Boston's Weekly Dig writes...
Local Russians vie for radio supremacy
They've been here since the ‘70s; but unless you have two v’s and a k in your name, you’re probably unaware that greater Boston boasts one of the largest Russian-speaking communities in the United States—right up there with Chicago, Philly and Washington DC. The roughly 50,000 Russian-speakers living in the Hub tend to fly under the radar because, unlike their more vociferous brethren in other cities, they're largely invisible in the mass media. In Boston, you don't hear guttural Slavic emanating from anything besides a guttural Slav.
“Usually, people communicate by word of mouth,” says Gregory Zelfond, a leader of Mishpuha, a social group for young Russians. “Everyone knows everyone. It's like a little Italian community.”
Two Russian-language radio shows, both of which began broadcasting on 1470 AM over the summer, have changed all that. Suddenly, in addition to websites and several low-content advertising periodicals like the Russian Bulletin and Contact, Boston’s Russians own 20 hours of airtime per week—which amounts to something like a revolution.
Leonid Komarovsky, a prize-winning Russian journalist and ex-political prisoner, brings 42 years of journalistic experience to his crackly AM morning show, “Times and Mores,” which he says is a forum for talking about “whatever is interesting.” Topics can range from Dead Sea cosmetics to local politics, and inspire lively call-in opinions. The show receives considerable support from local Russian businesses and has promoted political action in the Russian community by calling for the creation of a “League of Russian Voters” lobbying group that represents Russian interests in local politics.
“My radio is the voice of the people,” Komarovsky says. “Radio is very important, because people like to have information every day. This is real information in real time.”
With his fat sponsorship deals and active phone lines, Komarovsky is the unequivocal winner in the Russian radio wars. And he says “The Russian Bostonian,” his evening competition, has grossly miscalculated its audience’s interests.
“People here are from the big cities, and not from the south of Russia, which is as different as Boston from Nebraska,” he says. “It's not at all like New York City.”
Seva Kaplan, the New York-based host of “The Russian Bostonian,” is finding this out the hard way. His show, a “Russian-American twist to the local news,” explores topics such as “What do you now know about the opposite sex that you wished you knew at 20?” and “How did you lose your virginity?” Kaplan was so confident that sex talk and jokes would be a hit in Boston that he took out a loan on his house to fund the show. But the lewd banter that works in other markets where Kaplan is syndicated is bombing here.
“He talks about sex, which is not something I want to listen to,” Zelfond says. “I don't want to listen to junk.”
Boston's Russian businesses agree. Kaplan has had so much trouble getting funding from local advertisers that he is now doing the second hour of his show in English in a desperate attempt to attract listeners.
“Boston Russians are in a state of arrested development. They say, ‘Everybody knows about us; we don't need ads.’ They don't identify with English-speaking culture, which is why an English-language show will work,” he says. “They're like gays in the 1950s—still in the closet.”