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Dis-Connection (continued)


Gordon says that after Fiedler arrived at his temporary WBUR post, the new boss gave him no sense that there were any problems with The Connection.

"We all had our individual meetings with Peter Fiedler," Gordon says. "He wanted to know what we thought. I really thought my meeting with him went well. Then later, in a meeting with all staff, on two different occasions ... Peter said, ‘Look, I’ll have nothing to do with editorial charges at the programs.’ It was a fairly clearly stated mandate."

In an interview with this reporter last November, shortly after taking over, Fiedler said: "I really don’t want to get around [to] mucking with the programming too much. I don’t think there’s anything about the programming that is broken right now."

On the day he was fired, Gordon says, "I was handed a letter that had the words ‘budget restraint’ and ‘realignment.’ That wasn’t explained." He also says he had heard no talk about ratings issues until a few days later, when he learned of Sterling’s quotes to the media. And Gordon insists ratings were never an issue brought to his attention.

"If it was a preoccupation for them prior to the decision to close the program, they didn’t share that with us," Gordon says. "No one from management ever came to us and said, ‘We have a ratings problem’ or ‘We want to talk about changing the program.’ It never happened."

Because public radio stations are not commercial enterprises, ratings information tends to be held close to the vest. But Gordon says he has seen recent data measuring a so-called loyalty factor, which he says "measures the attraction of a program and the audience desire to return to the program." Gordon reports that among core listeners, The Connection had a high loyalty rating in the area of 70 and 80 percent, "which is extremely good compared to public radio."

One other clue to The Connection’s ratings — albeit one that is not up to date — is a "performance snapshot" compiled by the station from the spring of 2001 to the spring of 2003. That chart shows the program’s total audience rising from 520,800 in the spring of 2001 to 666,400 in the fall of 2001 (when 9/11 occurred). It dropped to 527,200 in the spring of 2002, rose to 582,400 in the fall of 2002, and then jumped to 643,500 in the spring of 2003. The number of stations carrying The Connection also rose from 47 in the spring of 2001 to the current number of 66.

"I have about 4000 theories for the cancellation of the show," Gordon says. But he acknowledges that he can’t be sure which, if any, are accurate.

Budgetary concerns could certainly be involved. There’s also WBUR’s expressed desire to focus more on local journalism. With The Connection, Here and Now, and On Point, it can be argued that the station has too many topical interview and information shows. One theory is that The Connection was elbowed out of the way by On Point, hosted by Tom Ashbrook, and that the station was eager to move On Point out of its 7 pm slot, perhaps because Chris Lydon has recently returned to the airwaves with a show on rival WGBH-FM in that same time period.

Gordon wonders if he generated resentment because he declined to participate in on-air fundraisers.

"I tried it a couple of times. I sucked at it," he says, adding that asking for dollars on the air "diminishes the person who you’re hiring as a journalist.... I don’t have a fundraising patter. I’m not that kind of person.... You just pick up a sense of resentment that you’re not pulling your weight in the fundraising."

Soon, though, Gordon will start turning his attention to his future. "I actually don’t know what I’m going to do," he says. "We’ve had inquiries from other public radio stations that sound interesting. They’re just inquiries."

He also plans to return to the area and his Brookline home in the late summer or early fall to conclude some unfinished business. "It is home. It is where we’ve got friends now," he says. "I haven’t sat across the table from the people who worked with me at The Connection. I need to talk to them."

Read Mark Jurkowitz's Media Log here. Mark Jurkowitz can be reached at mjurkowitz[a]phx.com

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Issue Date: August 5 - 11, 2005
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