WBZ Radio’s new corporate owner fires program director on Thanksgiving eve

The dismantling of WBZ Radio (AM 1030) has begun. New owner iHeartMedia, the corporate behemoth formerly known as Clear Channel, has fired veteran program director Peter Casey on the day before Thanksgiving. Boston Radio Watch got the memo:

Best wishes to Casey, a good guy who has presided over a successful operation for many years. There is a bit more to Sprague’s memo, and since a source just sent it to me, I’m posting the full text below:

This past weekend marked the beginning of the transition of WBZ-AM to iHeartMedia, and I want to let you know how excited we all are to have the WBZ-AM team join the iHeart family. WBZ is a Boston institution, and we have enormous respect and admiration for what you have accomplished to date — and what we know you will continue to accomplish.

I also wanted to update you on a change in programming leadership as we continue this transition.  Bill Flaherty, WBZ-AM’s Assistant Program Director, will now serve as interim Program Director for WBZ-AM.  I am impressed with Bill’s operational knowledge, strategic thinking and can-do attitude, and believe he will be the perfect leader to guide us through the transition. I also know that change can be hard, but when we embrace change we often discover fresh opportunities for growth and innovation. I am excited for what the future will bring for you, for us and for this great brand, and I’m committed to working with you to ensure that WBZ continues on its path as Boston’s most respected news and information leader.

I also want to say a few words about Peter Casey. There is no doubt that under his leadership this brand has excelled and established its leadership in the market. We deeply respect Peter and the contributions he has made to WBZ-AM over the years, and the impact he has left on WBZ and Boston radio will be felt for years to come. I also know that the WBZ-AM brand is strong and will continue to be powered by a team of expert, skilled professionals performing at the highest level, and I look forward to partnering with you to help WBZ reach its full potential.

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Killing radio, one station at a time: A requiem for WFNX

By Donna L. Halper

I was getting my car repaired, and I got into a conversation with the 20-something guy who was waiting on me. I told him I had written a book about Boston radio, and I asked him what his favorite station was.

“I never listen to radio,” he said, “but my mother still does.”

I’d like to say I was shocked, but it’s a comment I’ve heard from other young adults, including many of my students at Lesley University. Today, they can easily download their favorite songs without having to sit through endless commercial interruptions. Few of these kids have any emotional connection to radio.

Whenever I discuss this with colleagues, I am often told that radio has simply become yesterday’s technology. But I disagree. I believe many of radio’s problems are an outgrowth of the policies that deregulated broadcasting and allowed a handful of giant conglomerates to dominate what’s on the air.

This has been bad news for independent stations with unique formats, as well as for stations with personality disc jockeys and a finger on the pulse of the city. Many have been replaced by cheaper options — predictable and safe music, syndicated or voice-tracked hosts, minimal local presence.

It’s been great news for the corporate owners: they save lots of money by syndicating, voice-tracking and using cookie-cutter formats. But there is also a serious consequence: they are driving away the next generation of listeners. After all, if most stations sound the same, why bother to listen?

My students don’t dream of becoming disc jockeys (as I did), nor do they hope to have a show of their own. Increasingly, radio has become irrelevant to their lives. As someone who has spent more than four decades in broadcasting, I am deeply saddened by what has happened to the profession I love.

So, naturally, I was disappointed to learn that WFNX was just sold to Clear Channel, which remains one of the biggest media conglomerates. (Disclosure: Some years ago I worked as a consultant for WFNX.) I have nothing personally against Clear Channel, and several friends of mine work at one of their stations. But as I see it, Clear Channel’s bottom-line mentality is part of the larger problem. In our current media environment, corporate owners seem to have less tolerance for the station that is unusual, the station with the niche audience. Part of what makes radio unique as a mass medium is its ability to befriend the listener. So losing a favorite station is much like losing a friend.

Of course, stations get sold and formats change. It happened to WJDA in Quincy, WBCN in Boston and now WFNX. While these stations may not have had the biggest ratings, they had devoted fans who wish things had turned out better. Fortunately, there are still some wonderful stations in Greater Boston. But there should also be an environment where independent owners can thrive, and where the needs of the media conglomerates do not supersede the needs of the listeners.

In my ideal universe, there would be room for well-run corporate stations (with local announcers, please), but also room for stations that want to take chances and do something different, the way WFNX did for such a long time.

Donna L. Halper is associate professor of communication at Lesley University. She is the author of five books about media history, and has two essays in a new SABR book about Boston baseball, “Opening Fenway Park in Style: The 1912 Boston Red Sox.”

A blow to independent radio

This is very sad news indeed: Boston Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich has announced that WFNX Radio (101.7 FM), one of the few big-market independent rock stations in the country, is being sold to Clear Channel.

The Phoenix has posted Mindich’s email to the staff here.

I remain part of the Phoenix family, and my best wishes go out to everyone affected. Mindich has fought hard to keep his media holdings out of the clutches of corporate chain ownership. But economic conditions remain miserable.

The FCC must approve the sale.

Clear Channel owns 850 radio stations in 150 cities. Its Boston stations are WJMN (94.5 FM), WXKS-FM (107.9 FM), WXKS-AM (AM 1200) and the Spanish-language station WKOX (AM 1430).

Update: Lisa van der Pool of the Boston Business Journal has more details.

Still more: Donna Goodison has a very good, thorough story in the Boston Herald. D.C. Denison has a briefer account at Boston.com.

Jay Severin returns to Boston’s airwaves

Four months after being fired by WTKK Radio (96.9 FM), Jay Severin is returning to the air — this time with WXKS (AM 1200), a Clear Channel-owned station that has tried to build a talk-radio alternative around nationally syndicated right-wingers like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. The Boston Herald reports today that Severin will helm afternoon drive (3 to 6 p.m.) starting this Thursday.

Severin, who has a long history of making incendiary racial and sexual remarks, was canned after a preening, offensive monologue about his alleged swordsmanship with interns. More to the point, I suspect, was that his ratings had plummeted, making it hard to justify his reported $1 million salary. No word in the Herald as to what Clear Channel is going to pay him.

Rob Eno wonders if Severin might actually beat his replacement at ‘TKK, Doug Meehan, since Severin will be following Limbaugh — “gold in the talk radio game.” (Meehan’s lead-in is Michael Graham, so I can certainly understand Eno’s reasoning.) Problem is, Boston has always been one of Limbaugh’s weakest markets. Indeed, when Clear Channel converted ‘XKS to a right-wing talk station a couple of years ago, it called itself “Rush Radio.” Now it’s just “Talk 1200,” which suggests that executives don’t see Limbaugh as much of a local asset.

A far bigger issue is WXKS’s weak signal. Though promos tout its 50,000 watts of power, that doesn’t translate into listenability. Driving in from the North Shore earlier today, it wasn’t until I hit Revere that the static finally dropped to a tolerable level. Even liberal talk station WWZN (AM 1510), with its notoriously weak signal, came in more clearly.

As for Severin’s return, it will be interesting to see if anyone cares. Somewhere, Scot Lehigh is quietly celebrating. But I’ve missed it if anyone has been pining for Severin’s return to the Boston airwaves.

Charley Manning to replace Limbaugh

I am stunned to learn that Entercom has actually done something smart. Republican political consultant Charley Manning has been named to replace Rush Limbaugh’s syndicated noon-to-3 p.m. show on WRKO Radio (AM 680), reports the Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam.

Limbaugh will be moving to Clear Channel’s WXKS (AM 1200), which is loading up on syndicated national shows. Perhaps Entercom can persuade Clear Channel to take Laura Ingraham and Michael Savage off its hands, too.

Congratulations to Manning, a good guy who, I’m sure, will do well.

Media round-up: Losing our religion

A few local media tidbits for your perusal:

• The Boston Globe’s Michael Paulson, who may be the country’s best religion reporter working at a mainstream news organization, is taking a new position at the paper. According to the Boston Phoenix’s Adam Reilly, Paulson has been named city editor, reporting to new metro editor Jen Peter. I share Reilly’s hope that this doesn’t mean the Globe has reduced its commitment to serious coverage of religion.

• Local political junkies rejoice: Peter Lucas is back on the beat. A longtime reporter for the Phoenix and the Boston Herald, Lucas disappeared into the state bureaucracy for several decades. He has now re-emerged, and will write a twice-weekly column for the Lowell Sun, according to Jon Keller. I once had the privilege of hearing Lucas’ hilarious retelling of the “White Will Run” incident Keller describes that nearly brought a premature end to Lucas’ reporting career. I look forward to reading his Sun column.

• Sharp-eyed Universal Hubster Adam Gaffin flags a tidbit from Boston Radio Watch hinting that Greater Boston may be getting yet another talk station — WXKS (AM 1430), owned by Clear Channel. Given its weak signal, it presumably would not pose much of a threat to WRKO (AM 680), WTKK (96.9 FM) or WWZN (AM 1510) — the last a liberal station that itself is no great shakes when it comes to having a listenable signal.