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Joan Vennochi

Howie Carr's bales of hay

AS FORMER Senate president William M. Bulger sees it, longtime nemesis Howie Carr is looking a bit like Buridan's Ass.

He's "a donkey caught between two bales of hay," noted Bulger, referencing a problem of decision-making that is named after the 14th-century French philosopher Jean Buridan.

Carr will end up with one very lucrative bale, probably at WRKO-AM, the station he tried to leave. But for a while now, the popular radio talk show host who lives to pillory politicians - especially Bulger - has been caught between two radio stations.

Last July, WTKK-FM offered Carr $6.75 million to go up against WRKO's Tom Finneran, the former House speaker turned radio host who never takes a breath or a swipe at any politician. WRKO matched WTKK's offer. Carr sued, but Suffolk Superior Court Judge Allan van Gestel backed WRKO. Last week, Appeals Court Judge Andrew Grainger denied Carr's bid to work for WTKK as his legal case winds through the courts. That could take several years.

Back to that donkey: Carr took himself off WRKO's air in late September, so he isn't being paid, according to Shepherd Davidson, a lawyer for Entercom Boston, which owns the station. The talk show host also lost a car provided by Ira Motors that was part of his pay package, according to publicist George Regan, who represents WRKO.

"Part of his compensation was the automobile. When he wasn't doing the ads anymore, that was it," Regan said. Meanwhile, the offer from WTKK was contingent on Carr not being bound by WRKO's contract.

But as Carr spokeswoman Nancy Sterling notes, "Howie's pretty busy these days with public appearances and TV commentary, newspaper columns, and a new book. And the last time I checked, he wasn't walking anywhere."

Publicly, both sides are hanging tough.

"He has the legal right to continue the lawsuit. I wouldn't think he would want to sit on the sidelines for two years. But that's his choice. We're not going to let him go to WTKK," said Entercom's Davidson. Greater Media, which owns WTKK, said it's "keeping all options open as we decide how to move forward."

WRKO badly wants Carr back soon and its position is strengthened by a new deal for controversial radio host Don Imus. When Imus returns to the airwaves in December, his show will be syndicated nationally. If Imus somehow returned to a WTKK morning show, that would force Carr back to WRKO's bale of hay.

Meanwhile, WRKO hopes Carr's Boston Herald salary and earnings from the sale of "The Brothers Bulger: How They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston for a Quarter Century" will only go so far in maintaining his lifestyle. "I have no idea what the Herald pays him, or what he's getting from his book. But he has a second wife and kids in college. The compensation [at stake] is not nominal," said Davidson.

In a way, I 've been rooting for Carr to get the morning show at WTKK - as long as Finneran is going to keep the morning show at WRKO.

Other than the late Boston city councilor Jimmy Kelly and the ailing former city councilor Dapper O'Neil, I can't remember anything nice Carr has ever said or written about anyone.

His critiques go far beyond differences over ideology. His commentary is often rude and personal and he takes adolescent delight in mocking physical characteristics. His unflinching meanness undercuts an admirable willingness to take on the powerbrokers. But from a marketing perspective, Carr obviously knows what he's doing, as proven by the bidding war for his services.

At the same time, Finneran's long-winded odes to every establishment figure and cause in town cry out for an antidote. Finneran has the pol gene, which makes him congenitally unable to find fault with one of his own. Boston Mayor Tom Menino, Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley, the Boston firefighters or the Boston police - they are all heroes no matter what.

A destination for intelligent and civil radio conversation is a welcome concept in Boston. But even civil debate benefits from a little edge, not to mention a little honesty.

Carr at WTKK. Finneran at WRKO. The listener could switch from a host who thinks politicians can do no good to a host who thinks they can do no bad. Devils on parade at WTKK, saints at WRKO.

However, given Carr's legal options, he'll probably be back at WRKO. It will be Finneran in the morning and Carr in the afternoon - two donkeys eating from the same bale of hay.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.

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