Editor’s note – We welcome another guest column from George Cain this afternoon.
The Big Drop: Why 98.5 is taking it to WEEI in the ratings game.
At its height The Big Show was not only the most popular radio show in Boston but it was the most popular sports talk show in the country. Glenn Ordway who is a superb host, found the perfect balance of different guests every day with expertise covering three of the four major sports. Ordway excelled at working the callers into the show and making them part of the show. Ordway also kept the caller stream constant making him different from Mike and the Mad Dog, the original and popular “gold standard” for sports talk radio in New York City. Their show featured less calls and more discussion back and forth.
Then there was the “Whiner Line”, a segment so popular that its format was copied by other sports talk shows across the country. Iterations were also heard on classic rock stations, local political outlets, and at one time the morning show even had a copycat version. Its popularity led to a series of personalities from the talk show community. People like “Butch from the Cape,” “The Man On The Way Up,” “The Bob Kraft Voice”, “5 Dollar Guy” and the always obnoxious “Frank from Gloucester.” The Whiner Line even spawned an award show where in this “bizarro” world the callers became the talent. And a lot of local Boston personalities have been showing up yearly for this highly attended and highly anticipated event.
The Big Show from 2:00 to 6:oo in the afternoon crushed all competition including ESPN radio 890, which featured talk show neophyte Michael Felger and Sporting News 1510 radio’s expensive venture starring Sean McDonough. The show thrived even when The Boston Globe banned writers from appearing over so-called ethics issues and ESPN did the same to preserve its own ratings.
So when 98.5 the Sports Hub premiered in August of 2009, I think many pundits and local fans like me figured it would be nothing more than a niche station. A place you could hear some hockey talk, not commonly discussed on Ordway’s show and Michael Felger’s inconsistent ranting about every topic Boston.
But not unlike how the Democrats were overwhelmed last Tuesday by the Republican Party during the midterm elections, the same thing is happening in the local sports market. And not unlike the denial we hear from Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and President Obama there seems to be a similar pattern at WEEI. Paging Jason Wolfe, Tim Murphy and Julie Kahn, this is your wakeup call! Your station is getting taken out to the woodshed, you might want to stop trying to play with Arbitron numbers and instead figure out why this happening.
As Chad Finn of The Boston Globe reported in his November 5th column the “Felger and Massarotti” show finished with a 7.1 share in the male 25-54 demographic which was up 24% from September. Ordway’s “Big Show” finished with a 5.7 which was pretty much flat from its September numbers. This is no abnormality; Felger and Mazz have been gaining for months and may never relinquish their position. The question is why the change?
Well you might hear, it’s the FM signal or that it is the hub of the popular New England Patriots. Some think the popularity of the Patriots and Bruins is ahead of the Red Sox and Celtics right now. But as Jules said in “Pulp Fiction”,“That (expletive) ain’t the truth.” It’s not the teams it’s the presentation.
Here are my reasons, and they are OPINION not FACT.
1) The format on the Big Show has gone stale. The guest hosts just aren’t offering what they once did. The callers have become an annoyance and can rarely get their point across. It’s never worse than on a Patriot Football Monday. On those days it is a common occurance that most callers who voice displeasure with the Patriots will either have words put in their mouth, or will be taken so far off topic that they are arguing against a different point.
Example: A caller who had questions about the Patriots defensive scheme. (Paraphrased not verbatim)
DeOssie: How did that scheme work in 2007?
Caller: I’m not talking about 2007, I’m talking about now.
DeOssie: Answer the question, how did it work?
Caller: It worked fine but I am talking about now.
DeOssie: So it worked great then but it doesn’t work now. Did the Coach get dumber or maybe you don’t know what you’re talking about?
DeOssie and Smerlas love the “you never played card” which to sports fans is tired and old.
This is the typical banter you hear, and notice how the caller ends up defending a point he didn’t want to make. Its just one symptom of a bad day of football discussion which culminates in the always-awkward Bill Belichick interview where no one challenges him on a single point.
2) The two man format works on 98.5. It’s not a different group every day that starts off with 15 minutes of banter that is only understood by those on the show. We don’t need or have to be subjected to the daily, “What have you been up to Max?” small talk. The 98.5 show is better produced, they switch topics and they actually let the callers get their point out and then let them go, so the hosts can discuss. Michael Felger especially doesn’t want to win every argument with the caller. His goal is discussion, not trying to prove the caller wrong with semantics. Tony Massarotti, by the way has a long way to go. He agrees with Felger much too often (“You’re absolutely right, Mike.”) and I still wonder if he can be that Devil’s Advocate that a two-man show needs. I often think Michael Holley would be the ideal pairing, but for now you can’t deny that it is working in the ratings.
3) Hockey. For many years hockey was a third rail in this town for sports talk, as the Bruins have struggled with the perception that they have an ownership more interested in money than championships and for that reason never made for good radio discussion. Felger is often hypocritical in his praise of hockey while ridiculing the NBA, but there is no doubt he is the first person that has made hockey talk viable in the Boston market. This is done without giving the Bruins a wet kiss, something common with some of the other sports teams on WEEI.
4) Felger’s profile is on the rise. People love him or hate him. Perfect antagonist to play the role of a talk show host and with the popularity of Mohegan Sun Sports Tonight he has become the arguably the most prominent sports media figure in Boston. That may be FACT not OPINION. I hear more and more people tuning in to the 98.5 for the final word of the day rather than the tired formula of the once great “Whiner Line.”
This shift in radio is no fluke, 98.5 is not a niche, and it is not going anywhere soon. It will be interesting to see the counter punch at WEEI or if there is one. They surely need to get on an FM station here and Boston. Will they then go after the Patriot telecasts? Will they bring in some better guests or change their approach to callers? Whatever they do they should do it fast because one night you are Speaker of the House, 3rd in succession for the Presidency and the next night you’re a Congresswoman from San Francisco.