The ugly, very public departure of Christopher Lydon and Mary McGrath from The Connection earlier this year has already been likened to a divorce. For listeners, then, Tuesday’s announcement that Dick Gordon will become the show’s new permanent host was akin to that moment when one or the other of a divorced child’s parents remarries: what was previously abstract becomes real.
Silly me. Despite assurances from insiders at WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) that it would never, ever happen, I had let myself believe there was still an outside chance that Lydon would return. That door has now been definitively shut. Not only will Lydon not be back, but neither will McGrath, his senior producer, who was officially replaced on Tuesday by Graham Smith.
No doubt Gordon, a veteran journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and a globetrotter who’s reported from such locales as Bosnia, Sri Lanka, and Mozambique, will be a fine replacement. But it won’t be the same, and it will take time for the new team to get it right.
Several weeks ago, I tuned in to that day’s rebroadcast of The Connection while driving home. Gordon was interviewing theologians Carol Meyers and Ross Kraemer, co-editors (along with Toni Craven) of Women in Scripture, a scholarly feminist look at the Bible’s more than 500 women. Meyers and Kraemer proved to be more lively guests than you might imagine, and, for a time, it seemed the glory days of The Connection were back.
Then Gordon introduced Liz Curtis Higgs, the author of such books as Bad Girls of the Bible and Really Bad Girls of the Bible, who chirpily informed listeners that her work was for those who don’t want " a great big book on their shelf. " She also explained her technique for easing readers into Bible stories: " Delilah becomes Lilah, a hairdresser from Dallas, who cuts the hair of Judge Sam Nazar, who has enemies on the bench. "
I changed the station.
Though I had long lamented The Connection’s move to syndication, and thus to dropping local topics, at least Lydon was quintessentially Bostonian. So it was also disheartening to learn in Wednesday’s Boston Globe that Globe columnist Alex Beam (whose tryout, I thought, was quite promising) and Atlantic Monthly senior editor Jack Beatty had been dropped, and that the finalists, in addition to Gordon, had been National Public Radio’s Neal Conan and Nightline correspondent John Donvan.
Meanwhile, Lydon and McGrath, who left and/or were fired from The Connection earlier this year over a contract dispute with station general manager Jane Christo (see " Bobos in Radioland, " News and Features, April 27), continue making plans to make plans. In a recent post on the Web site ChristopherLydon.com, producer Jake Shapiro announced: " We’re on a summer webcast hiatus as we enter an important stage of putting the new show together for a fall launch. "
Both Christo and NPR vice-president for programming Jay Kernis told me earlier this year that they would consider carrying a syndicated Lydon show, although they made it clear that their first priority was The Connection.
The best-case scenario would be a WBUR line-up featuring a revitalized Connection with Gordon and Smith and a syndicated Lydon-McGrath show as well. It could happen. Realistically, though, it’s about as likely as a child’s wish that his divorced parents will get back together again.