At WRKO, McPhee replaces Manning

I don’t see how this move makes sense, but WRKO Radio (AM 680) has ousted longtime Republican political consultant Charley Manning from its 1-to-3 p.m. slot and replaced him with Boston Herald columnist Michele McPhee — who, in turn, had been dropped recently by ‘RKO’s rival, WTKK (96.9 FM).

Like many folks in the media and political community here, I consider Manning to be a friend, so it’s hard for me to be entirely unbiased. I was also a guest on his show recently. But it strikes me that Manning got little in the way of marketing or production assistance. Given that, it’s no surprise that his ratings lagged.

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.

Where was Jill Stein?

I don’t understand why WTKK hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan would moderate a gubernatorial debate that featured only three of the four candidates. If it was their call, they were wrong. If it was management’s call, they should have refused to have anything to do with it.

If ‘TKK’s aim was to have a debate between the two major-party candidates, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and Republican challenger Charlie Baker, I would have fewer objections — though still some. September is too soon to start excluding anyone.

But there was no logical reason to include independent candidate Tim Cahill, who has no chance of winning, and exclude Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein, who also has no chance.

Not only was it unfair to Stein, it was unfair to Baker. Every time Cahill is given oxygen, he hurts Baker with the conservative base Baker needs to secure if he is to defeat Patrick this November. At the same time, nearly all of Stein’s support comes from people who might otherwise be persuaded to vote for Patrick.

She also happens to be as thoughtful and substantive as any of them, but I suppose that’s beside the point.

Is there more to Howie’s suspension?

Howie Carr

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.

Photo (cc) by Paul Keleher and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Original at Wikimedia Commons.

WTKK takes a step in the right direction

Braude and Eagan
Braude and Eagan

Boston Herald reporter Jay Fitzgerald has some very good news: WTKK (96.9 FM) is moving Jim Braude and Margery Eagan’s mid-day talk show to morning drive, where it will now be heard Monday to Friday from 7 to 10 a.m. Aging has-been Don Imus’ syndicated program will be relegated to the decidedly unattractive 5-to-7 a.m. slot.

In making the move, WTKK rectifies a mistake that goes back to its failed attempt to lure Howie Carr from WRKO (AM 680) for morning drive. Carr wanted to come over, but he turned out to have the most restrictive contract since Curt Flood; indeed, he was whining about it as recently as yesterday.

Stuck with no Howie, ‘TKK took back Imus, who was returning to the airwaves following his penance for referring to African-American female basketball players as “nappy-headed hos.”

Naturally, a lot of attention will be focused on the duel between Eagan and Braude’s program and ‘RKO’s morning-drive show hosted by Tom Finneran and Todd Feinburg. That shouldn’t be much of a contest. Braude and Eagan are naturals. Finneran has never gotten comfortable behind the microphone, and Feinburg is all plodding, ultraconservative earnestness.

The far more interesting question is whether this is the first of several shoes to drop at ‘TKK. It’s hard to read the tea leaves, but the station has made a statement: Its signature program is now a morning talk show hosted by a liberal, Braude, and a moderate, Eagan, both of whom bring a light touch to the proceedings and are respectful toward and engaging with callers.

Where does that leave WTKK’s right-wing twins, yipping ninny Michael Graham and hatemongering afternoon host Jay Severin?

For the moment, they appear to be OK. Graham’s actually getting an extra hour. As for Severin, maybe I’m parsing this too finely, but I do find it interesting that he’s losing a drive-time hour (6 to 7 p.m.) and gaining a non-drive hour (2 to 3 p.m.). Michele McPhee is moving up a bit, from 6 to 10 p.m., which could be seen as an attempt to expose her to more listeners.

More than anything, Eagan and Braude’s move up is step toward civility on the airwaves — rare at any time, and something we ought to celebrate.

Deval Patrick is shocked

Gov. Deval Patrick has discovered that there is — I hope you’re sitting down — offensive programming on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM), the station where he has been making monthly appearances since entering office more than two years ago.

Patrick, appearing on Jim Braude and Margery Eagan’s program, said he was “embarrassed to be associated with the station” after management decided to lift the month-long suspension it had handed out to Jay Severin for his vile comments about Mexicans. (Globe; Herald.)

But as I and many others have noted, Severin’s comments that day were entirely consistent with his rhetoric over the past decade. If his ratings hadn’t been sliding, it’s not likely he would have gotten into trouble.

Weirdly, Patrick had never expressed any misgivings about appearing on the station until Severin actually apologized. Governor, this may be the one moment when you don’t need to feel embarrassed — a moment that will last until the next time Severin goes off. Enjoy it.

Crowdsourcing Severin’s errors

Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh writes that he’s going to try crowdsourcing Jay Severin’s errors. Good luck with that. Here’s my first contribution, based on listening just to part of his first hour yesterday.

A caller ripped the media for hounding poor Sarah Palin while letting Sonia Sotomayor get away with not giving interviews. At least Palin answered questions, the caller said. How can the media let Sotomayor get away with not giving interviews? (I’m paraphrasing from memory, but that was the gist.)

“Great point,” Severin responded, without bothering to point out that Supreme Court nominees, by longstanding custom, are not allowed to grant interviews. As Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said yesterday, he wants to begin hearings sooner rather than later so that Sotomayor can finally be heard.

Severin had to know better. By not only not correcting the caller’s error, but by amplifying it and giving him an “attaboy,” I’d say that qualifies as an error. So put it on your list, Scot.

For Severin, no news is good news

Jay Severin began his first WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) show in a month by reading an apology, the text of which is on the station’s Web site. Then he switched over to distorting Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s record on racial preference. (Here are the facts.)

Pre-suspension, it’s pretty much a slam-dunk that he’d have snickered about her weight. And it’s unlikely that he would have lauded her “compelling life story,” as he did today. So that’s progress. I guess.

Can I change the station now? Thank you.

More: Not sure how long Severin’s apology will remain on WTKK.com, so here is a more permanent home.

Talking Jay Severin on NECN

New England Cable News reporter Greg Wayland interviewed me earlier today about the imminent return of Jay Severin.

Did Severin take a pay cut?

From Jessica Heslam’s interview with Jay Severin in the Boston Herald:

Severin referred questions about the conditions of his return — including whether he took a pay cut — to his agent and attorney, George Tobia. Tobia declined to comment on the conditions, saying simply, “Jay is very excited to be back in the fold on his station. He loves working there and he’s excited about doing a great show for WTKK.”

If the answer was “no,” wouldn’t Severin and Tobia just say “no”?

From Eric Moskowitz’s story in the Boston Globe:

As have others who have followed the issue from both sides, [El Planeta managing editor Marcela] García speculated that the suspension had as much to do with Severin’s reported $1 million annual salary and his recent drop to 14th in the ratings as with his particular remarks. A spokeswoman for Greater Media Inc., has confirmed that WTKK’s parent company and Severin are in negotiations.

Negotiating over what?

Keep your eye on the big picture. From the beginning, this has sounded more than anything like the story of a troubled media company — and keep in mind that all media companies are troubled — trying to get out of a contract it agreed to in the midst of an entirely different economic climate.

I don’t think we’re going to see any $1 million-a-year local radio hosts anymore. It must be particularly galling for Greater Media to have to pay Severin that much to come in last in his two-person race with WRKO’s Howie Carr.

No doubt Severin’s ratings on Tuesday will be spectacular. We’ll see if he can sustain it.