Boston Globe on WERS / WCRB - some clarifications

Aaron Read
Tue Apr 11 10:00:31 EDT 2006

Hey guys, here's a hodge-podge of responses to various things that have 
come up in the wake of the story that Peter Smyth of Greater Media made 
an offer of $10mil/yr to Emerson to LMA WERS...presumably to put 
classical music on.

First, everyone should go over to and read up 
on Mark's excellent summary of how much money (billing) the stations in 
question are making.  It confirms what a lot of speculation has been 
saying; WCRB is profitable, true.  But given it's decent ratings, it is 
severely underbilling its audience, and that's bad news for the future 
of commercial classical in Boston.

GM's WKLB country also underbills about as badly and thus truly is a 
prime candidate for divesting.

GM's WBOS has terrible ratings but bills excellently, so that format can 
be expected to stick around.

Based on this, I expect WBOS's format to shift to 102.5FM, and the Red 
Sox games to move to 92.9FM.  A new sports station will be built on 92.9 
around the games.   WEEI will take a huge hit in the process, but 
probably will stick around.  Probably 1510 or 890/1400 will fold - I 
doubt Boston can sustain four separate all-sports stations...but one 
never knows.

Will classical disappear?  Based purely on the money I wouldn't be 
surprised if it does.  WGBH could do well to try and pick up those 
listeners, as could WHRB, but I don't think either of them really wants 
to.  Where's the ROI?  Hell WGBH is moving towards MORE talk, not less. 
  Anyways, a classical HD-2 channel might make sense if it's cheap 
enough to deploy...but that's only because for the moment HD-2 (and 
HD-3) channels are vaguely "throwaway" channels until more 
multicast-capable radios hit the market.


Yes, subcarriers are specifically designated as a "private" broadcast 
service, and the law bans "tunable" subcarrier receivers; SCA tuners are 
supposed to be fixed to a given main FM carrier.  In reality you can get 
a tunable SCA receiver pretty easily - there's not much incentive for 
the FCC to crack down on it.   Although with the advent of the new 
FMeXtra digital SCA service by DRE  ( only God 
knows how that'll all play out in the regulatory field.  So far the FCC 
hasn't shown any inclination that they will hold FMeXtra broadcasts to 
the same receiver restrictions that analog SCA's are.


I really don't get the WERS LMA idea.  There's no ROI to be had there, 
and it's far too much money to be a "conscience" payoff to appease WCRB 
fans or owners.  I've heard rumors that Emerson has drooled for years 
over the concept of how much money WBUR rakes in, but even at WBUR's 
best they gross perhaps $15-$25 million/year...and they target a very 
wealthy demo that likes to give money.  That demo likes news, not 
classical (or any music - given how much smaller WGBH Radio & WUMB's 
fundraising & underwriting totals are in comparison to WBUR's).   Plus 
the FCC prohibits a station from *fundraising* for anyone but itself (or 
the licensee) underwriting money could flow back to Greater Media 
(maybe) but on-air fundraising could not and that's where the bigger 
money is; not underwriting.

I saw a post on Radio-Info (where slander means never having to say 
you're sorry) that pointed out the source for this information was "an 
Emerson insider" which really could mean anything.  It could be a WCRB 
fan at Emerson who wants to make GM look bad.  It could be a faculty 
member annoyed at the higher ups (there's no lack of public dirty 
laundry there).   It could even be a feel-good campaign where Smyth took 
the PR hit to allow Emerson to assuage student fears that the station 
might be sold (a perennial fear).  Who knows?

I don't know Smyth, beyond that he's a nice guy and seems to go a good 
job running GM.  But to my logic, if one wanted to spend $10mil getting 
more classical on the air, I'd offer that money to WHRB, or even WGBH. 
Neither of which would sneeze at $10 million a year!  The lack of logic 
makes me wonder about the veracity of the whole story.


As to WBUR's history with BU.  I've done a fair amount of historical 
research into the history of both of BU's stations: NPR powerhouse WBUR 
and carrier-current/student-only WTBU.  I went to BU and spent several 
afternoons combing through the library for old articles and 
whatnot...lots of interesting stuff.  Interviewed several old alumni as 
well. - I've got an old summary on my website:

(it's most about WTBU, but there's WBUR stuff too)

Below is a relevant excerpt.  Remember that at the time there were 
rampant antiwar protests that got pretty hairy.  BU was known as the 
"Berkeley of the East" back then, and the college administrators (not 
Sibler - he didn't come on board until Jan.1971) were NOT happy about 
what the students were saying on the air.  Back then WBUR was mostly 
student-run and operated, although the style of "student run" mgmt was 
rather different than it is today.

"In February of 1964 two SPRC members were assigned direct control of 
WBUR; going directly over the students - despite vigorous protests and 
several BU students defecting to Emerson College as a result. A year 
later in February of 1965 SPC (which was SPRC - they changed the name in 
mid-1964) lost control of the station as well and it was run directly by 
the BU Public Relations Office (later an outside General Manager was 
brought in to run the station) In 1968 the BU Administration would run a 
serious re-apprasial on WBUR...attempting to determine the worth of the 
role the station played within and outside the BU community. And WBUR's 
woes would continue into 1971...when 21 WBUR members were fired amidst 
charges of "gross mis-management" by the Administration. A skeleton crew 
of six staffers was retained to keep the station on the air."

Note the 1971 date - I believe that was indeed Silber's influence.  I 
remember stories about Case, the previous President, from my mother who 
attended BU back in the early 1960's.  She said that at the time, BU was 
really going downhill financially and academically.  Silber was brought 
in to "clean house" and get things "back on track"...WBUR was not the 
only outlet to feel his wrath.  (so to speak)

I don't know what happened between 1971 and 1979, when Jane Christo was 
hired as GM of WBUR.  However, WBUR says that in 1971 they had enough 
staff to qualify for CPB funding, which requires a minimum of five 
full-time professional staff members (hence the "skeleton crew of six 
staffers" no doubt.  Of course, everyone knows that Jane wasted no time 
after her arrival in 1979, working to "professionalize" WBUR.  What few 
students were still involved were largely gone by the mid 1980's.

Legend has it that around the late 1980's or early 1990's Silber 
delivered an ultimatum that WBUR had to start pulling its own weight 
within two or three years or BU was selling the station.  Silber's own 
hatred of the BU journalism department (and the media in general) isn't 
much of a secret.  That might lend credence to the legend, or just be 
playing off it.  I'm inclined to think the latter, because in the early 
1990's NCE radio stations were not worth even a tenth of what they are 
worth today; the insane value of a license came from the Telcomm Act of 
1996...still a few years down the road.   I suspect it all was just 
Jane's raw ambition to make WBUR to NPR what WGBH is to PBS...The 
Connection's roots trace back to that timeframe.  IIRC, Only a Game 
started locally back in the early 1990's as well.   Of course, the 
Peabody award WBUR won in 1986 didn't hurt, either.  :-)

Getting back to the legend, supposedly what "saved" WBUR was the First 
Gulf War.  The decision to carry lots of BBC World Service programming 
was hugely popular (and brought in loads more fundraising/underwriting 
money) and was the final nail in the coffin for music on WBUR.  Around 
that time WBUR went all-news save for Charlie Kolhaise (sp?) doing jazz 
on the overnights, and even that disappeared around 1998 or so (I 
remember hearing Charlie's last show, that was very sad).  At least they 
still have "Con Salsa", though.

The rest of the financial story everyone knows by know from the news 
surrounding Jane's ouster in the fall of 2004.



Aaron Read
Boston, MA 02176

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