and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
October #2

Have we lost interest in serious issues?
by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, October 13 2005

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Proposition 2, we must celebrate the power of local talk radio and at the same time mourn its loss.

Prop 2 was the perfect storm of voter initiatives. The three major reasons for its success at the 1980 ballot box were grass-roots activism, an involved state high-technology community, and vibrant local media: newspapers, TV and statewide talk radio.

Over half the commonwealth's newspapers ran editorials supporting a "yes" vote on Proposition 2. The Boston Globe, while editorializing against it, ran balanced in-depth articles about every aspect of the proposed law. Boston Herald columnist Warren Brookes had actually started the campaign with a 1978 column after the passage of Howard Jarvis' Proposition 13 property tax cut measure in California.

There were some discussions on Boston television, with Avi Nelson a strong proponent appearing on "One on One" opposite John Kerry and on "Five on Five" with various panelists.

But the big drumbeat was on talk radio throughout the fall of 1980. I clearly recall long debates moderated by David Brudnoy and Dave Finnegan. The latter once put six of us from various perspectives on the air at the same time.

New talk show host Pat Whitley at the old WMEX urged a "yes" vote. We debated 'round the state at smaller local stations: Lowell, Lawrence, Taunton, Springfield, Worcester, Moe Lauzier's show in Fall River. My first talk show was with Irv Kaiser at WLYN. All across Massachusetts, people were calling to debate guests and each other for three months prior to the Nov. 4 election.

No, Jerry Williams and Gene Burns weren't around that year, but both were Prop 2 supporters during the '80s. When Michael Dukakis returned as governor in 1982 and tried to "adjust" the property tax limit, talk radio generated phone calls that shut down the Statehouse.

Ah, the good old days. I'd hate to depend on talk radio now for support on a tax issue.

The only major talk show hosts who can handle Massachusetts issues with knowledge and skill are Howie Carr on WRKO (during his local hour between 6 and 7 p.m.), Jim Braude and Margery Eagan on WTKK for their one noontime hour, and WBZ's Paul Sullivan at night, competing with all those TV channels. I am a regular guest on Tony Gill's afternoon Springfield show, but there isn't much else happening on statewide issues out there. I miss Al Needham on our own WESX!

Peter Blute and Scotto, on early morning RKO, covered politics well, but Peter is suddenly gone. John DePetro has an interesting show, but he hasn't connected with audiences the way earlier hosts did. Where Howie and his listeners are buddies who hang out together and have fun, DePetro often comes across as feeling superior to his callers. He also doesn't have the connections to do much Beacon Hill coverage.

David Brudnoy and Jerry Williams are gone.

Most of the present-day radio hosts do national issues that fit their syndicated audiences in other states. I listened to Rush for many years, but "talent on loan from God" is getting old and he is too predictably Republican, even when the Bush administration is wrong. I look forward to the days when the delightful Libertarian Walter Williams or Sean Hannity substitute for him.

Jay Severin really knows his issues but digresses to massage his ego too often, making me uncomfortable. He suddenly vanished last week and is expected to turn up on a new FM talk station or WBZ, where his philosophy could remind us of Brudnoy, but his maturity would still need work.

I prefer Howie, who never brags; but hurry to turn off the radio when he is done so as not to catch the aptly-named Michael Savage. If driving, I enjoy Laura Ingraham on TKK, but at home it's time for TV and Emily Rooney's daily show on Channel 2.

During the '80s, I often did Sunday morning local TV talk with Andy Hiller or John Henning. Later, there was only Jon Keller on WB56; he's moved to WBZ-TV and has just started again doing interviews on Sunday at 8:45 a.m. "Five on Five" is gone, though Avi Nelson can still be seen on New England Cable News, where I, too, am an occasional guest.

The best political interviews are NECN's "NewsNight" every evening. Once my adversary in politics, Jim Braude is excellent personable, yet hard hitting with no tolerance for evasion from any political perspective.

Which brings me back to my point: Twenty-five, even 15 years ago, a talent like Braude would have been at the media center of Massachusetts politics, with a huge audience of political junkies having the ability to actually effect state policy. It seemed that half the state was listening to Jerry, Howie and me on 'RKO's "The Governors" into the early '90s. But we are a scattered people today, with our busy lives and gazillion entertainment channels. I myself admit to abandoning Jim for "Surface" on Monday night and "The OC" on Thursday. How silly is that?!

It's hard to tell if talk media has left the people, or we the people have lost interest in serious discussion of serious state issues.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem News, Newburyport Times, Gloucester Times, (Lawrence) Eagle-Tribune, and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence Journal and other newspapers.