Friday, February 16, 2007

Finneran's last forum

Issue Date: 2/15/2007, Posted On: 2/14/2007

Political intelligence

by Kevin John Sowyrda |

Does WRKO Radio in Boston have some sort of death wish? Do the folks in charge want to blow up the station once revered for its employment of talk master icons like Gerry Williams and Gene Burns? Unlike the present cast of not-yet-ready-for-prime-timers at 680 AM, the late greats did not spend their valuable mic time beating the LGBT community over its collective head with a baseball bat. Yet that’s the main shtick of this publicly licensed member of the electronic media in the Hub, and the beating goes on this week with one new, though very beleaguered, player at bat.

This week, WRKO introduced its latest impediment to profit making: Tom Finneran, the former House Speaker and former president of the Mass Biotechnology Council who is a convicted felon on five years probation. He may not have his law license anymore, but he does have the coveted drive time slot at Boston’s best known gay-bashing station. We’ve documented many of their worst moments here — the most notorious of which was when mid-morning host John DiPetro called gubernatorial candidate Grace Ross a “fat lesbian.” He lost his job soon thereafter, but any notion that he was canned for having called Ross both “fat” and a “lesbian” is wishful thinking given what else is said on the air about the gays at WRKO. Just take the childish banter of Howie Carr, whose list of anti-gay slurs runs longer than the route of the Boston Marathon.

Finneran was hired to replace Scott Allan Miller, who was the only regularly featured host at WRKO who didn’t engage in anti-gay pejoratives, stereotyping or hysteria. Miller was a distinctly civil voice at a station where livid and obnoxious diatribes are the talk de jour. Why he was replaced by Finneran, whose legislative career was noteworthy for its unwavering commitment to political posturing, shenanigans and a diehard, socially conservative agenda which would have seemed unduly harsh to June and Ward Cleaver is a mystery. But it was one that interested me, so on Monday and Tuesday of this week, I gave the state’s only right-wing Dem a listen.

I’ve suffered through Tom’s radio persona (think blowhard, windy, boring) before; he’s guest hosted in a vagabond way on other Boston stations. I thought he’d be better this time around because the stakes are much higher. Finneran needs this gig to pay his bills (invoices from his defense lawyer alone are probably stacked higher than the Hancock Tower).

I must admit I’ve had a high stakes bet going with a friend of mine, who was willing to put down a C note if Finneran played it safe and avoided “the gay marriage thing” for at least his first week behind the mic. Take a guess at who’s $100 richer today.

Just two days into his new job, Tom came back from the break and welcomed us to “W aaaaah K O.” Apparently no one’s thought to inform this burned out pol from Mattapan that the grating, oh-so-70s Boston accent went out with the Brady Bunch. Nor is he aware of the fact that if you speak like you studied English with Tom Menino, you are not long for the world of radio.
But I digress.

Tom, and his teenage sidekick Holly-something-or-other — who speaks as if she were Lee Atwater reincarnated — are aghast, appalled, perplexed and simply livid at the treatment of poor Republican State Senator Scott Brown who has been vilified for reading obscene emails to about 60 students at Wrentham’s King Philip Regional High School last Thursday, where the senator was fulfilling his constitutional duty to remind Massachusetts voters exactly why they voted for Democrats in November.

Brown had been filleted like a catfish on a website on, created by a student at the high school. The student and some friends were less than diplomatic in some of their web postings about how they felt about Brown’s zealous opposition to civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. Brown read the emails aloud, and in detail (he dropped the f-bomb twice), ignoring the protests of teachers monitoring his guest lecture. It will obviously be his last sojourn to His Majesty’s school.

Finneran had Brown on Tuesday to talk about the incident; it’s about 8:13 a.m. and Finneran is throwing every softball question imaginable to Brown. Brown drowns us with his “who me?” tag line from all his other interviews of the past few days, and then Tom announces: “We’re holding the wrong person accountable,” staunchly defending Brown as an exceptional legislator and a martyr for the cause of protecting the American family, and all that sort of fluffernutter.

Finneran is beginning his media career on the wrong foot, to no surprise. The Brown affair — that has a ring to it, doesn’t it? — should be seen from the macro perspective and not the micro. One would think the public sympathy would first lie with those who continue to be victims of prejudice and discrimination, as opposed to those who must endure a less than gracious web posting from time to time — a rather normal fact of life, one would think, for politicians. Especially one who’s being touted by the state GOP as a potential challenger to U.S. Sen. John Kerry in 2008.

So it only took Finneran two days to bring his 1950s view of America to the airwaves. The next few months will simply solidify the indisputable fact that the once great WRKO has degenerated to a station which doesn’t just lean right, but runs right. You’ve got Rush Limbaugh — enough said — and the work day is finished with Howie, whose often joined by Republicans (like Brown) who make comments and slurs regarding gay families which pale in comparison to anything a couple of students at King Philip Regional High School may have written about the senator.

My research is over. Having gathered my fair share of material by about 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, I turn back to WBUR where Bob Oakes proves there’s some decency left on the Boston airwaves. But let me make one thing clear: Finneran didn’t make me turn the dial just because he’s verbally awkward and tongue tied, or because his presence on the air is college level radio at best, or because his finesse is non existent, or because he couldn’t do a good interview if a gun were held to his head, or because the show’s intros by former Channel 38 “great” Dana Hersey are just plain, old silly. No, Finneran makes me turn the dial simply because he’s the same old Finneran — utterly obsessed and angered by what other consenting adults, different than he, do in their bedrooms.

Let me end with a prediction. Some executive at Entercom, the owners of RKO, won’t tolerate the inevitable ratings slide at the station for long. Finneran loses this gig by Christmas and joins the presidential campaign staff of Mitt Romney. A perfect fit.

Susan Ryan Vollmer, editor of the South End News/Bay Windows, edited and contributed to this column.

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