WGBH bringing TV shows to radio

New programming starts next week

TV host Emily Rooney (right, with ‘‘Greater Boston’’ producer Don Makson) will have a midday weekday show on the revamped WGBH-FM 89.7. TV host Emily Rooney (right, with ‘‘Greater Boston’’ producer Don Makson) will have a midday weekday show on the revamped WGBH-FM 89.7. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)
By Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / November 28, 2009

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WGBH said it plans to air more of its popular TV programs on the radio starting Tuesday as part of its effort to reinvent 89.7 FM as Boston’s next full-time news and information radio station - and set it apart from competitors that dominate the market.

WGBH officials said the station will draw from its catalog of TV programs such as “Beat The Press,’’ “Nova,’’ and “The News Hour’’ and adapt them for 89.7 FM. The station also will give WGBH’s “Greater Boston’’ TV host Emily Rooney and “Beat the Press’’ commentator Callie Crossley a midday weekday show to discuss local news. Their untitled show, set to start Jan. 4, will serve as the centerpiece of the new programming lineup that debuts Tuesday.

The moves are part of WGBH’s purchase in September of classical music station WCRB-FM 99.5 for $14 million. That acquisition allowed WGBH to shift its classical music programming to WCRB to preserve that station as Boston’s only full-time classical outlet. It also enabled WGBH to convert 89.7 to an all news and talk station in an attempt to compete with WBZ-AM 1030 and WBUR-FM 90.9. A smaller NPR affiliate, WUMB at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, also offers news and music programming.

“We want to do something that is additive, that complements what is already in town and do it in another way,’’ said Jeanne Hopkins, a WGBH spokeswoman.

Broadcasting TV shows on radio isn’t unusual. In September, WWZN-1510 AM began simulcasting WCVB-TV (Channel 5)’s 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. newscasts for commuters. And on WBZ-AM, listeners can tune into CBS’s “60 Minutes’’ at 7 p.m. Sundays.

Donna Halper, a radio consultant and media professor at Lesley University, said that such programming initiatives are usually done by a media company that owns a TV and radio station to save money.

She points to “60 Minutes,’’ which has been airing on WBZ radio for at least five years and has been a success for the radio station. The idea is to broaden the audience and give consumers more opportunities to tune into a program, she said, but you run the risk of losing viewers and listeners.

“It can cannibalize viewers, but it can also enhance them,’’ said Halper. “It’s kind of a convenience or a courtesy.’’

Paul La Camera, WBUR’s general manager, said WGBH’s new programming “sounds quite creative. It’s very ambitious right out of the box. We wish them well.’’

In addition to airing some of its TV programming on the radio station, WGBH will continue airing “The World,’’ a weekday afternoon news magazine show. And the station also will continue carrying NPR’s “Morning Edition’’ and “All Things Considered,’’ which also air on WBUR.

WGBH will also add two other NPR programs: “Fresh Air with Terry Gross’’ and “The Diane Rehm Show.’’ Both stations are NPR affiliates and pay dues to carry its programming even though they compete against each other.

Other changes at WGBH have hit a sour note among some listeners. They say that Boston radio doesn’t need another news station, which only takes away from the mix of programming of classical, jazz, blues, and folk music on WGBH.

The station is canceling its folk and blues programs on 89.7 and evaluating whether to continue airing the live Friday matinee broadcasts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra performances on WCRB, although the Saturday broadcasts will continue.

Fans have started a Facebook page, which has more than 1,100 supporters, to protest the changes. “That ‘Keeping classical alive’ really means killing the wonderful diversity of programming that made me a longtime WGBH supporter,’’ said Jeff Hecht of Newton. “I don’t want an all-talk clone of WBUR.’’

Johnny Diaz can be reached at

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