Continuing my series on the top 10 Boston sports media storylines of the decade.
They’ve dominated the ratings book, shrugged off all challengers thus far, and used their bully pulpit to sneer at critics.
WEEI has enjoyed unprecedented success as a sports radio station in a sports-mad town. With the success of the local professional teams this decade, they’ve ridden high, and benefited from a fan base that can’t get enough of their teams.
They’ve been challenged three times by rival sports radio stations this decade, two of them were KO’d and the third just started up a few months ago. Both 1510theZone and ESPN850 made a lot of noise as they got started up, but neither really made any sort of impact in the ratings book. Ultimately, they were both doomed by poor signal and with few exceptions, lackluster programming. WBZ-FM has had the most initial success of any challenger, but having been on the air only a few months, they have to prove they can keep it going.
WEEI has a power few media outlets can boast. In many cases, they create and dictate the coverage and storylines, and should anyone challenge or criticize them they can simply rant on air about them, or yell over them and hang up should the hapless challenger actually dare to call them up.
It’s really about entertainment first, and sports second, this is evidenced by their ability to milk a single storyline for weeks at a time. Remember the time in June, 2005 that Edgar Renteria bunted for a base hit with two out in the bottom of the ninth? He was successful, and it set up David Ortiz to be able to get to the plate and knock in Mark Bellhorn from second base for the win, yet WEEI killed Renteria over it for weeks. (Kevin Millar even called up to defend Renteria – over two weeks later, and they were still talking about it. Ordway blamed the callers.)
More so in the early part of the decade, WEEI’s success also forced the sportswriters who appeared on their airwaves into tough decisions. If they were a guest of the show and had gotten some information that day, did they divulge it on the WEEI airwaves, or sit on it for their newspaper the next day? (The addition of blogs to newspaper websites around the middle of this decade took out some of those situations.) Were they more loyal to WEEI, hoping for additional appearances, or to their newspaper?
In 2008 WEEI extended their online presence by re-launching WEEI.com with a number of high-profile reporters, hiring some away from their newspapers, such as Rob Bradford and Alex Speier. Now they were competing directly with the newspapers for content and getting news stories themselves rather than mostly relying on the newspapers to get the information first.
The rise of WEEI this decade coincided with the decline of the newspaper industry, as news became more instantaneous rather than waiting for the morning paper. More and more stories were being broken on the air, and online, rather than in the newspaper. While the sports sections of newspapers here in New England were still devoured by sports fans, the nature of the content changed. Since most people had already seen the game, and listened to some analysis of it, there was more emphasis on opinion, and getting noticed amongst all the noise.
WEEI has the power to make and break sports media people in Boston. If you get on their airwaves, you’re going to benefit from the recognition that comes with that. Larry Johnson and Fred Smerlas are among those who have benefited greatly from their association with the station.
This power, along with the dominance of all competition and their ability to shape discussion about sports in Boston makes WEEI’s presence one of the top stories of Boston sports media this decade.