Boston Beat-Down

Boston’s Jeff Boudreau clued us to this post on Boston.com, website for the Boston Globe. In it, writer Johnny Diaz reports on a battle between the two NPR news radio stations, WBUR and WGBH, for supremacy. WBUR has embarked on an “aggressive advertising campaign, which includes TV ads and billboards along Interstate 93 and the Massachusetts Turnpike,” which is, as he notes, a rarity for public radio.

[T]he two public broadcasters have been engaged in a battle — for listeners and donors — since last December when WGBH reinvented 89.7 FM to a full-time, news-talk format and began running syndicated NPR programs that WBUR carries. WGBH also launched two news-talk shows: “The Emily Rooney Show’’ and “The Callie Crossley Show.’’ In response, WBUR expanded its weekly local news magazine show, “Radio Boston,’’ to a daily program last May.

Johnny notes that ‘GBH has a built-in advantage, with its TV as well as radio platform:

[I]t can cross-promote its programs on two radio stations — its television arm and website. On its TV and radio stations as well as online, WGBH has been running spots for several months called “Caffeine For Your Ears,’’ to promote 89.7 FM: in the ads, a sugar cube lands in a coffee cup that looks like a radio speaker. And this summer, the station began the “It’s OK to Think and Drive’’ billboard campaign.

Reader comments to the article question more than the use of public funds for advertising — against another NPR affiliate:

Hertzian duplication is how I see it. It takes a lot of energy to power these two stations, and their carbon footprints are, for the most part, duplicates. Simulcasting. I understand that news/talk is popular, but it’s expensive to produce and I don’t see why WBGH did not stay closer to its original mission: music. If jazz and classical doesn’t cut it anymore, then why not try something a little more eclectic. It’s been done very successfully by Radio Canada’s Espace Musique, which went from classical/jazz to a broader mix, and saw their market share increase. In our troubled times, I think there’s a case for more music and less talk. And yes, I do own an ipod.

And:

[N]ews edited in-house by the reader him(!)self, reading aloud, limited music, limited broadcast hours, limited everything. And supported by the Lowell Foundation. WBUR started as a lab for the BU school of communications, and played lots of records. Since around 1976 and especially after the first Gulf war, the BBC News connection, the pseudo-membership model and commercial announcements have built the corporate, news-biz, biz-news, metro-NPR style I hate so warmly. Both WGBH and WBUR tell us constantly that they live by our support. Well, not from mine. Why pay to listen to their commercials? 8-12 weeks a year are taken up with fund-raising drives, and the recorded begging breaks in every ten minutes. I’m amazed to learn how small their audience really is.

And the view from the other side:

Revoke both the Not-for-Profit status of both WBUR and WGBH. It represents a perpetual white collar bailout that it totally unjustified. By their own admission they cater to affluent audiences; does that sound like a type of business that justifies being tax exempt?

Every tax dollar they avoid paying raises the slice of the tax pie (ie: income tax; sales tax; any tax) the lower classes have to pay.

Close the tax loophole on these big corporate media businesses and revoke their Not-for-Profit tax exemption.

Then there’s this:

The long running folk and blues show were cancelled by WGBH so they could go head-to-head with WBUR and news/talk . . . ‘GBH spent lots of money on their Taj Mahal studios on Guest St. but listeners’ donations went down so they’ve had to do some layoffs, etc.

Returning to the sore point about ‘GBH:

Something is wrong when public funding goes to a PR battle between two public peas in a pod. It’s time for the WGBH education foundation board of directors to fire the WGBH-fm management, hire a new team in tune with the listening public and revert programming to the pre-December 2009 format.

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