LOWELL -- Radio personality Christopher Lydon's lucrative and controversial contract with UMass Lowell to broadcast an hourlong radio show will not be renewed when it expires in December, the school's interim chancellor confirmed last night.
Interim Chancellor David MacKenzie said the move will not be effective until December, when Lydon's contract expires, but confirmed Lydon was notified that the deal will not be renewed.
"It's basically an expensive program that, given our financial situation, doesn't make sense for the university," MacKenzie said. "I just felt we had other things that were higher on the priority list."
Lydon, a renowned former host of The Connection, on National Public Radio, and a former print journalist for The Boston Globe and The New York Times, was making about $12,500 per month under the deal, in exchange for his production of Open Source, an hourlong talk show.
MacKenzie said he notified Lydon as soon as the decision was made to be "fair" and to give the longtime journalist
ample time to find other sponsors.
The show is broadcast Tuesday through Friday morning. It is also broadcast on 32 public radio stations across the country, and as far away as California and Washington. Most of those stations broadcast the show in the evening.
Lydon did not return a message left at his Boston home last night, so it was not immediately clear what effect the nonrenewal of the contract will have on the show, which is produced at WGBH in Boston, and distributed by Public Radio International.
MacKenzie said the decision "came up through the chain of command" but that he is taking responsibility for it.
Because he was speaking from his home, exact details of the financial picture, as well as what will replace the show on WUML, were not available. A university spokeswoman was not yet aware of the decision.
In addition to the cost of paying Lydon himself, MacKenzie said the university was footing the bill for four people who work with Lydon, among them his longtime producer, Mary McGrath.
State Sen. Steven Panagiotakos, a Lowell Democrat, noted that as part of the deal with Lydon, the university was also expected to build a new radio station so Lydon could broadcast from Lowell, and add a communications program, in which Lydon would have been an instructor.
"I don't think we accomplished either one of those," Panagiotakos said. "Without those, the benefit on campus is very limited."
Panagiotakos and MacKenzie both said the move was not related to Lydon's performance, which Panagiotakos praised.
"He did everything he was asked and got us national exposure," Panagiotakos said. "He's into 15 of the biggest radio markets in the country, which is great for branding, but there was a local component to bring him in, and we weren't able to come up with the finances to put that together."
Though Panagiotakos is disappointed, the decision will likely be popular in the campus community. The deal with Lydon was one of only a handful of issues former Chancellor William Hogan was criticized for during his evaluation by students last year.
The student-run station's general manager, senior Nate Osit, was pleased with the news last night, and said he had never even worked with Lydon, who produces his show in Boston.
"I think it's about time that they actually came to the same conclusion that the students immediately came to," Osit said. "Hopefully, the university will now be more receptive to the ideas proposed by students and community members.
"No tears will be shed by students or the community for Chris Lydon," he added.
News of the move comes shortly after news that pollster Lou DiNatale, the university's director of public affairs, who played a role in bringing Lydon to the university, is facing a complaint that he sexually harassed a female fundraiser at the university.
On the web at: www.radioopensource.org and www.wuml.org.
Robert Mills' e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.