Peter Blute, once a rising Republican star, reinvents himself as a talk-radio
master. And listeners like what they hear.
by Chris Kanaracus
It's 7:30 on Thursday morning, and Peter Blute, who rose to the top of the
Massachusetts Republican Party in the 1980s, has already been at work for
three-and-a-half hours. But he's not at the Massachusetts Port Authority, where
he was executive director until his public and embarrassing departure last
August. Nor is he at the Capitol, in which he served two terms in Congress. No,
Blute's jammed into a tiny, glass-enclosed studio, firing out the latest
edition of Blute and Moes, his WRKO (680 AM) morning show.
Today Blute -- along with his on-air cohort, Boston radio veteran Andy Moes --
grills refined, blond, 50-something Laurence Oxenburg, a press liaison for
Boston's French Consulate. Oxenburg ostensibly has come on the show to discuss
vacationing in France.
It's all in good fun; it's Moes's last day before leaving for Paris for his
honeymoon. Between French-fry and French-dressing jokes, he and Blute press her
for advice on how Moes can avoid being "an Ugly American." Later Blute declares
Paris "truly is a gay city."
"Like Provincetown?" Moes muses.
"Nooooo!" Blute assures him.
The segment is engaging, but not nearly as amusing as other mornings. Last
January, Blute and Moes held a mock fundraiser for Lt. Governor Jane Swift's
baby-sitting expenses. Then there was the month-long Elian Gonzalez spree,
during which Moes prayed (jokingly) for Donato Dalrymple's (the fisherman who
pulled Gonzalez ashore, and subsequently took advantage of every media
opportunity he could) death via machine gun.
"When [FBI riot police] opened the door, it was obvious the gun was pointed at
Donato's chest. And I prayed, `Pull the trigger. Pull the damn
"That's terrible," Blute chastised.
Last May's Big Dig scandal provided fodder for a call-in contest: "Find the Big
Dig Payoff." On May 23, it was, according to Blute and Moes, hidden in
then-project leader James Kerasiotes's second and hidden set of books.
While its overall milieu is rowdy and, at times, borderline crass, Blute and
Moes generally centers on local politics and current events. High-profile
guests are a staple, and their contributions lend an endearing kitsch. For
example, Boston Mayor Tom Menino stops in monthly. But does he talk policy? Not
always. Mostly, he takes phone calls from angry listeners like Lance in
Roslindale, who on one April morning was angry about potholes. The mayor said
he'd get right on it, presumably between talks with Red Sox owners over a new
ballpark. Later in the hour, John from Boston alleged a drug ring (run by a
former Boston policeman!)
is operating in a garage near a building in which he's a security guard. Menino
refers John to an aide.
Registrar of Motor Vehicles Daniel A. Grabauskas performs similar constituent
services on the first Tuesday of each month, with a slight modification: he
brings his attorney. Really.
It's obviously a fun gig for Blute. But despite his show's increasing
popularity (its ratings jumped to the number-four show in its time slot from
number 10 last year), an AM radio show isn't the same as a top-dog post at
Massport (to which he was appointed by Governor Bill Weld after Blute's
stunning, unexpected loss to James McGovern in the 1996 congressional
election). It's certainly not Congress. And a year ago, you'd guess, he never
would have predicted he'd be here right now.
Of course, the story of why he left Massport has been colorfully and
repeatedly told. But it's still a good one. Last August, Blute, lobbyist Sandy
Tennant, and several others were deep into a booze-laden, taxpayer-funded boat
trip around Boston Harbor when the hammer -- make it the shutter -- came down
hard. Not one, but three photographers, at least one from the Boston
Herald, pounced on their craft as it motored near the shore. And
they scored -- big time. Not only were Blute and his friends caught red-handed
hoisting brews on Joe Public's dime, but also Gidget Churchill, a
stuntwoman/actress along for the ride, flashed her breasts for the cameras.
Blute resigned from Massport the next day. But the press coverage of his
downfall (and the suspicious way it came about) didn't let up for several
weeks. Speculation was rampant, and Blute maintained the photographers were
tipped off to the cruise. Indeed, a number of media reports in the months prior
to his resignation quoted anonymous sources saying Blute's future at Massport
was doomed due to shaky relations with staff members who protested the agency's
alleged "frat house" atmosphere. Most insiders, and even Blute himself, point
to Swift (with whom he had worked alongside at Massport) as the likely
whistle-blower. Blute says Swift considers him a rival. But other suspects
including former Massport board member James Carangelo and Steven Tocco, the
agency's former chief, surfaced. Blute's wife, Robi, fanned the flames most
notably in an impromptu call to Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr's
WRKO radio show. When Carr asked Blute what she thought of her husband in the
company of half-nude young women, she said, "Just because you're married, it
doesn't mean you can't look at the menu." Of Gidget Churchill, Blute said, "My
breasts are bigger than hers." Later in the conversation, she referred to
Tennant as "borderline white trash."
Blute looked to be in the worst shape of his career. Not only had his
congressional career been cut short, but now he had also been pressured to
resign from a high-profile, public-sector job. In other words, Blute's image
was in the toilet.
Or was it? He wasn't out of work for long. He landed the WRKO job just a few
weeks later. "We had actually considered hiring Peter before the [boat
cruise]," says the station's program director Al Mayers. "He's a funny guy, an
opinionated guy. We had him try out on Howie Carr's show and on the weekend
with Andy [Moes], and we liked what we heard." And about eight months into a
two-year contract, it's apparent Blute is a talk-radio natural, if still in the
learning stages. In fact, Peter Blute is having the time of his life -- for
Blute's up at 3 a.m. and at WRKO's Boston studios on Huntington
Avenue by four o'clock. Then it's 90 minutes of pre-show preparation before
they go live at 5:30.
After the show ends, at 9 a.m., Blute might have a few commercials -- or,
as was the case this morning, a movie-review discussion with veteran film
critic Dana Hersey -- to tape, but he's generally done by 9:30. Hour-wise, it's
not a bad schedule. It's a drastic shift, though, from his days as a
self-described "absentee dad" when he served as representative for the 3rd
Congressional District, which covers Central Mass.
"I'm proud to say I've seen 100 percent of each and every baseball game both of
my kids have played this year." He's trimmer than in past years; and at 44,
Blute hardly looks his age.
But don't let it fool you. The job itself "is one of the most difficult in all
of media," says Upton Bell, a seasoned broadcaster who currently holds down an
afternoon slot on WMEX (1060 AM) in Boston. "You have to have an imagination;
you have to be entertaining for hours at a time, day after day. It's an
extremely difficult job. . . . I believe only a very few people can
do it, and do it effectively. People who come into this business as a lark are
in for a surprise."
Blute may make the cut. Over the past several months, he's blossomed from a
stiff, uneasy dilettante to a quick-witted, entertaining ham. His enthusiasm is
engaging, his delivery more nuanced each day. Colleagues agree. "He's picked it
up surprisingly quickly," says Moes. "Generally, it takes a lot longer. It's a
gratifying thing, considering I have to work with him."
Monday through Friday, the pair tear through five or six topics a day in the
course of their on-air time. Perhaps their most inspired, recent material came
from the Gonzalez saga. On the morning after federal officers raided the Miami
home where Elian was staying, Blute and Moes teased they had an "exclusive"
recording of the event captured by "intrepid street reporter" Paul Tuthill, a
former WTAG newsman who they claimed was inside the house when the raid
occurred. In the next hour, Tuthill revealed his big scoop: "Badges? Badges? We
don' need no steekin' badges!"
Blute and Moes replayed the snippet (lifted from a Cheech and Chong movie) at
least two dozen times. It was ludicrous.
"I'm myself. I get to be a little more irreverent, a little more biting [than I
was as a politician]," Blute says. "I can speak more directly, and it's
liberating. But some people think I hold it back."
You have to think he enjoys being a member and not a target of the media, too.
Blute took a merciless beating (particularly from the Herald) for weeks
after the boat-cruise story broke.
Now he hasn't and won't take firm on-air political stances on any issue. "When
the station first approached me about this, I refused to play a role."
On one occasion, though, Blute came pretty close. In May, after negotiating for
months, Blute and Moes convinced Governor Paul Cellucci to come down to the
station. "We called him a bunch of times. After [House Speaker Tom] Finneran
and [Senate President Tom] Birmingham came on, I guess he figured he needed to
get in on it." At the time of Cellucci's visit, Swift was under investigation
by the state's Ethics Commission for asking underlings to baby-sit her daughter
and for using a police helicopter to commute home to Pittsfield for the
Thanksgiving holiday. It was hard not to smile when Blute repeatedly asked
Cellucci if he would ask Swift to step down, should the Ethics Commission find
she had done anything improper.
"I pressed it a little with him. But I didn't put it in my own point of view,"
he allows. As it turned out, there was no need. Blute himself couldn't have
planted a better call; a listener rang up and asked Cellucci if he had a double
standard. You could hear Cellucci squirm. How would he answer the question,
especially while sitting a few feet away from Blute?
But Cellucci responded as he has all along: Swift's actions were for the
benefit of her family, and thereby excusable.
You sensed Blute bristle, but he kept his cool. Today, however, he's more
candid. "I think there's a big disparity over the way I was treated and the
way others were. Look at James Kerasiotes. Years go by, the news breaks, and
it's a slap on the wrist," says Blute, referring to Big Dig chief Kerasiotes,
who was fired in April after massive cost overruns that were hidden from the
public were revealed in a federal audit. Kerasiotes, though, received a healthy
$200,000 severance package plus an undisclosed pension.
"Nothing happens to Jane Swift, either," Blute adds. "What really disturbs me
is after all of my years of service, there was no hearing, no phone call. Just
That's not to say he won't be back. To be fair, speculation about Blute's
political future may be a bit premature. It's barely 10 months since he was run
out of Massport. But in political terms, Blute is still young.
The most often-repeated scenario has Blute returning in 2002 as a gubernatorial
candidate against Jane Swift. "I don't know about that," Blute says of his
candidacy. "If I ever did return, the time frame would be further off."
Blute's contract with WRKO runs through October 2001; not enough time, he says,
for an effective campaign. And station management is already talking renewal,
he says. Yet he doesn't completely rule out the possibility.
Perhaps Blute is wise to lay low. Massachusetts is a tough state to be a
Republican these days. "It's like a shootout on a lifeboat," says Blute, over
the din of a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant, where he's attending a birthday party
for his son's friend. "It's hardly been worse in the history of
Indeed. While the GOP has the state's executive branch sewn up with Cellucci
and Swift, it's safe to say theirs are positions under siege, with Democratic
majorities in both the House and Senate.
And so far, the highest-profile Republican candidate for national office
this year has been Jack E. Robinson, who faces Senator Ted Kennedy in
November. Robinson, though, has been dogged by repeated inquiries into his
past, hobbling his candidacy.
It seems Blute is content to sit back and watch the Republican meltdown. He's
not shy with his criticism, either. "When Weld, Cellucci, and Malone got in,
they talked a good game, but they didn't work their tail off building the
party," he says. "Everyone was a free agent . . . they cut their
separate deals. There's a certain phenomenon among Republicans in this state
who feel the best thing you can do is to get re-elected." Blute points to
Cellucci's continued support of state Rep. Bill McManus. (McManus, a former
Democrat from Worcester, will run for his seat this year as an independent; see
"Not as Dumb as They Hoped," May 12.) "[Cellucci] took care of McManus because
McManus helped him. In other states, that kind of thing doesn't happen."
Blute even blames his own loss to James McGovern in 1996 on Republican
instability; he points to Bob Dole's limp presidential bid the same year. "I
was endorsed by every paper of note in the district. [Editorial boards] looked
at me and said, `Hey, this guy's doing a good job. We ought to keep him.' But
the people came out to vote for Clinton, and they voted straight down party
"If Dole had been remotely competitive, it would have been different. There was
a complete disaster at the top of the ticket. Look, when there's a 10- or
12-point difference [between presidential candidates], that's not too bad. But
33, 40 points? End of game."
Yet Democratic observers say it wasn't a top-down Republican washout that led
to Blute's loss: it was his own arrogance. "He wasn't campaigning hard at all.
He only went to well-publicized events," says a former McGovern campaign
It's possible Blute underestimated McGovern, who made much of the Newt Gingrich
factor and Blute's connection to the now-MIA Republican leader. But Blute
counters it was unfair. "In Texas, [fellow Republicans] would say I'm a
liberal. But in Massachusetts, you're perceived differently because you're a
Republican. Up here, I was Newt Blute."
For sure, Blute sounds like an independent nowadays when he talks about state
politics. "When you have at least 50 percent of the people in office worried
about their seat, that's when you have good government. Right now, 90 percent
of the people aren't worried, and that's when you get sloppy." And
unwittingly or not, he just might be starting to stump. "Are there even any
races this year? No. It's all about the primaries. And when your race is
decided in the primaries, that's dangerous. You end up playing to the wings.
Each candidate tries to out-please the various special-interest groups. You get
away from the centrist type of government most voters want."
For the time being, his opinion is all Blute can put into circulation. But
radio may be the best thing for his public image. Witness current Providence,
Rhode Island, Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci. In 1984, the popular Cianci was
convicted of assault after he attacked his former-wife's lover with a fireplace
poker. He received probation, but his felony conviction forced him temporarily
out of office.
Soon, though, Cianci landed an afternoon slot on Providence's WHJJ-AM. Cianci's
freewheeling call-in show drew top ratings. And some in Providence say it was
key to his victory in 1989's closely fought three-way mayor's race.
Former Providence Journal-Bulletin media reporter John Martin, now
communications director at that state's Economic Development Agency, says "the
daily exposure, the controlled content, where Buddy controlled his critics and
gave his supporters ample time to praise him, was critical to his
In fact, Cianci says the show convinced him to run again. "I never thought I
would run again. I [did the show] for a living. But one day I went to the
station, and a woman called in. She said `Buddy, I never voted for you when you
were mayor. But I would after hearing your show.' "
Yet Cianci's popularity had been cemented long before his show and remains
stupefyingly ironclad: despite an ongoing FBI probe into city government
(dubbed "Operation Plunder Dome"), Cianci's approval ratings are through the
roof. Blute, while he has his fans, can't claim such a legacy.
That's not to say, Blute doesn't have a chance. One longtime Providence-area
observer, who also works in radio, points out that unlike other forms of media,
"talk radio reveals you. Whatever your temperament is, it will show. And if he
has a balanced personality, it can work to his advantage."
And Blute may not be as bad off as you'd think. One local Republican observer
says he's "a God" in his hometown of Shrewsbury. Republican leaders around the
district don't go quite so far, but confirm Blute would be welcome back
anytime. "He's a very effective, well-liked person. The boat thing was blown
out of proportion. . . . If Peter decides to run, we'll be supporting
him," says Joe Manzoli, chair of Shrewsbury's Republican Town
"[Blute] did a good job. He had a good record, and he was a visible
constituents' representative," echoes Virginia Coppola, a State Committee
delegate from Fall River.
Yet Cianci's success and Blute's sound fanbase aside, it could be a difficult
road ahead. As one observer points out, "talk-show hosts have a terrible record
at the ballot box." There are several prominent local examples. WRKO midday
host Marjorie Claprood failed to score a congressional seat last fall.
Christopher Lydon, who hosts the highly regarded Connection on WBUR, and
David Finnegan, a staple on WBZ and WRKO in the '80s, both waged unsuccessful
But radio's power is not to be underestimated. Darrell West, a Brown University
political-science professor, points out, far-right chieftain and North Carolina
Senator Jesse Helms got his start in talk radio. And whatever your opinion of
Blute, he's no Helms.
With the state of the Republican Party the way it is, though, Blute will stay
put in radio-land for now. "You know the old saw," he quips. "The smaller the
pit, the more vicious the rat." It's an amusing but salient point. As long as
Blute remains behind the mic, he's in control of the rats.
Chris Kanaracus can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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