Friday, September 25, 2009

Random Ruminations On Radio

Reporters writing about WGBH’s bid to buy classical music WCRB Radio, turning 89.7 FM primarily into a news/talk station, and thus competing with NPR powerhouse WBUR are missing the point.

It’s not about who wins the ratings battle; the folks at ‘GBH understand they lost that battle a long time ago.

Earlier this year, WGBH forged a deal with WBUR to collaborate on a new project funded for at least two years by the Corporation for Public Corporation establishing what is being called a “Local Journalism Center.”

According to the original call for funding proposals, station groups will be expected to investigate and report on a particular topic, such as the economy or immigration. CPB bigwigs consider these collegial efforts between regional public radio stations (and TV stations and possibly websites such as Open Media Boston) a part of a crucial effort “to expand local news gathering and digital platform reporting capabilities.”

To be sure, making WGBH nearly all news is an extension of this and other initiatives that recognize the potential audience magnet that news, talk, and public affairs formats can be.

In the Boston metropolitan area sports talk and right wing leaning talk shows originating at WEEI-AM, WRKO-AM, WTKK-FM, and most recently WBZ-FM, The Sports Hub, are proof positive that conventional over the air listeners as well as internet users will flock to these sort of broadcasts.

And while ‘BUR only reaches 4 percent of Boston area listeners according to the Arbitron and Nielson research firms, that figure (plus their fundraising successes) make them a flagship station within the NPR universe.

All of which is being counted upon by WGBH management to help make their radio station relevant again. 89.7 FM, the ratings companies tell us, is being listened to by less than 1 percent of Boston area ears.

Which is remarkable for a station that has a 100,000 watt transmitter and reaches New Hampshire and Connecticut on a bad day.

Further evidence that both stations will be acting like friends rather than fiends towards each other comes from a recent internal station memo from WBUR General Manager Paul LaCamera.

Apparently leaked to the Boston Globe, LaCamera criticizes WGBH for “overreaching” in that station’s attempt to buy WCRB.

But he could have said much worse, and in a remarkably conciliatory tone, points out that at one time WBUR itself was guilty of what some have called a smug and holier than thou approach to all aspects of their internal and external operations.

WBUR, based at Boston University, will lead the Local Journalism Center project, along with WGBH and WFCR in Amherst and possibly other stations. Sources tell me that WBUR has decided to pursue the immigration angle as its two year reporting arc.

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Speaking of WGBH and WBUR, I bumped into former TV and radio public news and talk show host Christopher Lydon on the Boston Common on Thursday.

In a rush and walking past the site of the Alan Khazei Senate Campaign kick-off, Lydon asked when the event would start. Not soon enough to allow him to listen a while and make his train. He politely declined an offer to take some of my audio recordings from the event. (Always on the look-out to make a buck and expand the network, eh David?)

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And speaking of radio, this report just in from the watchdogs at business publication Crains New York, ""RADIO: It Ain’t Dead Yet".

The gist, according to Nielson Research is that young people ARE listening to music, talk and other types of programming the old fashioned way, on traditional radio sets. If accurate, I have one thing to say to all you new-tech aficionados and media doomsayers: raspberries!

One caveat: Nielson is new to the world of radio ratings and this release may be their way of getting lots of attention from station owners and managers. According to the story in Crains, Arbitron “did not respond to a request for comment.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Et Tu, Bernstein?

David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix saw fit to trash the At-Large Boston City Council Candidates Forum we held last night at Roxbury Community College in his Talking Politics blog today, saying "Man, I do love me some political theater. I went looking for some at an at-large Boston City Council forum earlier this evening at Roxbury Community College, but the poorly-promoted event had more candidates on stage than voters in the audience (this may actually have been literally true, once you subtract the press and candidates' aides from the audience). Yeesh."

First of all, Bernstein couldn't have stayed overlong at the event because there were over 70 attendees to the forum - although people were predictably slow to show up. Second, there were certainly aides and supporters present, but we estimate that those folks made up perhaps a third of the audience.

What Bernstein doesn't know - and likely didn't stick around to find out - is who the other attendees were ... and more to the point, what organizations they represented. Major community organizations like Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, Chinese Progressive Association, and the Boston Workers Alliance.

Also, the event drew 11 out of the 15 candidates. Some ducked out to other events before the forum concluded, but a majority stayed to the end and spent a healthy chunk of time giving thoughtful answers to audience questions.

Finally, and most germane to this discussion, Bernstein slapped the forum down before bothering to ask the editors of Open Media Boston why we decided to do the event, how much lead time we had to work with, and why we held it at the RCC Media Arts Center instead of a smaller venue on campus.

Our answers are simple. We decided to do the event only two weeks ago when it became evident that there were very few opportunities for the at-large candidates to gather for a media-sponsored forum - compared to the number and quality of the mayoral race events.

We did it in a short time frame because we thought it was important that such a forum should take place before the primary later this month to give the full field a chance to hold forth, and get some extra publicity from our publication and the other community publications present like the Bay State Banner and the Dorchester Reporter.

We did it at the Media Arts Center because it's a very nice facility in the heart of the city right off the T and it was available for a very reasonable rate. We knew it was going to be too big for the crowd we thought we'd manage to pull in a few days, but the excellent a/v facilities there make it a very easy place to get good audio, video and photographic records of the proceedings - which we could then make available to our audience, and to other community publications (our event coverage will be up on our main site later this week).

The big question that Bernstein doesn't ask is the very one we asked ourselves before going to the trouble of overextending our very small staff and financial resources to pull the forum off in 2 weeks. That is, why don't larger publications like the Phoenix, Metro, Globe, Herald and others use their still-not-inconsiderable resources to put together a much bigger forum for the at-large candidates? Why just focus on the mayoral candidates? Aren't the council races important - especially the at-large races? Don't they have a critical impact on city politics in the near term?

We don't think that Bernstein's snarky tone was warranted or especially public spirited in this case. We did what we did in the public interest - which we believe is very much a critical part of being an urban publication of record.

In that spirit, we extend the hand of friendship to Bernstein and the Phoenix and enjoin them to work with us do a bigger and better event (with several weeks lead time) for the final 8 At-Large Boston City Council candidates in advance of the November elections. We would naturally hope that the Phoenix will see their way clear to bankrolling the event.

If the Phoenix is uninterested in staging such a public forum with us, we understand, but would say that it speaks volumes about their level of concern about the sad state of democratic discourse in Boston politics in particular and American politics in general.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

MA(ck) The Knife?

All this talk of tagging sharks has me really creeped out.

As an Aquarius, I ought to love the water. But the image of Great Whites leaping out of the pounding surf; sharp teeth gleaming with blood and bits of seal entrails, has me tangled up in fear and loathing.

(I know they haven't done that off Chatham yet; I'm just can't resist Discovery Channel and "Shark Week.")

Also, I've never gotten over the sight of Robert Shaw being consumed toes to head by "Bruce."

But let me assure you there is deeper political meaning to all this carnivorous fish activity.

They say "when sharks circle, there must be blood in the water." So let's think about what's happening right now in Massachusetts.

We've lost a revered (by most people) elected official in Edward Kennedy. And his nephew Joe has declined to run for the office. That means it's open season on the Senate seat with representatives and lawyers galore coming out of the woodwork. First Coakley, then Lynch, and Brown, now possibly Capuano. (Maybe even Curt Schilling, and his bloody sock is sure to attract other meat eaters!)

The sharks - and I refer to them as such beasts with love in my heart - sense the blood of the Kennedys in the water and are preparing to engulf and devour.

Over at the State House, things look fishy as well. He has a fine new hip, but Governor Deval Patrick's approval ratings are approaching the Marianas Trench. (Folks, that's the deepest part of the ocean!)

Carcharodon Carcharias and their toothy brethren have their sights on Patrick's office. Tied to people's perception of President Obama as much as he is, the Governor better hope the outcome of the health care reform debate leaves the Democrats singing "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" and not "Big Eyed Fish" by the Dave Matthews Band.

And speaking of health care: all over this nation, lobbyists for the insurance industry are salivating over tasty morsels of "we told you the Commonwealth Connector and health insurance mandates would be too expensive to sustain and would never hold up as models for national reform."

Of course, the hungry fish are not all of the right flipper variety. "People before profits" lefties from organizations across the state are banding together like schools of piranha to take bites out of such titanic whales as Deutsche Bank and Bank of America.

Hmmm, all of these fish tales are making me hungry. Now I just need to find some mercury free, organically raised, Massachusetts bay harvested, CSF approved, cod.

Or some supermarket-purchased, scroddy fish sticks. Politics has lowered my expectations, you know.