The new WGBH lineup
Wed Nov 18 13:08:05 EST 2009
>> Good host--if you are into his pompous presentation. But from what
>> I've heard, not a very good person. The way I heard it, he took U
>> Mass Lowell for a very expensive ride a few years back and delivered
>> just about nothing at all.
Before you attack a man's character, you ought to know all the relevant
details. More history of WUML is needed to understand Chris's
involvement with them.
Yes Chris has an ego and yes, it's pretty big. Of course he does: he's
a talk show host. You can't survive that kind of job unless you've got
a big ego, much less succeed at it. But he didn't take UML for a ride:
he just sat in the limo that the UML administration hired for him.
In 2002-03, UMass Chancellor William Hogan charged all the UMass
campuses to find ways to better utilize their communications outlets.
This wasn't exclusive to their radio stations, but WUML was considered
"low hanging fruit" because of it's stereotypical "college radio"
format, facilities, and style of management. Not to mention it's
"college radio" programming and audience, which were both "niche", to
put it kindly.
With that political backing, the director of Public Affairs at UMass
Lowell, Lou DiNatale, really had a liking for the idea that WUML (then
WJUL) could be the WBUR for Merrimack Valley; powerful, lots of
listeners, politically relevant, award-winning and (let's not forget)
fiscally self-sufficient (if not turning a little profit). To that end,
they embarked on plans for three major initiatives: one was to
eventually get the Lowell Spinners baseball games on WUML, one was to
launch a morning news show in partnership with the Lowell Sun newspaper,
and one was to provide a home for Chris Lydon, who was looking for a
home for the nascent "Radio Open Source".
WUML provided substantial funding because the idea was that ROS would
start out being produced at WGBH but eventually would move up to UMass
Lowell's campus into new studios that were slated for construction.
Chris would teach a few classes in the "visiting lecturer" style, and
they'd produce a Merrimack-Valley-focused version of ROS for Friday
afternoons, using a lot of students for help. All this would be the
cornerstone of a major communications curriculum initiative on UMass
Lowell's part. Viewed in that light, having Chris was a stroke of
genius because he brought substantial star power and credibility to a
college that didn't have either when it came to communications.
Alas, the whole thing never happened because, and this is my own
armchair quarterbacking here, UMass Lowell made a classic error in
college radio: they tried to have it both ways. Keep the students
involved so you can still say it's a student activity, but exclude them
from any real power or decisions. This NEVER works, and the result was
predictable: the students out-and-out revolted. Now, to be fair, the
students fought very dirty and did things I thought were wholly
inappropriate...and guaranteed that they would never be taken seriously
by the administration...but given how UMass Lowell approached this whole
thing, I'm not surprised they acted they way they did.
Eventually the political fallout got pretty big, and - more importantly
- Jack Wilson came in as the new President of UMass Lowell and he had no
real desire to continue this fight, nor did he have the money to pursue
the big, fancy, communications curriculum idea anymore. So he ended the
fiscal support of Radio Open Source (and, later, of the Lowell Sunrise
show...which the financially-shaky Lowell Sun had long since backed out
of themselves). WUML eventually went back to the way it had been (a
prototypical college radio station) and Radio Open Source was left in a
bind. Without their main source of funding, potential affiliates
shunned the show. A quarter-million-dollar MacArthur grant was
achieved, but that only covers about 3-4 months of a major, national NPR
show's production costs. Eventually it all just imploded under the
costs and ROS became a podcast-only...although they are just now
gradually re-purposing the podcasts into radio-friendly shows on PRX (I
just started emailing them last week about that for WEOS). Maybe ROS
could've cut costs and survived longer as a radio show but knowing what
I know of the details...which is quite a lot, but not everything...I
doubt it would've worked in the end. Producing quality radio is
Personally, I don't think Chris *wants* to be a radio talk show host
anymore. To draw on the immortal words of Murtaugh from Lethal Weapon:
he's too old for that sh*t. It's a lot of work and he's already
re-invented himself three times now. Plus, I know Chris and I know he
believes passionately that web media, not radio, is the future. I'm
sure he'll be happy to have broadcast outlets that will, in effect,
promote his web venture, but he's not interested in being a radio show
first, and web outlet second. He wants it the other way around.
And there is the practical angle: WBUR, obviously, won't touch him after
the fallout from him and Jane back in 2001, and they're happy with Tom
Ashbrook as host of OnPoint anyways. (for the record, I'm the first to
admit that neither side was "innocent" in that debacle) WGBH won't have
Radio Open Source as a daily show, not after Lydon's stints as ROS host
and as TV anchor. But I could see WGBH airing the new weekly version,
especially since it wouldn't mean any direct employment...in this
go-around, having Lydon on their airwaves is no different than having
any other nationally-syndicated show on the airwaves; there's no
inherent downside there.
Now, all that said, I'd like to say a little on WGBH's proposed
schedule, too. There are ample studies that say that duplication of NPR
programming can (and often does) lead to more overall listeners for BOTH
stations. So don't assume that just because WGBH airs a show that WBUR
also airs that it's automatically a bad thing. And airing a show at a
different time can attract a COMPLETELY different audience. At WEOS we
got a lot of complaints when we moved Fresh Air from 12n-1pm to 1pm-2pm.
Why? It was because lots of people listened to Terry during their
lunch breaks. (if I could, I'd move it back, but it was the only way to
"fix" our schedule when News & Notes ended earlier this year)
Also, two major things worth noting: Whad'ya Know hasn't had a Boston
outlet in years (honestly, I didn't think they'd had one ever) and it's
one of the biggest markets that they don't have. So this is a major
coup for them. The main WYK show is live from 11am - 1pm ET on
Saturdays and you can't air just one hour of it; there's just one break
after the first hour and it floats so there's no way to realistically
take one hour. HOWEVER, WYK also offers a "WYK Radio Hour" which is a
separate show done in the same style, but is not distributed live and
is, of course, just one hour long.
FWIW, Diane Rehm currently airs on WBUR in a reciprocation deal they
have with WAMU for OnPoint; each airs the other's show later at night (I
think 9pm). I wonder if this means WAMU will eventually drop OnPoint
since WGBH will have it live? It's a possibility since Talk of the
Nation doesn't have a DC affiliate (the irony, eh?) and in theory WAMU
could move Tell Me More to a later hour and at least air one hour of
TOTN...although given the demographics of both shows, and of DC, that
could be a politically sensitive move. And concordantly, one wonders
what would happen to Diane Rehm on WBUR at 10pm?
More importantly to Boston, it will be VERY interesting to see what
happens to OnPoint's ratings locally with it going up against Diane Rehm
from 10am-12n. A lot of people can't stand Rehm's voice because of her
spasmodic dysphonia, but she is a VERY smart interviewer...and the other
guest hosts, like Susan Page, are generally pretty good, too. Rehm's
show skews a lot more towards Washington and international politics than
OnPoint does, something Boston hasn't had much of before, either.
Aaron Read | Finger Lakes Public Radio
firstname.lastname@example.org | General Manager (WEOS & WHWS-LP)
Geneva, NY 14456 | www.weos.org / www.whws.fm
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