Free of BUR, Lydon's team huddles to launch new show
Originally published in Current, March 12, 2001
By Mike Janssen
It's official: The Connection that public radio once knew is no more. Former host Chris Lydon and senior producer Mary McGrath are on their own after failing to win part-ownership of their show from WBUR, their former employer, and they've taken a loyal producing staff with them.
Now L&M Productions, as their new production company is called, meets daily at a site Lydon calls "the incubator" (he won't reveal its whereabouts), planning a "new show out of the spirit of The Connection," he says. "It will be caller-driven, electrifyingly interactive, edgy, energized, smart radio, and beyond that we're working on it."
The split between Lydon and WBUR became official March 2, though, in a twist typical of the months-long debate between the two parties, neither side agrees on how and why they drifted apart. In a statement, WBUR said Lydon and McGrath decided to leave and form a for-profit, independent production company.
But in a counter-statement posted on www.christopherlydon.org, the online trumpet of The Connection exiles, Lydon and McGrath wrote, "WBUR broke The Connection today instead of negotiating the future of the program with the people who created it."
Lydon and McGrath asked for half-ownership of The Connection last summer, and in November WBUR offered them salaries that the station says would have made them the highest-paid host and producer in public broadcasting. But the two sides couldn't resolve their differences, and WBUR put Lydon and McGrath on two weeks of paid leave Feb. 15, citing personnel issues.
Since the stalemate went public in the pages of the Boston Globe, public radio has been buzzing about the jaw-dropping salary offer to Lydon ($280,000 plus bonus) and, perhaps more importantly, the ownership and intellectual property issues raised by the debate.
Lydon is keeping tight-lipped about the future of L&M Productions. This week, L&M Productions expects to have a clearer idea of how the new show will be funded, and a new home to boot. Lydon refused to talk details, but did say that he's received offers for production facilities from five sites, most of which are in Boston. But "one and a half" are not, he says. Will the show be for public or commercial radio or both? He wouldn't say.
Lydon fans bemoan the loss of their host, who they say imbued the show with a unique, polymathic intellectualism. But some public radio program directors, who note that Talk of the Nation lost host Ray Suarez without losing much audience, see things differently.
KUOW Program Director Jeff Hansen, who organizes informal meetings of news-talk stations, believes the program will stay afloat without Lydon. "It'll do just fine," he says. "The thing about public radio talk shows is that they are driven by substance and content as much as by the personality of the host."
This American Life host Ira Glass takes another view. "The p.d.s are right if they replace Chris with somebody who has a distinct personality that's as interesting to audiences," he says. "But it won't be the same show. It'll be that person's show. It'll be some other show. . . . Finding somebody who people like a lot that's tricky."
So far, KUOW and South Dakota Public Broadcasting have dropped the program.
"I did not want my station associated with the arrogance and greed," says KUOW's Hansen, referring to the high salaries and ownership demands that surfaced during the debate. "I didn't want to have to explain to my listeners how it is that public radio can afford to pay someone $320,000 a year, and we're asking them for $30 to pay for this."
BBC News Hour host Judy Swallow, Atlantic Monthly Senior Editor Jack Beatty, and NPR correspondents Neal Conan and Nina Totenberg are lined up to guest-host The Connection until WBUR hires Lydon's replacement.
. To Current's home page . Earlier news: Lydon's departure from another Boston program, on WGBH-TV, caused an uproar a decade earlier. . Earlier news: Lydon and station at odds over equity in talk show. . Outside links: WBUR's The Connection site and Lydon's own website.
Web page posted March 17, 2001
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