Talk-radio listeners could be forgiven for wondering if WPRO sprung a bit too far forward this week when Buddy Cianci's show begun airing at 2 pm instead of the usual 10 am.
But the shift was, in fact, part of a carefully planned switcheroo that has Cianci moving into the drive time slot and Dan Yorke, its previous inhabitant, moving back to midday (disclosure: I am a weekly, unpaid guest on both shows).
Management has downplayed any suggestion that the move is a demotion for Yorke. "WPRO, all day long, has a large, loyal listenership," says Paul Giammarco, program director for the station.
And while Yorke's ratings have lagged behind those of Cianci, Giammarco is quick to note that drive time is, inherently, a tougher period for the station. There is competition from the popular Big Show on sports talk radio station WEEI, Howie Carr on WRKO, Jay Severin on WTKK, and Sean Hannity on WHJJ.
Indeed, ratings figures obtained by the Phoenix suggest WHJJ has a similar midday to drive time drop-off in ratings.
Still, WPRO is clearly betting on Cianci to improve its position in the drive time tussle and bring in more revenue for the station. And Cianci says he is confident his ratings will carry over into the new slot. "I think, more or less, I'm a destination show," he says.
The move will provide, perhaps, the best available test of that notion.
The shift into the drive time slot has fueled speculation that Cianci, a former Providence mayor, is gearing up for a mayoral or Congressional campaign. But Cianci says the move was initiated by the station and, while he declined to rule out a run for office, he strongly indicated that he will stay put.
Indeed, he says he is looking into the possibility of a second, syndicated radio show that would reach audiences outside of Providence. If the idea catches on, Cianci — who is reportedly well-paid for his WPRO gig — says he will have to decide if he really wants to do seven hours of radio per day.
Yorke, for his part, says he was "surprised by the new plan." But he dismisses as "hooey" any suggestion that the move amounts to a demotion. "Midday radio," he notes, "is no longer a black hole."
"It's a change that is brand new to me," he says, "but it's very akin to being moved from fourth to second in the baseball lineup. I'm still wearing the uniform."
And with fewer interruptions for traffic updates, Yorke suggests, the new slot may even prove a better fit for a host who likes to spool out long conversations with his audience. Indeed, Giammarco says that Yorke is a natural fit to take on WHJJ's long-form, midday hosts Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
We'll be listening.