There was a time when the merger of two massive radio chains would have occasioned apocalyptic warnings about corporate media monopolies. Yet the announcement earlier this month that Entercom and CBS Radio would seek to combine their forces into a nationwide 244-station chain — with huge implications for Boston — barely created a stir.
Yes, both The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald had some fun kicking around the possibility that the city’s two big sports stations, Entercom’s WEEI (93.7 FM) and CBS’s The Sports Hub (98.5 FM), could wind up under the same roof. But we seem to be many years past the time when we worried about the effect of out-of-state ownership on local communities. It was a topic I wrote about repeatedly in the ’90s (here’s an example from 1997), and now it’s yesterday’s news.
At the bottom of Howie Carr’s column in today’s Boston Herald is this: “Howie will be back on the radio Monday at 3 p.m.” Since Carr had just been released from WRKO (AM 680), I figured he was going to do at least a temporary stint at the Herald’s Internet radio station — maybe even with his old sidekick Doug “V.B.” Goudie, who was put on waivers this week by Cox Media, the new owner of WFXT-TV (Channel 25.) (And who except us old folks remembers that it was Carr who gave Goudie his nickname, which stands for “Virgin Boy”?)
But as the redoubtable Scott Fybush of NorthEast Radio Watch writes Monday and today, Carr has numerous syndication options — none of them particularly attractive, but nevertheless very much in play. He’s still on the air in several smaller markets, and the possible deals he could cut are complicated and involve stations you’ve likely never heard of. But Fybush, as always, has the goods, and you should read him if you want to know every last tidbit.
As for Carr’s departure from WRKO, well, it says a lot about both Carr and his former employer that this isn’t a bigger story. When Carr tried unsuccessfully to get out of his contract and jump to WTKK (96.9 FM) some years ago, it was huge news. Now WTKK is gone, Carr doesn’t have a Boston radio outlet, and WRKO is sucking wind. Non-sports talk has been in decline for years, and Entercom management has seemingly done everything it could to hasten that decline, driving a once-great station into the ground. Carr had long been ‘RKO’s sole remaining asset, but high-priced talent isn’t part of the business plan these days.
And if you don’t think Carr has talent, you should have read him in the ’80s or heard his show in the ’90s. He knew more about Massachusetts politics than anyone alive, and he was absolutely fearless. But I’ve just defined the problem, haven’t I? In addition to letting his natural mean-spiritedness curdle into something uglier than that, Carr has also been phoning it in for years, both at the keyboard and behind the microphone.
But despite our very different political sensibilities, I am a former fan, and I’d love to see him rediscover what made him a must-read and -listen.
Photo (cc) by Mark Sardella and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.
Yes, as a matter of fact, I am old enough to remember Glenn Ordway as the color man back when the legendary Johnny Most was doing Celtics play-by-play.
I have nothing especially profound to say about Ordway’s departure from WEEI Radio (AM 850), a station he helped build into a sports powerhouse and that is now lagging in the ratings behind relative newcomer WBZ-FM (98.5 FM), better known as the Sports Hub. I’m only pointing out the obvious by observing that if this was all about the ratings, then no one is safe, starting with John Dennis and Gerry Callahan.
The one thing I’d keep an eye on is whether the move to dump Ordway was about money as much as it was about ratings. Marc Ganis, a sports business consultant based in Chicago, tells Matt Stout of the Boston Herald that Ordway’s salary — $500,000, down from $1 million a couple of years ago — was seriously out of whack with what local stations pay these days. Chad Finn of The Boston Globe reports that Ordway’s replacement, Mike Salk, is expected to make about $100,000.
We’ve already seen the dismantling of political talk radio in Boston. WTKK (96.9 FM) recently switched to music. WRKO (AM 680), which, like WEEI, is owned by Entercom, has cut way back over the years, to the point at which afternoon host Howie Carr is the station’s only highly paid star. The one exception to the downsizing trend on the commercial dial is Dan Rea’s evening show on WBZ (AM 1030).
Sports talk starts from a much higher ratings base than political talk, so perhaps Entercom is willing to spend some money to get WEEI back in the game. But it’s not only about ratings these days. It used to be that if you put up the numbers, the advertising would come rolling in. The ad business has changed considerably in recent years, and it’s not that simple anymore. There are plenty of non-radio options for people to listen to in their cars these days.
Ordway is talking about pursuing Internet options, and I wish him well. The challenge is that Internet radio doesn’t make money, and is generally used to promote something else. Consider the city’s two online alternative-music outlets. WFNX.com and RadioBDC exist to extend the brands of The Phoenix and the Globe’s Boston.com site, respectively. I don’t think anyone expects them to become profit-generating monsters.
As for the battle between WEEI and the Sports Hub, it could be that the most interesting sports talk you’ll hear over the next few weeks and months will be about the stations, not what’s on them.
Talk radio, as we all know, is not what it used to be. But if WTKK is taken out of play, I wonder if Entercom might decide to reinvigorate WRKO (AM 680), which has all but disappeared except for Howie Carr’s afternoon-drive show. If Jim Braude and Margery Eagan are out at ‘TKK, then they deserve a slot somewhere.
Meanwhile, Dan Rea continues to do well evenings at WBZ (AM 1030) with a talk show that is as conservative as any on the air — but that is also intelligent and respectful of its listeners. Is there a lesson in that?
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. So maybe Howie Carr’s suspension from WRKO Radio (AM 680) is just a suspension. But let me inject some uninformed speculation into the matter. The once-great station has been running on fumes for some time. Maybe its corporate owner, Entercom, has decided to force an end game, let Carr out of his contract and turn ‘RKO into an outlet for, oh, let’s say Spanish-language infomercials.
The Boston Globe’s Erin Ailsworth reports that Carr was suspended for a week for badmouthing the station on the air — something he has done continuously since he was forced into staying in 2007. (Apparently it’s gotten worse lately.) Carr is said to be unhappy that Rush Limbaugh’s syndicated show recently moved to Clear Channel’s WXKS (AM 1200), part of a national “Rush Radio” network.
Funny, but I thought one of the reasons the station replaced Rush with Republican political consultant Charley Manning was that Howie and Manning are buddies, and that Charley might keep the petulant star more or less in line. I don’t have any numbers in front of me, but Boston radio observers have long noted that this is one of Limbaugh’s worst markets. The idea of not fighting to keep Limbaugh and going with a local show struck me as pretty smart, even if Manning’s show is a work in progress.
Carr does seem to be wallowing in bitterness lately. For instance, he recently wrote in his Boston Herald column that President Obama wouldn’t have made it through college and law school if he weren’t black:
Of course, no one expects Barack Obama to really know anything. We understand, all too well, exactly how he got through Columbia and Harvard Law. He had certain … intangibles, shall we say.
That’s pretty rancid even by Howie’s standards. No, I’m not leaving anything out — the ellipses are his, not mine.
Back in 2007, Carr tried to jump to WTKK (96.9 FM), which wanted him as its morning guy. Unfortunately for Carr, he turned out to have a contract more restrictive than Curt Flood’s, and he was forced to stay.
What’s not known is whether Greater Media, which owns ‘TKK, still wants him. Morning drive is now ably helmed by Jim Braude and Margery Eagan. Would ‘TKK move Jay Severin out of afternoon drive to make way for Carr?
Moreover, given the changed economic climate, it certainly seems unlikely that Greater Media would still be willing to pay Carr $7 million over five years.
The other mystery factor is how much Entercom really wants WRKO to succeed. There’s a lot of audience overlap between ‘RKO and another Entercom station, WEEI (AM 850), a sports-talk outlet that also carries the Red Sox. No doubt the company wants WRKO to make money, but not at the expense of its more-valuable sports station.
Carr is a legitimate talent, but it’s been years since he’s showed more than an occasional glimmer. His suspension comes at a time when he probably has little leverage. Maybe he’ll be back on the air in a week as though nothing happened. But you have to wonder if Entercom executives have finally decided it’s time to do something drastic about its faltering talk station.
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.
Adam Gaffin’s got the links on how former WRKO Radio (AM 680) talk-show host Scott Allen Miller’s Wikipedia entry was recently vandalized to make him appear as a Satan-worshipper who’s into porcine bestiality.
The idiotic stunt was almost certainly perpetrated by someone at Entercom, WRKO’s parent station, as Brian Maloney discovered by inspecting the digital entrails. Miller, who held his tongue when he was fired to make way for Tom Finneran, responds with class.