Rhode Islanders are clearly curious about the former mayor of Providence after his five years in the slammer.

People assume that Buddy Cianci will end up on talk radio when the halfway house portion of his sentence has been served. They tend to believe that he will end up on WPRO-AM, since competitor WHJJ-AM — Buddy’s one-time home — has adopted an almost exclusively syndicated format.

I’m not so sure.

A Cianci representative is said to be seeking $250,000 just to start negotiations. In Rhode Island radio, such a commitment would require unprecedented advertising sales.

John Duffy, the president of Duffy & Shanley, the Providence PR and advertising firm, says agencies have a responsibility to act prudently since they are “investing [their] clients’ money” when they buy airtime. He adds that his agency has one clear requirement: “We buy numbers.”

Duffy cites CBS’ firing of Don Imus after advertisers bailed out following the talk jock’s on-air racist and sexist remarks. Had advertisers stayed, Duffy suspects, Imus would still be airing similar remarks.

Assuming one local station hires Buddy, it will first consider how to make the investment worthwhile. Duffy imagines that many local advertisers will adopt a “wait and see” stance. Buddy’s first set of ratings will be “critical,” he adds. But if the numbers are there, businesses will be more willing to have their products linked to Buddy.

The numbers will have to be sustained, however, since ratings are the only barometer that matters. Advertisers don’t buy charisma — they buy listeners — and they buy them one ratings period at the time.

While talk-show hosts can have a high profile in Rhode Island, the medium’s impact is less significant than what some of those in the industry would like to believe.

WHJJ has been quiet about its possible level of interest in hiring Buddy. WHJJ general manager Jim Corwin did not return several calls seeking comments; WPRO program director Paul Gaimmarco declined comment on the topic. (Disclosure: the Phoenix has advertising trade relationships with WPRO and WHJJ.)

What we do know is that Buddy’s old afternoon drive slot at WHJJ had relatively few listeners in the winter Arbitron ratings, and that station has more freedom than WPRO to maneuver time slots without major friction among its talk-show hosts.
Corwin cut costs by firing former afternoon host Arlene Violet and going to syndication. Could it be WHJJ did this not just to balance its books, but to squirrel away enough to meet Buddy’s salary demands?

Stay tuned. The plot can only thicken in then next few months.

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  Topics: This Just In , Politics, Media, Criminal Sentencing and Punishment,  More more >
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