7.16.2009

The Sports Talk of Boston

I've railed against the state of Boston radio a couple times in this space before, here and here, but the news of a couple days ago was quite a shocker -- pioneering rock station WBCN is switching to an all-online format, with top 40 station WBMX (Mix 98.5) assuming the vacant 104.1 terrestrial frequency and the creation of an FM-based sports talk station, WBZ-FM to take over the 98.5 frequency. That's a reshuffling that's quite indicative of not only the state of Boston-area radio, but the radio industry worldwide.

Radio long ago ceased to be about the content and is now entirely about the business bottom line. If a block of airtime isn't generating enough ad sales revenue, then change the block's content. If the entire station isn't bringing in enough ad sales revenue -- change the station format.

There are so many ways a person can satisfy their musical tastes in a format other than over-the-air radio, it's almost not worth it to play music at all. The very thing radio stations like WBCN were attempting to achieve in the 60's and 70's -- education and celebration of great music -- were their downfall, now that someone can click on over iTunes to download their favorite tracks, rather than chancing it by listening to the radio for 30 minutes, or sign up for a Pandora account and listen to only the artists/types of music they appreciate.

These days, if I am listening to the radio in the office, it's online with BBC6, a British-based station that's in online-only format. They play music I like and keep it varied. That's my taste.

On the flip side of things, WBZ-FM comes along as the third sports-talk station to take on WEEI in recent years. Where ESPN and The Zone have failed, WBZ-FM has strength -- local coverage (or in ESPN's case, lack-of) and signal (The Zone doesn't have a strong one). The new lineup has already been leaked to the masses and it looks strong: Toucher and Rich can certainly give the blowhard duo of Dennis and Callahan a run for their money in the morning, and I just hope that Gary Tanguay has the good sense to maintain interesting discussions with interesting guests in the afternoon -- that's all he'll need to beat the bloated idiots on The Big Show. WBZ-FM also benefits from the Boston Globe not banning its staff from appearing on-air, so the pool of talent from which to pick to appear on-air is already deep for this fledgling station.

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