and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

Barbara's Column
January #3

Some ideas for improving talk radio in Boston
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Friday, January 19, 2007

Silence may be golden: I wouldn't know. Talk radio is always on in the background, from the time I wake up until I switch to talk TV at 7 p.m.

I'm not necessarily paying attention to the radio, but my subconscious usually tells me when a subject I need to hear comes up; or someone calls to say, Quick, turn on whoever.

If "whoever" is on WRKO, I used to be there already; now I go back and forth between WRKO and WTKK, the AM and FM leaders of public discussion.

TKK's Michael Graham created a new motto for his station as it competes for title of Boston's number one talk station: "We don't fire people for telling the truth, and we don't hire liars."

In case you've had your iPod in your ear for the past few months, this refers to RKO's firing of John DePetro for calling the Green Party candidate "a fat lesbian" and RKO's recent hiring of former House speaker Tom Finneran for morning drive-time starting in February.

Finneran -- in case you've been listening to your iPod in a cave -- just pled guilty to obstruction of justice in return for possibly going to prison for perjury. The federal prosecutors weren't buying his insistence to a panel of judges that he didn't know anything about the decisions on redistricting when he was the autocratic leader of the House of Representatives.

In my native western Pennsylvania, I could occasionally hear Jerry Williams on powerful WBZ attacking certain Massachusetts politicians. So my first impression of talk radio was that its mission was to expose political malfeasance and give ordinary citizens a voice to protest it.

When I moved here, my intellectual guru was WHDH talk-show host Avi Nelson, with his precisely-worded opinion and intelligent, philosophy-based discourse. He, right after the anti-establishment Williams, was the beginning of the populist medium; will Finneran mark its end?

As a political activist, I was happy to participate as a frequent guest, even an occasional guest host. So after 30 years' experience "in the business," as Jerry called it, I feel competent to design the ideal talk station for 2007. Here is my new WRKO:

Between 6 and 7 a.m., wake up to Scott Allen Miller, known as "Scotto," who created a new name for the alleged Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation -- the Massachusetts Tax-Hike Foundation (still MTF), whose spokesman, Michael Widmer, by the way, at this week's state revenue hearing once again talked about adding a penny to the sales tax.

Do you think Finneran, who is slated to replace Scotto, might note that this would be a 20-percent sales tax increase, not to mention a bad idea? His last years in office were spent successfully preventing the rollback of the income tax rate to 5 percent, mainly because it was the voters' idea and who are they to tell him what to do? Did I mention that talk radio is a populist medium, predicated on respect for "the people"?

Finneran is not, as advertised, a fiscal conservative, except to those who have been snookered to repeat this self-created description, all evidence to the contrary. Opposition to abortion and gay rights do not a fiscal conservative make. He voted for tax hikes as a legislator; attacked Proposition 2½ as Ways and Means chairman; and as speaker of the House, halted the income-tax rollback, simultaneously ending the respect previously due initiative petitions on Beacon Hill.

The best five minutes in talk radio today is Scotto's daily crossover with Todd Feinburg. When two people with my general political philosophy disagree on some issues, it sounds like I do when I'm arguing with myself. I'd like to have them on together from 8 to 9 in the morning, let Todd continue from 9 to noon, and then have a national show 'til Howie Carr, a vital institution now, arrives at 3 p.m.

I think I could take Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Jay Severin's egos if they alternated one day each a week, with libertarian economist Walter Williams in between.

I don't begrudge Finneran a living, since he had to leave the Biotech Council after his felony conviction. He can take Michael Savage's time slot and interview new book authors while I watch television.

If RKO insists on putting him on for the morning drive, I'd move Scotto over to TKK to compete with him; see if listeners prefer a politician or a political exposé. Say good-bye Imus and Mike Barnicle (the longest hour on radio).

Continuing the "competition is good" theme, on TKK I'd put Graham on 'til Jim Braude and Marjorie Eagan come on at noon. Then I'd bring back Nelson, who filled in for Howie recently; it was a joy to catch for listeners who still have a one- or two-hour attention span on important issues.

At bedtime, I'd indulge with Bob Katzen, who used to do Jerry Williams' show with me in the early '90s. He'd do wonderful trivia, with a little quiet politics on the side, for those winding down at the end of the day.

Now if only talk-show management, along with state government, would listen to me -- what a wonderful world mine would be.

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