The irony! Boston public radio crowds out WTKK-FM! Is Howie’s FM future in doubt?

( – promoted by Paul R. Ferro)

It’s nearly official: WTKK-FM is shedding its news-talk format in favor of nondescript music.

Some quick observations:

1. It’s always sad to see talk radio programming die in Boston. The golden years (of Williams, Burns and Brudnoy) are long gone. Boston deserves local talk radio driven by local issues hosted by folks who have a grasp of political history.

2. Jim Braude is talented and it’s a shame he won’t be on the radio. An unabashed liberal, Braude understood the domain of talk radio: combative, conservative and often with a sense of humor. His longtime colleague Herald columnist Marge Eagan cannot match his wit nor his knowledge of the terrain. Eagan’s fiscally conservative views were contrived and the mostly right-wing audience knew the score, particularly when she covered them up in ballasts of Obama love and incessant rambling about SSM. Her pivoting on issues like public employee union pensions and the Massachusetts hack culture showed that she was unable to make the connection between her reformist liberal politics and the predominate political culture. She will not be missed. She’s no Jerry Williams an honest liberal who clashed against the pathetic Dukakis-led disaster of the 1980s and paid a big price for it. Williams was able to meld his liberal politics with a reform culture.  

3. The demise of WTKK spells a nightmare for Howie Carr who was hoping to jump ship after the expiration of his contentious contract. Thus far, there isn’t a non-sports radio format that could offer Howie and his over-sized contract a refuge. I doubt he will survive on “magic radio” in part because, as he fully knows, his audience consists of older people without e-mail addresses.

4. As one commenter over at the Globe noted, Michael Graham did run a frat-house type show that did drive away people interested in real issues. He’s no Howie who remains a titan because he’s got the right amount of local credibility, self-effacing humor and a dedicated audience, far out and angry as it may  be.

5. The Globe reports that the demise of WTKK “comes at a time when public radio stations WBUR-FM and WGBH-FM are making moves to strengthen their positions in the non-music format.” This is a prime example of public (tax-supported) dollars crowding out the private market. Should not public radio emphasize the “market failure” which doesn’t produce enough jazz, classical and spoken word projects rather than news talk which is better handled by private enterprise? I wonder if Braude and Eagan capture the irony of the Boston radio environment in which they operated. Public radio is running amok buying up the radio dial.

6 Gayle Fee of the Boston Herald is reporting that we “may not have heard the last of Jim Braude and Margery Eagan.” Possibilities include the emerging publicly-funded WGBH though both talk-masters are still under contract to ‘TKK. I’m not sure whether either of the public radio stations can afford Braude and Eagan.

7. Media critic Dan Kennedy misses the mark. “A station has to have an identity,” Kennedy told the Globe. “At ‘TKK, you had a sort-of liberal show in the morning, basically non-ideological stuff in the middle of the day, and then a hard-core conservative in Graham. When you tune in, you should know what you’re getting.” Isn’t that the point of diversity, Dan? Radio always could use a little serendipity. As with the bankruptcy of AirAmerica, liberals have pretty much written off non-public radio. They are happy with academia, NPR, Hollywood and the urban, high-tech enclaves that have worked well for them (See 2012 and 2010 locally). WTKK posited itself as a rival to WRKO, thinking that moderate listeners would tire of the wing-nut agenda. Not a bad strategy. Ratings for various 96.9 shows outstripped the ones faltering on ‘RKO. Go figure.

8. The shuffle at WTKK may have collateral damage in the form of Jeff Kuhner. “Liberalism’s Worst Nightmare,” is, in the Boston context, “local Radio’s most unlistenable talk show host.” Local hero, the displaced Michelle McPhee is far better for all the right reasons. If the crumbling empire of J. Kahn at Entercomm had more cash, Braude and Eagan might be a good fit proving once again that ‘RKO is the burying ground for reclamation projects (See Finneran).

More observations forthcoming…

UPDATE: The ever-wise, occasional WTKK talk show substitute, Dan Flynn weighs in on the demise of his former part-time employer.  

About Karl Marx

Left wing libertarian conservative.

  • If public radio vanished tomorrow, how would that have helped WTTK?  Does public radio really steal listeners away from Michael Graham?

  • wavey

    You really think Jeff Kuhner is worse than Michelle McPhee? Gawd, at least he can string a sentence together and doesn’t have a voice like nails on a chalkboard.

    I thought the diversity was an asset, not a liability – unless you’re expecting to get the same audience to tune in for 12 hours straight. Besides, even conservatives liked listening to Eagan/Braude and Michael Smerkonish.

    I got to the point where I couldn’t listen to Michael Graham, though. Dude drinks way too much coffee.

    NOTE: The radio talk market was BUILT on WRKO.  

  • D.R. Tucker

    While the troubles faced by progressive talk radio are often, opportunistically, regarded by those on the Right as “evidence” that Americans are simply not interested in “liberal views” over our public airwaves, less frequently noted — largely due to the lack of a similar left-wing “echo chamber” on our public airwaves — is that right-wing talk now faces problems as well competing in the “free market” (where such a market can be found in talk radio, anyway.)

    WTKK, which carried Don Imus, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham in its heyday, and WXKS, which carried Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Mark Levin before going under, aren’t the only stations to fall flat in a once-vibrant, right-wing talk radio market. Salem Radio Network-owned WTTT, home of agitprop ayatollahs Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Michael Medved and Hugh Hewitt, switched to Spanish gospel music in the late-2000s. In addition, WRKO-which carried Rush Limbaugh from 1994-2010 before losing him to WXKS, only to reacquire him this year — let go of four hosts in 2012; the station, which features Washington Times columnist Jeff Kuhner and Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, in addition to Limbaugh and Levin, is no longer a ratings powerhouse, and isn’t much of a political powerhouse either (as outgoing US Senator Scott Brown, who was worshiped on the station for years, can attest).

    Why has right-wing talk tanked in Boston? Simple. The shows became repetitive claptrap. The era of independent conservative and libertarian views (of the sort expressed by erstwhile talk-radio titans Jerry Williams, David Brudnoy and Gene Burns) gave way to the era of blind pro-GOP cheerleading. The quality of the shows declined, and so did the audience.

    Dan Kennedy

    Corporate consolidation. Since the passage of the lamentable Telecommunications Act of 1996, corporations have been buying up radio stations in market after market, transforming what was once a strictly local affair into a bottom-line-obsessed business.

    As far back as 1997 I wrote in the Boston Phoenix that the rise of chain ownership would eventually kill local talk. We are now seeing that come to fruition. The automated music stations that are on the rise may not garner many listeners. But they are cheap, which means that their owners can bleed some profits out of them regardless.

    “In our current media environment, corporate owners seem to have less tolerance for the station that is unusual, the station with the niche audience,” media scholar and radio consultant Donna Halper wrote for my blog, Media Nation, earlier this year. “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.”