EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 3, 2013

Column: Is local talk radio going the way of 'Fibber McGee and Molly'?

Barbara Anderson
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — For over 30 years, talk radio has been the best friend of center-right activists, here in Massachusetts and across the nation. While nationally the syndicated hosts still have influence, our local version is almost dead. I mourn; I don’t know what to do without it.

When I moved here in the 1970s, my Massachusetts native husband suggested I listen to Avi Nelson on WHDH to get the lay of the political land. Avi at the time was helping to fight court-ordered busing in Boston. And now he is one of the two great Boston-radio talk hosts still on the air.

I hope some local readers remember talk host Irv Kaiser. His Lynn studio was on the way to my new job at Citizens for Limited Taxation, so it was a good place to start my “career” as a talk show guest. Years later, he invited me on his new show at Salem’s WESX, as did Al Needham.

My second 1979 CLT assignment was the David Brudnoy Show. Brudnoy had filled in when Avi ran for office, and eventually they were both fixtures on Boston-based radio. By then I was CLT’s executive director and doing regular stints with them, as well as with Pat Whitley and Gene Burns. I even filled in for Avi once but quickly realized I preferred being a guest with nothing to do but focus on my issue, which at that time was the initiative petition Proposition 2 ½.

While we also had support for our property tax limit from many newspaper editorial boards, I don’t think we could have won this intensely-fought battle without talk radio, which encouraged people to help collect signatures on the petition and become activists during the ballot campaign.

Over the years, I drove to the Moe Lausier and Henry Varreiro shows in Fall River/New Bedford and to Paul Sullivan in Lowell. I regularly went to Worcester and as far as Springfield and Holyoke. Doing talk radio was a vital part of my job.

Jerry Williams had been one of the first Boston talk-show hosts, and when he returned in 1981, I was invited on his show to discuss tax limitation in general. I’d been warned by conservatives that he was a liberal but in fact he called himself “classic liberal” — i.e. a libertarian, like most of the region’s talk show hosts; we hit it off immediately and I was a frequent guest on his show for the next 20 years.

In 1988 he created “The Governors” on WRKO: Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr and I joined him weekly to pretend we were running the Commonwealth. After Howie left for his own show, Bob Katzen of Beacon Hill Roll Call became the third “governor”.

WRKO had gone all-talk in 1981. During morning drive-time it featured conservative-liberal teams, Pat Whitley with Marjorie Clapprood, Janet Jeghelian with Ted O’Brien. Until recently, a similar team, Margery Eagan and Jim Braude, argued on FM’s WTKK.

By then I was working from home; instead of being an in-studio guest, I was a call-in guest with them and with the afternoon’s Michael Graham.

At home, my radio was tuned to talk radio from the time I woke up until it was time to watch television-talk, Emily Rooney at 7 p.m.

By 2012, David, Jerry and Paul had died, but Howie was still on ‘RKO, as was Todd Feinburg, one of the best in my long experience: great voice, knowledgeable, good-natured. He was paired with Tom Finneran, who when autocratic speaker of the House gave talk show hosts plenty of fodder in the “what’s wrong with Beacon Hill” category.

Because of this bad history, Finneran was hard to hear on state government issues. Eventually, he was gone, and then one morning, Todd was gone too! Next, Michael Graham disappeared: then a few weeks ago, Jim and Margery had their last show as ‘TKK became a rap music station.

While I’m still called by local stations, mostly south of Boston, and Dan Rea is on WBZ at night, only two hosts are doing good, traditional local talk during the day, on AM 680 ‘RKO: Howie from 3 to 7 and Avi on Saturday fom 3 to 5. I enjoy Barry Armstrong and June Knight on mid-morning weekdays; their economic show often includes fiscal politics, for which they generally have good instincts.

I rarely listen to the early-morning Jeff Kuhner show; we need more local center-right talk radio, but a bad show can do more harm than good. Because of my long experience, I have standards: a decent voice, a determination to get the facts right, are these too much to ask?

My partner Chip Ford, who ran ballot campaigns with Jerry Williams, is trying to help, sending the Kuhner Report information and links to make him better informed. Good luck, Chip. I called once to gently correct his misstatement that Scott Brown had voted for higher taxes but gave up when he refused to listen, calling me “a Republican hack.”

Oh, well, we were lucky to have talk radio as it was when we did, and some variation may come along to intelligently support tax limitation and other liberty issues. The genre is presently moving to the Internet; I can talk with Todd Feinburg there on Facebook, and isn’t that a brave new world!