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Hub radio host to return, but airtime cut angers fans

Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr. | 2/4/2009, 4:49 a.m.
For 37 years, Lovell Dyett, shown here in this 1977 file photo, has been one of Boston’s premiere...
For 37 years, Lovell Dyett, shown here in this 1977 file photo, has been one of Boston’s premiere black broadcasters, hosting well-regarded talk shows on both television and radio. After being let go by employer WBZ-AM in a round of budget cuts last month, a rush of support from loyal listeners has brought Dyett back on the air — but on Sunday morning, instead of his long-held Saturday night slot, and for only a half-hour instead of three hours. Banner file

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For 37 years, Lovell Dyett, shown here in this 1977 file photo, has been one of Boston’s premiere black broadcasters, hosting well-regarded talk shows on both television and radio. After being let go by employer WBZ-AM in a round of budget cuts last month, a rush of support from loyal listeners has brought Dyett back on the air — but on Sunday morning, instead of his long-held Saturday night slot, and for only a half-hour instead of three hours.

photo

For 37 years, Lovell Dyett, shown here in this 1977 file photo, has been one of Boston’s premiere black broadcasters, hosting well-regarded talk shows on both television and radio. After being let go by employer WBZ-AM in a round of budget cuts last month, a rush of support from loyal listeners has brought Dyett back on the air — but on Sunday morning, instead of his long-held Saturday night slot, and for only a half-hour instead of three hours.

Weeks after a budget crunch led to his dismissal, one of Boston’s longest-tenured black media voices is coming back to local airwaves, but the supporters who pushed for his homecoming are not pleased with the terms of his return.

Local radio station 1030 WBZ-AM announced last Tuesday that they are bringing back talk show host Lovell Dyett, a decision spurred in part by a slew of calls, e-mails and letters the station received from upset listeners complaining about the host’s ousting in a recent round of budget cuts. Another host who lost his show, Steve LeVeille, who is white, was also brought back.

“It was the right thing to do for the station and New England,” WBZ-AM news and program director Peter Casey told the Boston Herald.

But some of those who called for the hosts’ return are not so sure “the right thing” was done the right way.

LeVeille, 53, has been returned to his old time slot, Mondays at midnight. The 73-year-old Dyett, however — a 37-year WBZ veteran — won’t go back to his familiar stomping grounds of Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to midnight, now occupied by paid programming. Instead, he will host a pre-recorded, half-hour public affairs program, scheduled to run at 4:30 a.m.

After news broke that Dyett’s time slot had shifted and shrunk, the longtime host made terse comments to the Herald: “Steve LeVeille got full restoration. Lovell Dyett did not … It needs to be determined if that’s the proper thing that the station should be doing with me.”

Neither Dyett nor Casey responded to repeated calls from the Banner requesting comment.

The diminished return certainly hasn’t escaped the notice of the Rev. Bruce Wall, the outspoken pastor of Global Ministries Christian Church in Dorchester and one of Dyett’s staunchest supporters.

In a letter dated Feb. 2, 2009, and sent to Leslie Moonves, president and CEO of CBS Corp. — the parent company of local radio affiliate WBZ — Wall accused news and program director Casey of creating “ill will” by fully restoring LeVeille’s airtime but refusing to do the same for Dyett.

“Mr. Dyett’s listening base finds this solution not only not satisfactory, but insulting, and more important it is discriminatory,” Wall wrote. “I appeal to you, as the CEO of the corporation, to fully restore Lovell Dyett to his Saturday time slot. As I write this letter, a group of us in Boston are preparing to march on the WBZ News Station in Brighton … Your intervention is needed to right this wrong.”

Boston’s airwaves have seen their fair share of unique personalities over the years, strong characters that have pushed the public discussion with their own opinions and style. But Dyett is one of a relative few who, through years of work, have become city institutions.

In 37 years of broadcasting on Boston radio and television, Dyett has developed a following of loyal listeners who praise his ability to discuss issues fairly and evenly, a quality many listeners appreciated at a time when extreme opinion often dominates the debate.

A graduate of Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla., Dyett also holds graduate degrees from Harvard University and Boston University. His career as a Boston media staple started in 1968, when he moderated a series of shows for WNAC-TV (Channel 7) titled “Journey Out of Africa.” At the time, he had been hosting a weekly talk radio show on a smaller local radio station, WILD.

Later, at WBZ, he became an anchor for “Black News,” a weekly television program aimed at Boston’s urban communities. By 1974, Dyett had established himself as one of WBZ’s top television personalities, as well as a popular local radio host with two shows, “Soul Searching” and “The Lovell Dyett Show.”