If you've been following this saga, you know by now that Lydon and "Connection" executive producer Mary McGrath wanted partial ownership of the public-radio talk show as WBUR prepares to offer it to the NPR system. WBUR management, perhaps envious of the fortunes earned by the station's other signature show ("Car Talk," which is owned by hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi), balked at the demand -- in the process revealing to the media that Lydon had been offered a raise to nearly $300,000 a year, and McGrath nearly half that.
After months of negotiations, Lydon and McGrath were suspended with pay two weeks ago. Most of the show's staff quit WBUR last week, followed on Thursday by conflicting statements from the station and from Lydon, both amounting to the same message: Lydon and McGrath won't be returning to WBUR.
The station says the two "informed WBUR that they are leaving their employment to pursue careers in a for-profit, independent production company." A statement posted at a hurriedly-created Lydon Web site says Lydon and McGrath "didn't inform WBUR of anything except that we were willing to negotiate a way to return to the station under any reasonable circumstances to continue to do the program we love."
Lydon appeared on WBUR on Friday for brief segments on a "Morning Edition" cut-in and on the station's noontime "Here and Now" program, claiming that he never asked WBUR general manager Jane Christo for a raise during his career at the station (which began in 1994), and that the salary offer that's been making headlines is an attempt by Christo to make him appear greedy.
Meanwhile, the pages of Boston's newspapers have been filled with opinions about the "Connection" brouhaha, including a weekend diatribe from Howie Carr (who, as a WRKO talk host, is hardly a neutral party) that seemed to be more jealous of the money Lydon was making than anything else. More surprising was the Herald's Dean Johnson on Friday, presenting the WBUR party line as "fact," then garbling the actual facts (claiming the station created "The Connection" in 1983, a decade ahead of its actual debut).
As for Lydon's next move: we hear New York's WNYC is already telling listeners that Lydon will be back on its airwaves within a few weeks. "The Connection," what's left of it, is carrying on over WBUR and a few dozen affiliates with a series of guest hosts.
Since NERW is a journal of fact and opinion, we'll step on the soapbox here:
Is "The Connection" itself Chris Lydon's intellectual property? Probably not; WBUR did take the risks involved in its creation, paid for the studio space and the satellite time and the producers' salaries and so forth.
That said, we believe Lydon and McGrath were completely justified in their desire to share in the proceeds WBUR would have reaped by taking their show to a national audience via NPR. Yes, the idea of a daily talk show originated with WBUR management -- but the form that program took was uniquely Christopher Lydon, as borne out by the lackluster shows that have emanated under "The Connection"'s banner since his ouster. (And as for the show's name, we couldn't care less whether it was Lydon's idea or that of WBUR; our local NPR station has been running a 10 AM talk show called "1370 Connection" since the days when Lydon was still doing the news on WGBH-TV, so it's hardly an original title.)
Beyond the name and the timeslot, there's really very little intellectual property that's associated with "The Connection," a reality that we suspect will be borne out by the decisions hundreds of public radio programmers will get to make in a few months' time.
Assuming Lydon can find a station willing to partner with him on his terms (and if it's not WNYC, we suspect several other big public radio players will be ready to jump on board), he'll be offering stations a show that will sound, we're sure, just like "The Connection" did -- a proven product with a unique host. WBUR, by contrast, will be offering something called "The Connection" with an untried host and without the staff that booked the guests, screened the calls and kept the conversation going on-line. Think back to late-night TV circa 1993: NBC may have kept the title "Late Night," but would anybody doubt that the David Letterman show still moved to CBS almost intact?
No slam to Conan O'Brien here -- but we suspect the public-radio community will take the well-known host, whatever his new program is called, over whatever WBUR scrapes together and calls "The Connection." It's no different from the situation Westwood One would face if Don Imus or Howard Stern ever decided to leave: the network may own the show, but who'd listen without the host?
(And for those criticizing the size of Lydon's paycheck: it's far, far less than Howard or the I-Man take home, even with WBUR's proposed raises. It's been hard for some listeners, not to mention commercial competitors, to come to terms with the reality of public radio, WBUR-style, these days: it's big business, and when business is good, the people who create the content and draw the listeners who donate deserve to be compensated properly. Sorry, Howie...)
The only question left to be answered will be this: if WBUR stubbornly keeps on offering its rump "Connection," regardless of affiliate defections (and there will be defections), how will public radio listeners in Boston and Rhode Island hear Lydon's new show?
And if Lydon's serious about not caring about the money, only about owning his own work...well, suddenly we here at NERW feel like we're in good company. (In fact, Chris, you're more than welcome to distribute your new show at fybush.com...)
While the new studio complex gives the stations more space in which to work, we hear there were some pretty bad glitches last week when it came to phone connections, leaving hosts such as Howie Carr without callers for a while. Assuming the phones work now, mark down 617-779-5300 as the new main number for the cluster.
Clear Channel, next: "Cadillac Jack" McCartney's been busy filling some holes in his lineup at WJMN (94.5), bringing jock Kobe east from his gig doing afternoons at Denver's KQKS (107.5 Lakewood CO) to fill his night slot at Jam'n. Following Kobe in late nights will be Chuck Dogg, moving over from afternoons at Radio One's WBOT (97.7 Brockton).
On the TV side of things, former WCVB icon Chet Curtis starts his new career at New England Cable News this week, joining Margie Reedy to anchor a revamped "NewsNight," now seen weeknights at 8 PM. Meanwhile, WCVB has to do some weeknight reshuffling of its own with the departure of Heather Kahn. Once seen as the likely successor to Curtis' ex-wife, Natalie Jacobson, Kahn instead decided to walk away from the 5:30 and 11 PM anchor chair to concentrate on raising her young children -- and that means Liz Brunner gets those newscasts instead.
One more TV note: AT&T is extending the reach of its regional "AT&T 3" channel, launching the service this weekend on the Boston and Brookline systems it recently acquired from Cablevision. "AT&T 3" has taken on many of the sports and general-entertainment programs that were abandoned by WHUB (Channel 66) when that station's brief stint as an indie came to an end last month. (Not that we're picking on the Herald or anything, but we were amused to see "WHUB (Ch. 62)" in Joel Brown's TV column over the weekend...)
Up on the North Shore, WNSH (1570 Beverly) is abandoning its little top-loaded antenna on a furniture store roof in Hamilton, replacing that 125-watt signal with a stronger signal from a new tower on the campus of Endicott College in Beverly, where the station's studio has been for several years. We hear WNSH is now testing from the new site, though we don't know yet whether the station has built the four-tower, 500-watt directional array it was planning, or whether it's running lower power from a single stick.
Out in Southbridge, Eastern Media unloads WESO (970) just a few months after buying the station for the second time. The new owner: Barry and Susan Armstrong's "Money Matters Radio," for a reported $250,000. Expect WESO to begin carrying the same business talk as Concord's WBNW (1120) and Plymouth's WPLM (1390), extending the format into southern Worcester County.
Longtime observers of the Boston radio scene know to mark down the call letters on AM 1510 in pencil, and here's why: just weeks after changing calls from WNRB to WSZE, the station formerly known as WMEX, WITS, WMRE, WSSH, WKKU and WSSH (again) made yet another call change last week. It seems "Sports Zone" is someone else's trademark, so the WSZE calls were quietly retired in favor of WWZN, though with no change in the One-on-One Sports programming (which will eventually be rebranded as Sporting News Radio).
The change left your Boston Radio Archives hanging, since we didn't think to roll tape quickly enough to get a WSZE legal on tape. Your archivists would be darned pleased to hear from anyone who might have recorded WSZE during its quick flash across the New England ether...posterity thanks you!
The new calls stand for "Web Access Radio Live," a new format that will apparently feature leased-time talk shows that will be streamed live (video and audio) over the Web at the same time as they're heard on WARL.
We couldn't get much from the site at webaccessradiolive.com, especially since all that unnecessary Java crashed our browser twice, but here's what we gathered once we restarted our computer: WARL, a new venture of station owner ADD Media, will lease hour-long blocks of time (so far, judging by the posted schedule, it's leased two hours a week, leaving just 166 to go!), allowing programmers eight minutes of commercial time during the hour while also selling its own ad time to corporate sponsors during program breaks.
Here's where it gets stranger: check out the "coverage map" shown on WARL's site. It looks like a perfect circle centered somewhere near East Providence... but unless something's changed, 1320's signal is a directional one, aimed southeast from its four towers in Attleboro. (That's the day signal, mind you... at night it's an even more directional beam to the southeast!)
The site also claims two additional affiliates carrying the programming: "WRPT Boston" on 650 with 2500 watts (NERW readers know it's now WJLT, licensed to Ashland, and running just 250 watts with a CP for 2000), and "WNTY Hartford," actually WNTY 990 Southington CT, with 2500 directional watts instead of the claimed 5000.
The whole thing sounds like a belated relic of the dot-com craze a few years ago; we have our doubts about how a second leased-time talk format will fare on a signal-challenged facility in a market that already has three "real" talkers (WICE, WPRO and WHJJ), a public radio AM outlet that's mostly talk (WRNI) and of course the leased-time WALE (990 Greenville) aiming its mighty 50 kilowatts at all the fishes in the sea...
(Anyone in the Providence, er, Attleboro area who can hear WARL is invited to let us know what's filling all those hours on 1320 at the moment!)
The Pomfret School's WBVC (91.1 Pomfret) applies for a license to cover, so we guess this new noncomm must be on the air up in the rural northeast Connecticut area, just outside Putnam.
Congratulations to Ann McManus; she moves up from VP/sales to VP/station manager at WICC (600 Bridgeport) and WEBE (107.9 Westport)!
We're still waiting to hear a rescheduled date for the WTIC (1080) maintenance period that was postponed last weekend. The basic plan is still the same: CBS sister stations WTIC and KRLD (1080 Dallas) will coordinate some needed maintenance work so that the 1080 frequency will be wide open for half an hour or so one Saturday night soon. We're told last weekend's work was delayed when KRLD didn't get a common-point meter back from the repair shop in time. Expect a new date within a few weeks...you'll hear about it here on NERW!
A few quick bits of TV news: The Hartford market has always been the "no man's land" where Red Sox Nation meets Yankee/Mets country, and it appears WTXX (Channel 20) has crossed over to the dark side (oops, is our bias showing?), switching from the Olde Town Team to the Mets for this season. In fairness to the folks at "WB20," they say the rights to the Sox have been claimed by another station this year; no word on where Nutmeg State viewers will be able to get their Sox fix this year. Fans looking for UConn women's basketball will be able to catch that action on Connecticut Public TV for four more years; the university and the network signed that deal this week, continuing what may be the most successful public TV sports contract in the nation.
Just down the dial, the scheduled March 1 flip of WUVN (Channel 18) in Hartford from shopping to Univision has been postponed; no word yet on when that change will become reality.
A correction from the Bangor area: the new calls in Searsport on 101.7 are in fact WFZX, which is supposed to spell "Fox" somehow.
The other marks the return to radio of the "Greaseman," aka Doug Tracht. The Ithaca College graduate cut his teeth in Binghamton at WENE (1430 Endicott) before moving up to Rochester (WAXC) and on to the big time in Jacksonville and Washington, before a racist remark led to his dismissal from WARW (94.7 Bethesda MD) two years ago.
Tracht announced last week that he's coming back -- albeit, for now, on a small scale, signing Binghamton's WCDW (100.5 Conklin) as his first affiliate for a new DC-based show that starts today (March 5). The only other affiliates so far are small AM stations in Baltimore (WNST 1570 Towson) and Washington (WZHF 1390 Arlington VA), but Tracht is hoping to show that he's cleaned up his act and is ready to return to the airwaves.
Can he keep himself from tripping up this time? We'll be listening...
Speaking of foul-mouthed talk hosts, the FCC this week dismissed an indecency complaint filed against Buffalo sports station WGR (550). Listener Michael Palko had complained about the "Bauerle and the Bulldog" show, in particular a promotion in which the Entercom-owned station distributed NHL-logo urinal cakes (the one item NERW never wants in our radio promo collection!). WGR's hosts then discussed who in the NHL they'd like to -- and we quote -- "piss on."
The Commission said the potty talk on WGR didn't "describe sexual or excretory activities or organs in a patently offensive manner," thus letting WGR off the hook. And that made outgoing commissioner Gloria Tristani really, um, annoyed (no, we weren't going to go there!)
Tristani, who's been rather outspoken in her last lame-duck months, issued a scathing statement that carefully explored the offensive nature of urination (remember, dear readers, this is your government at work, unless of course you're reading this in Canada, in which case this kind of talk is probably OK as long as it's in the right language and the logger tapes are running... but we digress), then slammed the Commission's own Mass Media Bureau for "read(ing) the facts alleged in the complaint in the light most favorable to the broadcaster rather than the complainant," winding up with a conclusion that the public rightfully perceives the FCC's indecency efforts as "ineffective."
Speaking of "ineffective," the increasingly silly community-of-license rules are getting tested again right in NERW's back yard. As predicted in this space last fall, Entercom has applied to move the 93.3 allocation in the Rochester area from Avon (about 20 miles south of town in Livingston County) to Fairport (a quaint canal village about 8 miles east of downtown). The result would be a move of oldies WBBF-FM from a tower down in Livingston County to the WBEE-FM (92.5 Rochester) tower in Penfield, thus improving what's now a decidedly rimshot signal in much of the market.
We've got nothing against the move itself, especially if it means we'll actually be able to hear "93BBF" at NERW Central, but reading the application reminded us that it's just plain silly to be wasting FCC administrative effort on determining whether Fairport has its own businesses, newspaper, phone exchange, and so on -- when everyone outside the sheltered confines of the Portals knows that the only thing about WBBF-FM that will be "Fairport" will be the word spliced into the legal ID once the change goes through. We're still waiting for someone to get a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking going to bring the community-of-license rules in line with the real world of deregulation...
Before we leave western New York, there's late word that WBKX (96.5 Fredonia) has dropped the country format it was running (as "the Bull") for 80s pop as "96 Kix FM."
There's a job open in Syracuse: Chris Mann has departed nights at WWHT (Hot 107.9) for the Music City, where he's now doing nights at WRVW (107.5).
Over in the Albany market, WGY (810 Schenectady) revamped its nighttime lineup this week, bringing Tom Leykis back to its schedule after a year of Lionel. Leykis' syndicated show will run from 6-10 PM on WGY, cutting J.R. Gach back to three hours from four and pushing Phil Hendrie to a 10 PM start. Gach won't have to wait around the WGY studios to do his long-distance show for WLW (700 Cincinnati) anymore, either; the Clear Channel outlet ended that gig after Gach let loose with some remarks that offended the Japanese community. (Gach would have been off WLW in a few weeks anyway when the Reds season begins.)
Over in Kingston, the talk is gone at WGHQ (920), as that station settles into an adult-standards simulcast with Clear Channel sister WKIP (1450 Poughkeepsie).
Way up north in Plattsburgh, the FCC finally makes official a call change that we thought had already happened: 1070 changes from WGLY(AM) to WLFE(AM), simulcasting WLFE-FM 102.3 across the lake in St. Albans, Vermont.
Gunfire erupted outside the Greenwich Village studios of New York's WQHT (97.1) last Sunday, as 22 shots were fired following a live appearance by rapper Lil' Kim. The tabloids say it was related to a spat between Kim and "Capone 'n' Noreaga," and who are we to argue?
The FCC has dismissed WFUV (90.7 New York)'s application for an on-channel booster in Manhattan; we're still waiting for the station's application to make changes to its primary site in the Bronx to show up in the database.
Out on Long Island, we can put a price to the sale of WLIM (1580 Patchogue): Jack Ellsworth's Long Island Music gets $850,000 from Polnet for the adult standards outlet.
Heading south a hundred miles or so, there's a shakeup coming in Cape May County next week. We hear March 12 will be the day the modern AC programming of "The Coast" moves from WCZT (94.3 Avalon) up the dial to WWZK (98.7 Villas). WWZK was recently sold to Coastal Broadcasting Systems, WCZT's owner, which had been operating 98.7 under an LMA as "K-Rock" during Marc Scott's tenure as owner. Scott walks away with $1.4 million; Coastal plans to take 94.3 to oldies once the Coast makes its move, we're told.
The CRTC also granted the CBC a new FM signal in Shelburne, Ontario, northwest of Toronto. The 2600 watt signal on 102.5 will relay Toronto's CBLA (99.1) to an area that used to be able to hear CBC Radio One just fine until the plug was pulled on CBL (740) two years ago. Speaking of CBLA, it's applied to change its licensed power from 48 kW to 55.1 kW, in a uniquely Canadian tradition by which stations can build new facilities at slightly different power levels than originally licensed, then apply for a new power to reflect the station's "as-built parameters." Wonder what the FCC would make of an application like that?
The CBC also wants to reduce its rent at the CN Tower by moving the transmitter of CJBC-FM (90.3 Toronto), the little-heard outlet of Radio-Canada's "chaîne culturelle." CJBC-FM would, if approved, serve both its listeners with 5730 watts from First Canadian Place (the CBLA-FM site) instead of 3500 watts from the CN Tower.
Redmond Broadcasting won approval for its C$1.05 million purchase of Simcoe's CHCD (106.7) from James McLeod's CHCD-FM Inc., revealing in the process that the station has yet to have a profitable year since moving from the AM dial in 1998 (it was CHNR on 1600 back then.)
As long as we're out that way, we'll note the end of an era in London television. After 35 years at CFPL-TV (Channel 10, known these days as "The New PL"), George Clarke was dismissed from the CHUM-owned station last week. Clarke had been the station's news director and anchor of the 6 PM "News Now."
Speaking of CHUM, general manager Brad Phillips left Toronto flagships CHUM (1050) and CHUM-FM (104.5) this week, just a few weeks before the AM side drops oldies to go all sports. Aiding in that transition: CHUM re-upped with the Toronto Blue Jays to carry play-by-play for another season.
Over in Quebec, Corus closed this week on its purchase of Metromedia CMR, thus adding French all-news CINF (690), English all-news CINW (940), English AC CFQR (92.5), French AC CKOI (96.9 Verdun), French rock CKOO (98.5 Longueuil) and rimshotter CIME (103.9 Ste-Adèle) to its portfolio in the Montreal market.
And that's it for another week here at NERW Central. See you in seven...
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