Album #20: ‘The Essential George Jones’

It’s a little embarrassing these days to say you once were a Don Imus fan. By the time he died earlier this year, he was thought of — to the extent that he was thought of at all — as a racist has-been. But for several years during the mid to late ’90s, his nationally syndicated radio show was a favorite of the chattering classes. I was an avid listener during my morning commute. And the one thing I don’t regret about it is that he introduced me to George Jones.

Which is why “The Essential George Jones” is on my list of top 25 albums. Somewhat different from the “Essential” album you’ll find on Spotify, with a different cover, the 1994 two-CD set features 44 songs from Jones’ long, booze-drenched career. I’m not a fan of his upbeat songs; the man just didn’t have the knack, and I find stuff like “White Lightning” and “I’m a People” pretty much unlistenable.

But those ballads. And that voice. From “Just One More” to “A Good Year for the Roses,” from “We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds” to “Bartender’s Blues,” Jones takes over a song with waves of depth and emotion.

Jones’ Mount Olympus is “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which hit No. 1 in 1980. Often described as the greatest country song ever, it is so floridly sentimental, with swelling strings and a chorus by way of producer Billy Sherrill, that it would inspire laughs in lesser hands. Instead, Jones elevates it to something so fragile and heartbreaking that it’s almost unbearable.

I went to see him just today, oh but I didn’t see no tears / All dressed up to go away, first time I’d seen him smile in years.

Talk about this post on Facebook.

Imus’ judgment

No, Don Imus shouldn’t have said he’d “shoot” Jay Severin — but, based on Jessica Heslam’s account, it sounds like no one ever would have known about it if the Severin camp hadn’t started blabbing. And come on — does Severin actually believe Imus was going to pull out a gun and blow him away if he refused to get off the stage?

The shooting remark aside, you can’t argue with Imus’ judgment.

Piercing talk radio

Charlie Pierce is on a talk-radio rampage. Last month he went after WTKK (96.9 FM), and specifically Don Imus, Michael Graham, Jay Severin, Laura Ingraham and Michele McPhee, whom he doesn’t actually name, referring to her only as “a woman who sounds like she’s shouting her program off the back porch of a three-decker in Revere.”

Now he’s back, targeting Tom Finneran of WRKO (AM 680) as host of “one of the lamest shows in the history of the electric radio device.”

I can’t say I disagree, except to note that McPhee doesn’t actually shout. It only seems that way.

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.

Same as it ever was

After all that, we’re going to have Howie Carr back in his old time slot on WRKO (AM 680) and a new/old Imus show in the morning on WTKK (96.9 FM)? Apparently so. WRKO is milking Carr’s return for all its worth, running a huge “I’M BAAACCK!” graphic on its Web site this morning.

Prediction: Howie’s numbers will be better than they were before he disappeared from the airwaves, at least for a while. He’ll have an opportunity to show some energy and attract some new listeners — or maybe bring back a few old ones who’d given up on him in recent years. But Imus, who hasn’t had the benefit of all the free publicity Carr received during the past few months, will have to rebuild.

Brian Maloney, who earlier this week was wondering if Carr might move to a talk station in Charlotte, N.C., now says, “Other than a higher salary, Howie doesn’t seem to have won a single battle.” Other than a higher salary? Good grief. We should all be such losers.

And why can’t someone come up with a new idea in this market that actually works?