Rushing to Judgment on Howie Carr

One of the more interesting aspects of the Howie Carr controversy is the fierce criticism Carr has received from those who don’t buy the argument that Carr should be considered a legend in Boston talk radio. Recent articles by progressive commentators Dan Kennedy and Kevin Sowyrda accurately reflect the beliefs of those who dispute the notion that Carr’s one of the greatest of all-time.

Why is Carr’s status as a legend challenged by these dissenters? It mainly has to do with when Carr first became successful in this market.

The common argument from the anti-Carr folks is that Carr is inferior in terms of quality to the likes of Jerry Williams, David Brudnoy and Gene Burns—all of whom are undisputed legends, all of whom became successful before the “Limbaugh-ization” of talk radio in the late-1980s and early-1990s.

Carr’s success came after the “Limbaugh-ization” of the talk radio industry; he was undoubtedly, and perhaps unavoidably, influenced by Rush Limbaugh’s highly successful, highly “partisan” style. Those who regard the “Limbaugh-ization” of talk radio as a net negative will naturally challenge the belief that a host who was influenced by Limbaugh deserves to be considered an icon.

Just because Carr’s radio persona was more influenced by Limbaugh than Williams doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t be accorded Williams’ status as a legendary Boston host. I certainly don’t think either Carr or Limbaugh are flawless, but isn’t it obvious that much of the criticism of Carr mirrors the criticism of Limbaugh—whose legendary status in the national radio market can’t really be disputed either?

I understand the argument that the “Limbaugh-ization” of the industry brought an end to the “Golden Age” of Boston talk radio. I also understand—and partially agree with—the argument that, as a result of such “Limbaugh-ization,” hosts such as Carr embraced content that Williams, Brudnoy and Burns would have eschewed. However, attacking Carr’s status in this market merely because he was influenced by Limbaugh is rather shortsighted. It shouldn’t be held against Carr that he became successful in the post-Limbaugh era. Carr’s style was markedly different from the style employed by Williams, Brudnoy and Burns—but that does not mean he shouldn’t join them on Boston’s list of legends.

About D. R. Tucker