Tuesday, September 29, 2009

WBCN's 1st reunion brings together former staffers

By all accounts WBCN's 1st reunion party was a smashing success. Stories are still making the rounds amongst the many former DJs, on-air staffers, managers, sales people, interns and many of 600 who shaped the station during its 41 years on the air. The private event was held last Friday night(9/25) at the historic Paradise Rock Club on Commonwealth Ave.

A month and a half after legendary rock station vanished from broadcast radio in Boston, its iconic morning host Charles Laquidara put together an invitation-only reunion. Station staffers have also set up a blog site called WBCN Party which features various stories. The photos from last Friday's event can be found here.

BRW Notebook :

Radio karma : WRKO AM 680's afternoon host Howie Carr often takes on elderly drivers who cause auto accidents. He's also an outspoken proponent of re-testing all elderly drivers. But, the AARP crowd probably wasn't too sad to hear about Carr's SUV smashing into a telephone pole this past Sunday as was reported in the Globe and The Herald. Carr wasn't injured. He was on the air the next day. Speaking of possible wrecks, Carr will be chatting with shock comic Andrew Dice Clay who'll be on the air with Carr at 5:30pm this afternoon(Dice is promoting his upcoming concert at Wilbur Theater on Saturday night). Keep your hands on the bleep button, Howie.

Boston's Dick Clark : Billy Costa, the morning sidekick on Kiss 108's "Matty in the Morning" and local TV restaurant pitchman, is getting a big write-up in this month's Boston Magazine.

Easy as Sunday morning : For years, the local radio airwaves on Sunday mornings were filled with the sounds of syndicated Top 40 countdowns and retro oldies shows. But in the past decade, a number of commercial stations have introduced their own locally-produced specialty shows such as "Sunday Morning Blues" on WZLX 100.7FM, "Brunch by The River" on WXRV 92.5FM, "Sunday Morning Jazz" on WMJX 106.7FM, "Sunday Morning Over Easy" on WBOS 92.9FM and "Acoustic Sunrise" on WBMX 104.1FM. These shows have been finding their unique niche in the local market as well as building a local audience that tunes in week after week. Corporate ownership is also paying close attention and in the case of Mix 104.1FM's "Acoustic Sunrise", the show now produces a syndicated version for its sister stations as announced by CBS Radio.

Classical Consolidation at a price : With this last week's big announcement that WGBH Foundation will be acquiring all-classical WCRB 99.5FM and converting it to public radio's non-commercial entry, two things have become abundantly clear : a) blame it on the slow economy, a changing marketplace or any other excuse you can bring to the never-ending classical music debate, but Boston, like most big radio markets, can no longer support a commercially-programmed classical music format on its airwaves. Just like with WBCN, for WCRB this will be the end of an era. b) News, talk and information seems to be where public radio is headed.

In a couple of months, Boston will have two public news/talk formats - WBUR 90.9FM and WGBH 89.7FM. In WBGH's case, it will be from morning to evening, at least for now. Why does Boston need two big public radio stations airing a lot of the same or similar programming between 5am and 7pm? Plus, there's definitely plenty of talk and news of all different variety all over the commercial dial - WBZ AM 1030, WTKK 96.9FM, WRKO AM 680 and WWZN AM 1510. Wouldn't it be more of a public service (after all, this is public radio) if WGBH stayed with current classical format or offered something totally different - say, blues, jazz, soul, R&B, rock or even pop - from 9am to 4pm?

Since the mid 1990's, public radio, more specifically NPR, has been changing, becoming much more influenced by market research and demographic targeting. Public stations across the country have become much more alike, transforming themselves largely into news/talk stations delivering programming from National Public Radio, Public Radio International and other sources including WGBH's own production facilities in Allston.

Back in September 1995, WGBH replaced music with NPR 's "Morning Edition".(The move wasn't taken well by many loyal "Music America" listeners as the popular music program was the casualty in the shift to news programming. "Music America" eventually moved to Plymouth's WPLM 99.1FM where it still airs on weekends). In 2005, WGBH expanded its morning and afernoon news blocks even more. ["Morning Edition" airs on WGBH from 5 to 7 and on WBUR from 5 to 9 a.m. (Both stations repeat all or part of the show, which runs two hours.) "All Things Considered," NPR's afternoon news magazine, airs on WBUR from 4 till 6:30 and on WGBH from 5 to 7 in the evening (except for half an hour of the business news program "Marketplace" which WBUR picks up).

For many public stations, the news attracts more donation dollars, essential for stations that depend largely on listeners for the revenue that buys programming. And, that's a driving force behind WGBH's current conversion to news/talk programming. For a couple decades now, a culture war has raged within the public radio landscape over whether public stations exist to serve the largest possible audience, or to serve smaller audiences whose desires are not fulfilled by commercial radio formats. The maximize-the-numbers crowd has won in most cities, including Boston, accepting the view of public radio's most influential consultant, David Giovannoni, that any station's job is to attract as many listeners as it can.

And in the NPR empire, stations are king. Since the mid-'80s, when virtually all federal funding was re-channeled through its member stations, headquarters has increasingly depended on affiliates for revenue. As programming costs have climbed and federal funds plateaued, stations have come to rely on audiences for the largest part of their revenue. At the same time, the rise of audience statistics services like Arbitron have allowed NPR and member stations to target single, core audiences willing to put their money where their ears are.

In WGBH's case, paying $14 million to shift its classical music programming from 89.7FM to WCRB 99.5FM to free itself to run news/information programming is definitely a gamble but it's not a pricey one. More important question, will some of those 231,000 weekly listeners who rely on WGBH's booming 100,000 watt signal for classical music be content with a lot less powerful WCRB, provided they can even pick it up in parts of the market where it's really weak?

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Before one concludes that Boston cannot support a commercial classical format, one might ask what really happened at/to WCRB? Things began to fall apart there long before the economy tanked. Was it the management? How about the programming changes? Finally, after the sale to Nassau, the crappy signal and even more programming changes?

Kevin said...

I think with Public Radio the Pledge drive effectiveness is what drives the programing. If donations come in from the various music format I think they will get made.

As for GBH being News/talk I don't mind that as long as the lineups are different. Thee is no need of two stations broadcasting the same shows all day. Hopefully they will have some local shows and use some different shows in the NPR stable of national programming.

Anonymous said...

What WGBH should do with 89.7 FM after it acquires WCRB:

(1) Actually dump the drive-time NPR newsmagazine shows (but keep the WGBH co-produced "The World", moving it to 7-8 P.M. with a repeat the next morning from 4-5 A.M.), and,

(2) Expand jazz to 22 hours a day on weekdays (5 A.M.-7 P.M. and 8 P.M.-4 A.M.).

WGBH has long had an evening/overnight jazz block, and by expanding it to the daytime hours, it will complement classical at 99.5 (and WBUR's 24/7 NPR news/information programming on 90.9).

There is a presedence: Some years back, Washington's WETA dropped classical to go 24/7 NPR news, although rival WAMU was already a 24/7 NPR news outlet.

Everyone who wanted to hear NPR news/info stayed with WAMU, and both listenership and donations to WETA tanked.

Within a year or two, WETA was back to 24/7 classical.

And I think WGBH will find enough listeners (and donors) to make an all-jazz (or actually, 22-houra-a-day jazz) format successful.