Why Couldn’t Whoopi Conquer New York Radio?


On the surface it seems that Whoopi Goldberg on New York morning radio is a no-brainer. With the exodus of Howard Stern, radio executives were, at the time, willing to try virtually anything to wring profits from their embattled, arid medium. Add to the mix the former Grammy, Tony, Emmy and Oscar-winner’s twin radio virtues of global name recognition and an inability to shy away from the arena of controversy. The press release on the occasion of Whoopi’s debut said:

”Radio is an area I have always wanted to play in,” said Goldberg. ”There aren’t many women helming their own show. I’m thrilled to add my name to that small list because I believe that we have something to add to the morning groove.”

Given Whoopi’s extraordinary record of success on the movie screen and on stage why wouldn’t she do well in radio? Whoopi Goldberg’s live syndicated show began airing 5am to 9am on July 31, 2006, but never caught an up drift. This week the syndicated program was pulled from New York (the show will air in syndication in other parts of the country).

Unfortunately, Goldberg didn’t play up her ability to arouse controversy — with the brief exception of the Michael Vick comments — and instead played up the inspirational qualities of the radio show. Bad idea. From David Hinkley of The New York Daily News:

Goldberg’s show, which launched July 31, 2006, is a family-friendly program with upbeat music, some comedy and a lot of lifestyle talk — an alternative to some of the harder-edged shows.

”If you look at what’s happening on morning television, creating a radio show like Whoopi’s made sense,” says (Sean Ross, vice president of music and programming at Edison Media Research). ”It was not a terrible idea.”

But to many listeners, the content came out bland, with safe subjects and long health lectures. ”There was never that moment when you thought she sounded like a high school freshman having her first day on the radio,” says Ross. ”I’m just not sure that what she did was what people expected from a show called ‘Wake Up With Whoopi”’

On the eve of Imus’ triumphant return to terrestrial radio it seems as if ”nice” and ”inspirational” radio — even in the tender morning — may be going the way of the Dodo. Former Free FM program director John Mainelli has a theory that ”rebel radio,” an aggressively anti-PC format will be the future of the struggling medium. It is looking more and more in the radio industry as if Mainelli’s prediction is indeed correct.

(image via hirshfeld archive/nytimes)