The State of Talk Radio in New England
Monday, December 16, 2013
"The rule of thumb in these cases is as follows: Usually when a talk show host gets in trouble, the degree of support they get from their company is in ratio to the value they have for the company," said Michael Harrison, editor and publisher of Talkers Magazine, the self-proclaimed "bible of talk radio and new talk media," who offered his thoughts on the the ultimate outcome of the DePetro trial-by-fire.
DePetro is facing a growing number of elected officials, candidates, and even the RI GOP, who have stepped forth to say they would boycott DePetro and WPRO over his disparaging comments made on-air about female union activists, for which he has since apologized -- but it has not placated those opposed to his language.
The controversy is hardy the first for New England -- and national -- talk radio, which has seen hosts come under scrutiny for comments made on air, with a wide-range of results -- and DePetro's future will prove to be another chapter in an industry that has seen major changes in recent years.
See Infamous Talk Radio Controversies BELOW
An American Tourist in North Korea?
"First of all, how can liberal politicians "boycott" a show that, according to media reports, they haven't been on for years? Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has never had the courage to appear on the air with me, despite being in the same studio once a month for about six years," asked Massachusetts conservative talk show host Michael Graham. "Was he "boycotting" me?"
Graham continued. "Having said that, I'm offended by DePetro calling women union activists "hags" and "whores." I'm offended because, in addition to being rude and insulting, it's incredibly stupid. Doing conservative talk radio in New England is like being an American tourist in North Korea. You're surrounded by people who have no interest in free speech, no desire for diverse opinions and who will scrutinize every statement you make for a chance to shut you down."
Talkers' Harrison addressed what he saw unique to the current situation facing DePetro. "The difference between the DePetro case and earlier high-profile ones involving national hosts is DePetro is actually being attacked by elected officials (as opposed to "just" political action groups). Any elected official who aggressively tries to shut down a media commentator as opposed to simply reacting by expressing disagreement is, in my opinion, more dangerous than the host, regardless of how nasty or disgusting the host might be. The reason - the First Amendment is the most important principle we have in America that makes us a free country."
Harrison continued, "There can be no freedom without free speech - meaning speech uncensored by government repression, control, influence or edict. Elected officials should not use their power or influence to put an opposing or disagreeable voice out of business. That is a terrible thing and should be repudiated by anyone who understands the Constitution and the importance of the First Amendment. I do not know what the outcome will be."
The For Our Daughters campaign, which was formed following DePetro's latest remarks, bills itself as a "grassroots advocacy organization committed to promoting gender equity and combating misogyny in public speech and debate."
"John DePetro's reputation as an abrasive misogynist is widely known, but his latest attack on women can't go unanswered. His recent labeling of women protesters outside at a political event as "whores" is offensive, unacceptable and un-American," writes the group on its homepage.
Last week, in addition to dozens of elected officials and candidates, RI GOP Chair Mark Smiley stated, “The RIGOP recognizes that free speech is important for all our citizens however that is not a green light under all circumstances for Cumulus Media Inc. Although we don’t always agree politically and ideologically with Democrats in Rhode Island we fully agree on this matter. The John Depetro Show is demeaning to women and minorities and this kind of behavior can’t be tolerated. The Rhode Island Republican Party will be boycotting WPRO indefinitely until the John Depetro Show is terminated."
Future of Talk Radio?
"The recent decline in the number of talk stations and local talk hosts in New England - particularly Boston which was once considered to be one of the nation's leading talk radio markets - is disturbing. Talk radio faces a number of challenges - the most daunting being what we are discussing, political pressure on advertisers to deny support to controversial political talk. The others are basically the same problems facing all of radio, not to mention a range of 20th century based advertising media... and that is, competition from exotic new digital-era media and huge generational divides that make it difficult to attract younger audiences," said Harrison.
"Basically stations have far less personnel running larger groups or "clusters" of stations. In the old days you'd have a program director and general manager and chief engineer responsible for one or two stations per market. Now they are responsible for far more," said Harrison, noting however that "Providence stations such as WPRO have more local marquee hosts than most in similar sized markets."
Bill George, Director of Programming at WHJJ, thought that despite recent changes, the state of talk radio remained strong. "The Nielsen company released a report last week which showed that News/Talk is the highest rated format in the country. Here in Rhode Island, we continue to see enthusiastic interest in the format," said George. "With statewide elections coming next year, we expect that interest to grow, as it does in any election year. At News Radio 920 we are extremely bullish on the prospect for a strong 2014, especially now that we have RI Radio Hall of Famer Ron St. Pierre hosting our morning show. The race for Governor is sure to bring tremendous interest to the News/Talk format."
George continued, "Talk radio is a dynamic medium and is often controversial by nature. It is not unusual for specific groups to use their influence upon broadcasters and advertisers when they feel they need to take a stand against a particular host. We have seen this on a national scale, as well as in individual markets around the country. This type of controversy isn't unique to Rhode Island. Each situation and market is different, so there doesn't appear to be an appropriate blanket approach."
A change.org petition has been formed by a group, RI Citizens for Free Speech, stating DePetro is "under attack by a paid organized union smear campaign designed to silence his vocal criticism." It writes, "Do not allow politicians and unions to suppress free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment! We will not tolerate the censorship of the callers or the host of The John DePetro Show."
Infamous Talk Radio Controversies
Arbitron Ratings Scandal
In 2008, radio host John DePetro found himself in the midst of a ratings controversy. The Boston Herald reported,
The briefly stellar ratings of controversy-dogged-talkmeister John DePetro’s Providence radio show tanked yesterday after a whiff of scandal forced Arbitron to reissue its spring survey of listener-dial habits.
Sexual Harassment Claim
In 2012, DePetro was sued by a WPRO colleague for sexual harassment.
Producer Dee DeQuatro said DePetro invited her to lunch before driving to a house and making sexual advances.
DePetro denied the allegations.
Buddy's Return - to Radio
After five years in prison for racketeering conspiracy from 2002 to 2007, former Mayor of Providence Buddy Cianci returned to the public eye with a radio show on WPRO.
While controversial, Cianci's continued popularity has people wondering if Buddy might just make another run for Mayor in 2014.
Chafee's Talk Radio Ban
Upon taking office in 2011, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee announced that he would not appear on talk radio shows and barred state employees in agencies and departments that report to him from doing the same during work hours.
Governor Chafee is among the elected officials who have signed the "For Our Daughters" pledge.
Dennis and Callahan
WEEI sports radio hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan were suspended in 2003 when they referred to an escaped gorilla as a "Metco gorilla" waiting for a bus to Lexington -- with Metco being bus program that buses inner-city students to suburban schools.
Boston's WCVB reported that advertisers Dunkin' Donuts and Blue Cross pulled back station support in light of the incident.
WTKK's Jay Severin was fired for making comments about sleeping with female employees over the years.
Radio Ink reported on Greater Media's reaction to the incident.
"Greater Media today ended its relationship with Jay Severin. Our company has always encouraged a free and open dialogue on a variety of issues and topics, and we will continue to be guided by that principle. But we also demand that our on-air talent maintain an appropriate level of civility, and adhere to a standard that respects our listeners and the public at large.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh is no stranger to controversy; his latest remarks prompted the Democratic National Committee to call on Republican leaders to boycott the Daily Caller, which defended Limbaugh's remarks in an article entitled, "Liberals want to stop men from checking out women."
- BREAKING: Block, First GOP Candidate Comes Out for DePetro’s Firing
- NEW: RI Gov Chafee Calls for Talk Show Host DePetro to be Fired
- NEW: DePetro Accuses Martin and Dufault of Being Behind Threats
- Chafee blasts Schilling Deal on DePetro show
- Exclusive: Dumping DePetro In Morning Hurting WPRO-AM
- Did stress kill the yellow lobster? By John DePetro
- In the Stretch by John DePetro
- Read the Complaint Against DePetro
- The Howard Beale Candidacy by John DePetro
- Top 10 of 2010: Frank Caprio & John DePetro
- Voters to Obama: ‘Shove It’ By John DePetro
- WPRO’s John DePetro Apologizes
- Welcome to Rhode Island President Obama by John DePetro
- What happened to the Block Party? By John DePetro
- Who is More Polarizing? Chafee or DePetro
- YOU DECIDE: DePetro or Gobeil on WPRO-AM
- NEW: DePetro’s Attorney Blasts Governor Chafee
- NEW: Lawyer Says DePetro is ‘Completely Innocent’
- NEW: Rhode Island GOP Boycotts WPRO, Demand DePetro’s Termination
- NEW: WPRO’s DePetro Suspended
- NEW: WPRO’s John DePetro Claims He Was Threatened Says Lawyer
- NEW: WPRO’s John DePetro Sued For Sexual Harassment
- NEW: Watson Appearance Chaos on DePetro’s Show
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