Bad Beans

Jeff Boudreau sends along this post from the website Nonprofit Quarterly, Ruth McCambridge’s “Cannibalizing the Competition? Public Radio Wars in Boston,” where it’s noted that any gains made by the move by WGBH to go talk-talk apparently came at the expense of WBUR, the reigning NPR station in Boston:

If you are a public radio listener and you visit Boston you may notice that at the left hand end of the dial you will often be able to tune in to absolutely identical programming on two different radio stations — at 90.9 on the dial and at 89.7. The former station is WBUR and the latter is WGBH. Last year WGBH, which had always had a mixed format of news, talk and music, decided to divide its classical music offerings off onto a separate station (99.5) and this left it largely mirroring WBUR’s all talk/news format….

While WBUR’s audience is still larger, it is crying foul. Charles Kravetz, WBUR’s new general manager says, “This format, which WBUR pioneered across the country, was a winning formula,’’ he said. “This is a zero-sum game. If either station flourishes, it will be at the expense of the other.’’

Marita Rivera, of WGBH pooh-poohs the idea, countering that “the growth feels like we are attracting new people.” Still, according to the Worcester Telegram, Jack Casey, a radio professor at nearby Emerson College says that although the dynamics are complex and might deserve digging into, it looks to him like the area’s public radio stations are “cannibalizing” each other.

As Jeff notes, the Boston Globe isn’t very sympathetic, as evidenced by this post, “Turmoil in the airwaves (Despite the grumbling, public radio competition is good for Boston).” Joan Vennochi writes, the snide showing:

CRY ME a river of pledge money and federal grants.

Public radio not only wants taxpayer dollars to back it up. One local station manager also wants a monopoly.

“This market did not need to have two public radio stations with the same format,’’ Charles J. Kravetz, general manager of WBUR-FM, lamented recently to the Globe about the competition his station now faces from WGBH-FM.

Tell that to McDonald’s and Burger King, Home Depot and Lowe’s, Shaw’s and Market Basket, Target and Walmart. Any business would be happy if its rivals disappeared. But those wishes run up against an economic reality called capitalism….

Yet, Kravetz doesn’t think it’s fair that WGBH replaced music programs with news and talk shows similar to WBUR’s, and sometimes runs the same National Public Radio shows at the same time. “ … This is a zero-sum game,’’ he complained. “If either station flourishes, it will be at the expense of the other.’’

That attitude is a microcosm of the arrogance and insularity that has come to define the public broadcasting universe. It irritates even those who cherish its great journalistic contributions.

As usual, some of the best contributions to the discussion fall within the ensuing comments. This following group is from the many responses to the article “WGBH changes sting public radio rival” on Boston.com:

daniel-m: If WGBH was a private company they would be lambasted for commercial thuggery. First they buy out their competitor, WCRB, to get a monopoly on classical broadcasting in Boston. Then, they switch GBH to news/talk to push out BUR and get the same for NPR. But because they’re “public” and a nonprofit no one can criticize them. Oh, and they’re ruining CRB by slowly replacing CRB DJ’s with old, boring, blabbering GBH DJ’s. (Will someone tell them to shut up and play the music. You’re not clever, interesting or entertaining; you’re pretentious and slow-worded!)

cliffy123: It doesn’t make any sense to split the fundraising for two stations that play roughly the same programming just at different times. Anyone who listens to NPR in Boston will probably listen to both stations based on what program they prefer at that time, and will most likely only donate to one. This will obviously hurt WBUR more because they don’t have the TV presence that WGBH does. I don’t really know what WGBH’s gameplan is but this is public radio, not commercial radio. If they are willing to spend donor money on redundant programming in order to crowd out a smaller entity that has the same mission, they obviously have way too much money. I will no longer be donating to WGBH until they stop their quest to monopolize public programming in Boston.

jdancer11: Ugh, Emily Rooney — sorry but I can’t stand her snarky attitude. Callie is wonderful. That said, I listen to WBUR because WGBH had a lot of rude people working for it — at least that has been my experience. Any time I called in the past to ask about programming or some other simple question (I’ve called a total of three times in my life) they treated me like an annoyance — so no more donation from me. And their new ‘palace’ is arrogant…

One thing about WBUR is that they repeat their programming too much, and for some reason they cancelled a fabulous arts program The Strand (at 4:30am! Can’t we just have ONE arts program? I mean, really) and put in its place more political programming — jeez, enough already.

satnavsys: Maybe WBUR will get back in the business of college radio, which is what they are supposed to be doing in the first place.

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