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Okay, I admit it. I'm still not very good at dealing with good news. Remember the Onion video of the Obama zombies who, after devoting months of work to their candidate, enduring countless ups and downs, couldn't face the fact that he had won the election? That could have been me on the screen. Heck, it could have been you. But let's just try for a second to suspend our disbelief: After two and a half years, a group of progressive activists allied with business and political leaders has succeeded in leasing a Boston station, WWZN (1510 AM), with a solid 50 kW signal reaching comfortably into New Hampshire, to broadcast progressive talk from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. every weekday! In addition to local host Jeff Santos (6-10 a.m.), who has been on the air since Election Day, the lineup will include nationally syndicated hosts Stephanie Miller (10 a.m.-noon), Ed Schultz (noon-3 p.m.), Thom Hartmann (3-6 p.m.), and a final local hour (6-7 p.m.). We'll also be online for streaming and podcasts at RevolutionBoston.com. This news has been a long time coming.

What? No progressive talk in Boston?
To someone who hasn't followed the story of progressive talk radio closely, the surprise might be that Boston, one of the most liberal areas in the country, should face such a struggle to put progressive talk on the radio dial. But then we liberals are used to such offenses to our common sense. For how many years did Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and another dozen conservative tub-thumpers have no one on the other side of the political divide to contend with on either radio or television?

In the 1930s, radio licenses were considered a contract between the public, who had a right to good information, and the radio stations that jockeyed to make use of the limited broadcast band that was ostensibly the public's property. However, the 1996 Telecommunications Act (sponsored and signed by Democrats as well as Republicans, alas) severely weakened decades-old ownership limits. Suddenly, single corporations, most notably the conservative-owned Clear Channel, could buy up large numbers of stations across the country. This consolidation in corporate ownership went hand-in-glove with a consolidation of political content when Rush Limbaugh and his cronies were basically allowed to take over the airwaves. Liberal talk shows wer forced off the air. (The erosion of the Fairness Doctrine was another part of the picture, but that's another story.)

Air America shakes things up
In 2004, Air America came along, finally giving stations enough material once again to devote themselves entirely to progressive talk. Often, stations would augment the AAR lineup with local programs, or shows from other networks, such as the Jones Network, now known as Dial Global. Progressive talk often brought dramatic increases in listenership on these stations, and the stations that had decent signals and staff became a self-evident success. However, where the stations had weak signals (not to mention a near total lack of staff or promotion), those who wanted to dismiss progressive talk could point to the stations' small absolute audience share rather than how well they did, given the measly wattage, at attracting loyal listeners. Critics could also use AAR's far-too-colorful management problems to tarnish progressive talk as a whole.

Even from the beginning of that 2004 wave, some progressive talk stations were being switched to other formats. (See my Progressive radio timeline for a chronological view and Progressive radio stations for an overview.) However, a particularly noticeable wave of format switches occurred in December 2006. Some speculate that the Republican station/network owners were running scared after the recent Democratic electoral victories, and feared that voters may have been listening to the faint but feisty content after all. For whatever reason, substantial rumors began to circulate that stations around the country would lose progressive talk. Madison, which had had the most advance notice, successfully rallied to convince Clear Channel to preserve the format. Columbus and Boston were not so lucky. Progressive talk was pulled off the air in Columbus one day prior to the rally that local activists had scheduled. Meanwhile, almost all progressive talk fans in Boston were caught by surprise when the station suddenly began broadcasting Latino music.

Organizing in the dead of night
One of the few who was not surprised was Robin Bergman (known as roborig at Blue Mass Group and rougegorge on Daily Kos), a local fan who had followed the forum on the station's website. In the wee hours just before progressive talk was to be stripped, she set up a message board and pointed people to it from the station site. By the end of the day, 50 people had signed up and were busy discussing what to do next. Within a few days, they had settled on a time and place for a meeting. In retrospect, if any of these -- the establishment of the message board, the placement of the notice on the site before the switch, or the scheduling of a meeting in the physical world -- had never occurred, or happened too late, crucial momentum could have easily been lost. But within a few days, the despondent diaries on Daily Kos or Blue Mass Group that wondered where Boston Progressive Talk had gone were receiving comments that told them where they could go to figure out what to do next.

Madison's success story had made a big impression on us, and our initial efforts focused on trying to talk Clear Channel into putting us back. At one early meeting, we wrote letters to the station management, pointing out that their ratings had improved as a result of progressive talk and predicting that they'd never recover (which turned out to be the case). But it became clear that they could not be moved.

Hey, big spender!
At this point, we began to think seriously about what we could do to get progressive talk onto another station. We determined that no station would switch to progressive talk as the result of our persuasion alone. We would have to raise some capital. Ideally, we'd buy our own station so that it couldn't be snatched out from under us on a whim even if we had pulled in listeners and advertising dollars. But that would require money. In the post-1996 Boston radio market, we'd need literally millions of dollars. Cursory arithmetic indicated that we could not rely on our own funds as ordinary citizens to raise the capital. (Let's see, one million dollars divided by one thousand supporters means -- a thousand dollars per supporter?!) So we'd need to find deeper pockets, whether they belonged to private wealthy individuals, or corporations, or foundations. And most of this search could not be conducted on a message board.

We then began the tortuous (and torturous) process of conducting public events and private negotiations. Jeff Santos, the one former local host on the old station, took the lead on the private side, drawing upon his knowledge of the industry and our suggestions, leads, energy, and research. We rode the roller coaster of hope and frustration as the economy took a turn for the worse and potential investors withdrew. But we persisted for two years. Two years -- the amount of time between the point when the Democrats first took back Congress and the moment when Obama entered the White House.

Reaping the rewards
Eventually we saw our first reward as Jeff reported live on Election Day. I found it a kick to listen to him in south-central New Hampshire as I drove around to do my part in getting out the vote, knowing that swing voters could hear him, too. But the real moment of triumph arrived this week, when Jeff announced on his show that starting on May 4, he, Stephanie, Ed, and Thom would be on the air from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. every weeknight. Wahoo!

Join in the fun!
If you live anywhere near Boston, I hope you will attend our kickoff party at the Revolution Rock Bar. Details:

Thursday, May 7, 6-9 pm
Revolution Rock Bar
200 High St
Boston, MA 02110
(across from Rowes Wharf, just off Atlantic Ave. and the Greenway)

RSVP by:
(1) sending e-mail to jeff AT revolutionboston DOT com and cc-ing bostonprogressivetalk AT gmail DOT com or
(2) using the contact form at RevolutionBoston.com

There will be plenty of ways you can help us, from suggesting advertisers to spreading the word to potential listeners. If you have questions, please contact us at bostonprogressivetalk AT gmail DOT com. We invite you to join our message board.

Also, if you have accounts at Blue Mass Group, Blue Hampshire, and/or Below Boston, please visit the cross-posts of this diary there and leave comments, if you can.

Is this all a dream? Only one way to find out! Listen to us, either at 1510 AM or online at RevolutionBoston.com.

Originally posted to AlanF on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 04:34 PM PDT.

Poll

How do you generally listen to progressive talk radio?

30%22 votes
15%11 votes
23%17 votes
6%5 votes
23%17 votes

| 72 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Please spread the word, especially in Boston! n/t (16+ / 0-)

    Cabal: Democrats who talk to each other. (BarbinMD) Want to interview a progressive talk radio host? Join our diary group! Click my name to find my address.

    by AlanF on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 04:35:23 PM PDT

    •  Great news, Alan!! (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AlanF, JVolvo, MKSinSA

      I saw Jeff last weekend at the breakfast event in Hudson honoring Kate Donaghue for her years of service to the state Democratic Party - this is great news, congrats!

      Myself, I'll be directing and doing voice-overs for a new TV show for the state Democratic Party.  We're filming our first episode this weekend, and we're planning to get it aired on all of the cable access stations in the commonwealth by using our network of town committees to request an airing on their local cable systems.  We'll also be breaking the show into smaller clips and loading them up to YouTube for blog commentary, etc.

      Do you still have my number?  Give me a call, I'd love to catch up, or just email me, it's in my profile here - talk soon!

  •  Congratulations! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF, PinHole, JVolvo, MKSinSA

    My mind is a jumble but at http://www.radiofreenashville.org we don't have advertisers we have....oh crap, I don't remember what they are called - maybe sponsors, no wait, underwriters.
    That's so much classier than advertisers. (I think it's because we are non profit, but it's still classier.)
    Don't forget your PSA'a. We do one every hour.
    I am out searching for them all the time.
    Right wing talk radio is all about "me, me, me" (or "them, them, them" as the case may be.)
    Seems like progressive radio should be about helping the community to progress as well, and PSA's do a good job of that.

    "Blue Dog Dems - putting the ick back in the Democrat(ic) Party."

    by ZenTrainer on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 04:44:38 PM PDT

    •  We use the advertiser model (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MKSinSA

      but I salute the stations who manage to pull off the nonprofit "underwriter" model. Each approach comes with its own set of pros and cons.

      Cabal: Democrats who talk to each other. (BarbinMD) Want to interview a progressive talk radio host? Join our diary group! Click my name to find my address.

      by AlanF on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 05:02:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  None Here in Blue NE Ohio (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF, PinHole, JVolvo

    I'm paying to run a 300 watt computer all day long so I can stream to an in-house transmitter for radios around the house-shop.

    I sure would like a decent progressive talk station. It's rough leaving the house.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 04:45:01 PM PDT

    •  Did you listen to the prog talk stations (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MKSinSA

      that were there before they were flipped (1100-AM/WTAM, 1350-AM/WARF)?

      Cabal: Democrats who talk to each other. (BarbinMD) Want to interview a progressive talk radio host? Join our diary group! Click my name to find my address.

      by AlanF on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 05:00:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Glad to see it! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF

    I'm from the Boston area but living in Chicago right now were we enjoy WCPT.  I'm glad to see Boston is getting some progressive talk.  Hopefully it will still be on the air when I move back there in a couple of years.

    "Life is an occassion. Rise to it." Mr. Magorium - Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

    by Angry Pilgrim on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 04:45:23 PM PDT

    •  Yes, we want to be there to greet you (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MKSinSA

      when you return!

      What are the local shows on WCPT like?

      Cabal: Democrats who talk to each other. (BarbinMD) Want to interview a progressive talk radio host? Join our diary group! Click my name to find my address.

      by AlanF on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 04:58:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You should broadcast some Amy Goodman (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF, grrr, PinHole, JVolvo

    to the good people of Massachusetts and New Hampshire!  The more stations broadcasting Democracy Now!, the better.

    Congrats, and good luck!

    •  Democracy Now! is a good show (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JVolvo, MKSinSA, rossl

      but it's based on an a subscription model, whereas we need to use an advertising model. I could go into why we need to do that if people are curious. In any case, DN is already broadcast on one of the college stations in the area.

      Thanks for the good wishes!

      Cabal: Democrats who talk to each other. (BarbinMD) Want to interview a progressive talk radio host? Join our diary group! Click my name to find my address.

      by AlanF on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 04:55:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Congratulations! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF, JVolvo

    We lost our station here in Missoula, MT and got it back last January.  It is so wonderful to have it back.  We need to get more of these stations around the country.  Keep up the good work!

    •  Yeah, I was psyched about that. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MKSinSA

      Any insight on how you got it back?

      Cabal: Democrats who talk to each other. (BarbinMD) Want to interview a progressive talk radio host? Join our diary group! Click my name to find my address.

      by AlanF on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 05:04:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  This is fabulous! I could not understand (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF, PinHole

    why Boston (of all places) did not have a Progressive Talk station with a VERY STRONG signal!

    I am painfully aware of the history of the P.T. station we had in 2004 and 2005.

  •  Great for Boston. I have the tubes. Others don't. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF

    I'm currently deprived of progressive talk whenever I have to drive somewhere. Which is not always a bad thing. Yet, having a choice would be nice.

    "They pour syrup on shit and tell us it's hotcakes." Meteor Blades

    by JugOPunch on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 05:08:06 PM PDT

  •  Great news! nt/ (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF, PinHole, MKSinSA

    Be good to each other. It matters.

    by AllisonInSeattle on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 07:08:41 PM PDT

  •  In your survey (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF, MKSinSA

    you forgot the choice:    X - I wish I could listen to progressive talk radio, but I can't because it is not available.  

    •  In my mind, that was included in the last (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      MKSinSA

      option.

      Listen to progressive talk radio 6 a.m. - 7 p.m. every weekday at http://RevolutionBoston.com

      by AlanF on Thu Apr 30, 2009 at 08:44:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Then you'll just have to add another (0+ / 0-)

        vote, in your mind  :-), for the last option.    

        The way it is written, one doesn't know if that is what is meant or the responder has no interest in listening to Progressive Radio.

        Thanks for all your hard work - we'll look forward to listening in August! I'll make sure my 20-something  cousin in Cambridge knows about you.

  •  Good work! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF

    Two and a half years is a long time to keep the energy going.  

    How long is the lease, and do you have the "option to buy" the station?  Considering the difficulties Columbus has had, I think one should pursue purchasing, if there is the opportunity to buy.

  •  Microcasting (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF

    Hi Alan!

    Awesome news. You're well on your way to becoming a media mogul!

    Hey. I had a crazy idea. I meant to write you... I'm sorry if this is a distraction:

    We can now have unlicensed radio stations, up to 10 watts in power, right?

    I think it'd be great to set up a "pirate" progressive station in my house. If your WWZN had a live streaming feed, I could broadcast it directly.

    Scale the idea up. 100s or 1,000s of 10 watt stations. Setup some sort of program coordination. Maybe something like current.tv.

    Maybe come up with some incentive program for people like me to host a pirate station. Some sort of automated targeted advertising, just like Google's AdWords. The scenario I imagine is the local pizza house buys an ad online, submits the audio, and it gets plugged in automatically to all the relevant stations.

    That's as far as I've gotten with the idea.

    Again, sorry if this is a distraction.

  •  Congratulations Boston (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF

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