here.

    WGBH: we don’t need more news and analysis after work every day. Enough with the talk. We need ERIC.

  12. Rick Peterson

    @Brian:the solution to those “low quality speakers” is a $1.98 cord from your smart phone to anything with an
    “audio in” plug like your stereo, radio, etc.
    @Laurence:Dan “Rae” is going to be crushed that he has lost both you and the other viewer of Maddow and O’Donnell.

  13. Matt Kelly

    People who listen to Eric in the Evening– and I would be one of them– aren’t listening to jazz; we’re listening to Eric Jackson, and the music he plays. One of my very first memories of TV are the commercials for Eric that WGBH-TV used to play during Dr. Who re-runs 30 years ago; aghast that I won’t be able to hear him on the radio any more. Will he do his own thing on the Internet somewhere?

    • Dan Kennedy

      What about making 99.5 FM classical during the daytime and jazz starting at 7 p.m.? Would that work, or would it just anger a whole new set of people?

  14. Walter Sheppard

    Programming any public station so that it is all one type of program — whatever it might be — is contrary to the purpose for which channels were reserved for “noncommercial educational” radio in the first place. Go look at the proceedings of the FCC back when NCE was established.

  15. John Emery

    You bet it would (just anger a whole new set of people)…and for the same reason. It would replace an unduplicated service in the Greater Boston area just as they plan to replace unduplicated jazz with repeats of the days talk shows. Right now both 89.7 and 99.5 have evening programs that are unique to the area.

  16. Laurence Glavin

    Now to try to counter the notion that MSNBC has no viewers. The website provides total viewers for the two showings of “Hahdball” as one-million-plus. The first showings of Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell (9:00 pm and 10:00 pm eastern)get in the 800-900,000-plus range; the reshowings at midnight and 1:00 am Eastern, primetime on the west coast assuredly add several hundred thousand viewers then, making for a total of one-million each. Similar numbers to the first showing of the “Daily Show”, which also appeals to a sophisticated audience.

  17. Keith Erskine

    Dan – GBH says that they’re still committed to supporting Jazz programming, so I say they should prove it.

    GBH should create a digital jazz stream that not only keeps two great programmers (Jackson and Schwartz) on the air but also gives them an outlet for the thousands of hours of live in-studio performances they accumulated over the past 20 years.

    I understand that a radio station can only get so much audio over an FM signal, but this is the 21st century. The Jazz programming of GBH is a great example of superb curation that helps people enjoy and learn about this unique American music.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Keith: In general, until we can easily listen to digital audio streams while driving, I’d say that’s a pretty poor substitute. Though it would be a fine thing for WGBH to do, and certainly better than nothing.

  18. douglas sedon

    while not a resident of boston, as an avid fm music listener, i heard this news and was appalled. the same thing has happened where i live, in dc – one jazz station went away completely – the station now broadcasts c-span. the other has so significantly altered/reduced its prime-time jazz offerings that i can no longer feel comfortable offering financial support, and i was a contributor for a lot of years.

    for those of us who actually care about music & sound quality, the lack of quality programming, & low-quality sonics that are available on digital alternatives just doesn’t cut it…

  19. Keith Erskine

    @douglas – IRT sound quality: GBH has done a great job on sound quality with their classical music stream. I think they’d do an equally fine job on a dedicated Jazz stream.

    @dan – agree that today it’s hard to get a reliable stream on your mobile phone in your car, but the cell phone carriers are rolling out new networks that will make it better. GBH can position themselves to take advantage of that today.

    Imagine a GBH Jazz app for your phone with a one-click “alright already, I’ll send you some money, just knock off the pledge drive interruptions!” button!

    I hope you’ll be bringing this up tonight on Greater Boston

  20. Adam Castiglioni

    It is really no surprise that Dan Kennedy is defending WGBH in his posting here. He is a paid contributor to one of its shows. I value his opinion greatly on many issues but the bottom line is that less music on the station is a loss for everyone. Pandora is not the same as listening to a real person play and comment on the music. Eric’s show is about bringing jazz to the community. Having his show on weekends when people are more likely to be out listening to live music gives it a different vibe. I respect and like listening to Callie and Emily but Wgbh is a MUCH lesser station in my eyes with less jazz. I hope people stop giving money to the station.

  21. Joseph Rice

    What’s interesting is that while I have no interest in jazz, and in fact, pretty much dislike it, years ago (before the internet allowed us to do our own program scheduling), I got into the habit of listening to Eric’s show, and can use this as proof that yes, the host made the show.

    But it also makes me think, if that many years ago, are the powers that be considering whether he can be replaced should he retire, and perhaps minimize this damage by decreasing the air time?

  22. Aaron Read

    I thought WGBH already did offer a 24/7 internet jazz stream? I mean, it’d be nice if they could keep Eric on it, but that’s a lot of money to spend on something that’s probably not generating that much incoming monetary value.

    Similarly, WGBH could elect to make its HD3 an all-jazz stream instead of a relay of WCAI/WNAN/WZAI from the Cape. But HD Radio is a niche product at best (and that’s putting it kindly) and while it WOULD give an OPTION for Eric’s listeners to keep hearing him, I highly doubt more than a few hundred HD receivers would be purchased as a result (both because Dan’s right: jazz has ALWAYS been a hard sell on the radio, and because HD receivers are hard to purchase even if you want to) and that’s too small an audience to really justify it.

    I didn’t catch it but I’m seeing some Facebook posts that the most recent Beat the Press didn’t address the programming changes. I wouldn’t exactly expect WGBH TV to cover an internal story; it’s a lose-lose proposition since it can only increase controversy while there’s little chance anyone will take anything they say on the matter seriously. Dan, I’ll understand if you can’t say anything on the matter, but was there any internal BTP discussion about possibly giving a forum for discussion on this topic?

    This all said, I am surprised WGBH didn’t make this move sooner. Years ago WBUR recognized a noticeable benefit by dropping Charlie Kolhaise’s jazz on the overnights and going to the BBC instead. Besides seeing better ratings and better overall fundraising (AFAIK) they also, quite frankly, reduced costs in the elimination of a paid position. Harsh but true. Since WGBH is trying hard to compete with WBUR and shamelessly trying to copy what has worked for WBUR, I was kinda surprised they held on to Eric in the first place. Personally I think it’s a primo bummer for jazz fans, and certainly for Eric himself, but from a business perspective I strongly suspect that it makes sense. I don’t have proof that it makes sense, of course…so I could be proven wildly wrong here…but it seems logical.

    On the plus side, I guess WICN just got a lot more popular, at least in the places where it overlapped WGBH’s signal.

  23. Bob Nelson

    There are some college stations that will offer jazz though, like my own WMWM. Our 130 watt output is slightly less than
    WGBH’s 100kW or so…

  24. David Cherson

    To Dan Kennedy (whose opinion I usually respect, but not on this topic):

    Saying that jazz fans can just turn to Pandora, is (I have to say it) a lame reaction to the ever increasing redundancy of WGBH’s programming. Why not just change the call letters to WBUR-2? That makes sense because basically there is no difference any more between the two. So why have two of the same? And frankly NPR is such that I do not think that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting deserves continued federal funding. NPR is not servicing a *broad* public audience with it’s emphasis on 24/7 hyper-analysis of the news, constant’blabbery’, and snobby nosed quiz shows.

    And Dan just as suggesting that jazz fans can turn to Pandora, well anybody wanting to keep up with current events can go to any number of electronic sources for that, and none of them have a connection to NPR. It can swing both ways so to speak.

    It is just blatant out and out trying to beat out WBUR. And I can say that this is a lost cause. No matter what GBH does to increase ‘news and information’ they will not out poll WBUR. Jane Christo locked up the Philistine crowd long ago.

    David Cherson

  25. Mark Higgins

    “Fresh Air” should not be removed from the schedule, and will send more listeners to WBUR. Late evening is not time for talk show re-runs…Eric/Jazz was the best use of the station in late evening time period and should be continued. “Callie”/ Emily and local talk shows are quite annoying in terms of their vocal sounds, many topics are a waste of time…I change the station when they start their shrill banter. The near constant begging by the “public radio” for donations of cars and money is wrong… their salaries are high and they have plenty of money to run a station with a variety of programs. Send the local Talk show people to some local AM station before they destroy my radio speakers.

  26. Patti Aha

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for taking that horrible “Takeaway” program off from the morning drive time!! I’ve been practically spraining my finger every morning as I dive for the button in my car that switches stations at 6 AM.

    That being said: Taking away Eric in the Evening during the week is a bad decision. There’s precious little jazz on the radio these days. It’s tragic to lose any and this is a lot.

  27. peter desmond

    here’s a jazz alternative from 6 p.m. till midnight —

    at our midnight, their 6 a.m., the french announcers start talking fast and jangle my nerves. 🙂

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Peter: There’s also a nice iPhone/iPad app for WWOZ in New Orleans.

  28. Donald W. Small

    I have changed my opinion in one area related to NPR. I have been a staunch supporter of our public airways and I have been bothered by the recent threats to cut funding to public TV and Radio. But, since learning of the recent changes at WGBH, especially their cutting Eric “out of” the evening my opinion has changed! I say slash, slash, slash!

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