PITTSFIELD -- Amid a rising tide of departing advertisers and radio stations from arch-conservative Rush Limbaugh's three-hour daily talk show, WBEC (AM 1420) is among the first group of outlets signed on to carry a new, competing program from Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and 2008 Republican presidential candidate.
"We thought [Huckabee] would still serve the conservative audience that had grown accustomed to Rush, but at the same time he would have a broader appeal and be less abrasive," WBEC's Peter Barry told The Eagle on Monday. Barry is general manager of Vox Berkshire Radio Group.
Huckabee's radio show will debut April 9.
WBEC was among the first two stations in the nation to pull the plug on Limbaugh after the veteran radio talker angered many people on Feb. 29 when he insulted a Georgetown University law student, Sandra Fluke, for her comments about contraception insurance coverage. WBEC and KPUA, a station in Hawaii, dropped Limbaugh on March 5.
"Huckabee's approach is ‘more conversation, less confrontation,'" said Barry, "and ultimately that works for us. We're all for a spirited debate but within the bounds of civility. We think that he will serve us well on that front."
Barry acknowledged that WBEC was swamped by "several hundred" comments via email and phone after the station discontinued Limbaugh's show -- a decision Barry made locally with the approval of higher executives at parent company Vox Communications, based in South Burlington, Vt.
"Substantially more people supported the decision," said Barry. "By far, the ratio was hugely in favor."
Nevertheless, some Limbaugh fans who contacted him were "very upset" and "fired up."
Asked whether WBEC considered adding a liberal talk show to its mostly conservative lineup of programs hosted by Don Imus, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, Barry said: "We don't have a natural political bent, but we try to come up with programming that has popular appeal. The most-popular talk-radio shows are conservative."
He also predicted that more stations would drop Limbaugh in favor of "The Huckabee Show" once it begins airing nationally from noon to 3 on April 9. Huckabee currently hosts a weekend talk show on Fox News Channel.
So far, according to the Wall Street Journal, 140 stations nationally have signed contracts to carry Huckabee's program. Cumulus Media Networks, the syndicator pitching the show to the 600 stations which carry Limbaugh, as well as other outlets, has branded it as a less feisty alternative. Limbaugh is midway through an eight-year contract (worth about $50 million a year) with Premiere Networks, a subsidiary of Clear Channel Communications.
"I'm not a person who would call anyone by names that would cause my late mother to come out of her grave and slap me to the floor," Huckabee told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the development on its website Sunday night. Limbaugh has declined comment so far.
A former Baptist minister who started in radio when he was 14, Huckabee told the Journal that his new show would be "heavy on politics," but not "altogether predictable."
Barry predicted more stations would drop Limbaugh in favor of Huckabee once their existing 90-day renewable contracts with Premiere Radio Networks expire. He acknowledged that WBEC "broke" its contract with Limbaugh's syndicators by canceling the program on March 5.