As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Proposition
2½, we must celebrate the power of local talk radio and at the same time
mourn its loss.
Prop 2½ 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 2½. 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 2½ 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
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.