The WRKO shuffle

Sizing up the station’s extreme makeover
By ADAM REILLY  |  January 24, 2007


No Boston media institution is more unstable these days than WRKO Radio (AM 680). To Phoenix readers, this might seem like a non-issue, or even good news; after all, the liberal-bashing, gay-baiting, illegal-immigrant-scapegoating fare the station has served up in recent years probably isn’t your bag (see “Republican Radio,” News and Features, October 27). But here’s the catch: after three-quarters of a century on the airwaves, WRKO is a bona fide New England institution. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, “The Big 68” was New England’s dominant Top 40 station. Then, in the ’80s and ’90s — after a format change driven by rock’s migration to FM — talent like Jerry Williams and Gene Burns made WRKO a national talk-radio pioneer. “They were one of the first big political talkers in the country; they were really influential,” says Scott Fybush, author of “NorthEast Radio Watch,” an industry newsletter.

What’s more, the station has long been a fertile source of local talk talent. The late, great David Brudnoy finished his career at WBZ-AM, but he honed his craft at WRKO, for example. So did Ted O’Brien, the former daytime anchor at WBUR-FM. In short, the station mattered for decades — and in this age of media consolidation and homogenization, that very fact makes its fate a matter of concern, whatever your political persuasion may be.

Identity politics
If a hypothetical WRKO loyalist left Boston a year ago and returned today, odds are that he or she would have trouble recognizing the station in its current state. John DePetro is gone from the 9 am to noon slot, allegedly for calling Green-Rainbow Party gubernatorial candidate Grace Ross a “fat lesbian,” but more likely because Entercom Communications, WRKO’s parent company, deemed his ratings weak and his talent limited. WRKO’s in-house news team is gone too, fired en masse in a cost-cutting move. Scott Allen Miller is still on the air from 6 to 9 am, but he’s a dead man broadcasting; come February 12, former Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran will take the mic for the coveted 6 to 10 am drive-time slot. (If Miller’s lucky, he’ll be reassigned to another Entercom affiliate; if not, he’ll be out of a job.)

Todd Feinburg, formerly the evening talk-show host, has been covering DePetro’s old shift, but he’s likely to be axed as well when Finneran arrives. And last, but certainly not least, Boston Red Sox play-by-play will make its debut on WRKO this spring after more than a decade on WEEI, the sports-radio behemoth also owned by Entercom. (WEEI will still broadcast some games, but WRKO gets the brunt of the schedule.) Granted, there are small islands of constancy: Rush Limbaugh still bloviates on weekday afternoons, and Howie Carr, the high priest of Massachusetts conservatism, still holds down his 3 to 7 pm drive-time slot. But everything else seems up for grabs.

All this flux has prompted great consternation in some quarters. Earlier this month, a post on — a Web site launched by conservative Boston bloggers Aaron and Matt Margolis and industry commentator Brian Maloney — offered this call to arms: “WRKO as we know it is now facing sudden extinction. In recent months, we’ve seen multi-sided debates between callers and hosts disappear, while fluffy, non-controversial programming takes its place. . . . Watching the wholly unnecessary implosion of a great heritage talk radio station is sad, but hopefully preventable. Now, WRKO’s many listeners must make their voices heard, before it is too late.”

1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |   next >
Related: Boston music news: March 28, 2008, You could look it up, The Boston Red Sox, More more >
  Topics: Media -- Dont Quote Me , Deval Patrick, Gerry Callahan, Rush Limbaugh,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   BULLY FOR BU!  |  March 12, 2010
    After six years at the Phoenix , I recently got my first pre-emptive libel threat. It came, most unexpectedly, from an investigative reporter. And beyond the fact that this struck me as a blatant attempt at intimidation, it demonstrated how tricky journalism's new, collaboration-driven future could be.
  •   STOP THE QUINN-SANITY!  |  March 03, 2010
    The year is still young, but when the time comes to look back at 2010's media lowlights, the embarrassing demise of Sally Quinn's Washington Post column, "The Party," will almost certainly rank near the top of the list.
  •   RIGHT CLICK  |  February 19, 2010
    Back in February 2007, a few months after a political neophyte named Deval Patrick cruised to victory in the Massachusetts governor's race with help from a political blog named Blue Mass Group (BMG) — which whipped up pro-Patrick sentiment while aggressively rebutting the governor-to-be's critics — I sized up a recent conservative entry in the local blogosphere.
  •   RANSOM NOTES  |  February 12, 2010
    While reporting from Afghanistan two years ago, David Rohde became, for the second time in his career, an unwilling participant rather than an observer. On October 29, 1995, Rohde had been arrested by Bosnian Serbs. And then in November 2008, Rohde and two Afghan colleagues were en route to an interview with a Taliban commander when they were kidnapped.
  •   POOR RECEPTION  |  February 08, 2010
    The right loves to rant against the "liberal-media elite," but there's one key media sector where the conservative id reigns supreme: talk radio.

 See all articles by: ADAM REILLY