Today’s guest column is from George Cain, with a follow-up look at the sports radio wars, and a number of thoughts on sports media personalities.
The BIG DROP: PART II
By George Cain
Last November when I first wrote about the local Sports Radio competition between 98.5 (The Sports Hub) and WEEI, the two stations were in a close battle for the #1 spot in the local ratings. Seven months later, the battle is over. The Sports Hub destroyed WEEI in the May Arbitron ratings book and did it again in June. There is no doubt 98.5 got a bump from the Bruins Stanley Cup run, but expect this trend to continue. In November, it was just Felger and Massarotti knocking off the Big Show from 2-6 PM. Today it is the Sports Hub winning in every time slot and every demographic that counts. WEEI did not take 98.5 seriously when they debuted after several failures by other competing stations. They are trying to counterpunch in recent months, but are having little success. So here is my evaluation of the current matchups and what I see going forward.
Morning Shows – 6AM to 10AM – D&C vs. Toucher and Rich
In a desperate act, D&C has tried to become more hip in order to appeal to the under 35 audience. They have brought in David Portnoy, aka “El Prez” and founder of the very popular Barstoolsports.com to serve as a guest on Fridays. But 1st place is a thing of the past for this show. They have cut out the political talk, golf talk and readings of Larry King’s columns. But while D&C seems old and tired, Toucher and Rich have a fresh new feel. They are funnier, wittier, and can talk sports and pop culture. Face it, John Dennis comes off as an arrogant, country club snob a lot of the time. And that was made clear years ago when he foolishly left that message on Ryan Russillo’s answering machine. Hey John, that “Rotillo guy”, well he’s got a national show now on ESPN radio.
Prognosis – D&C will hang around for a bit. They will never be number one again. And they will not recruit new audience without major shakeups. It might be time for two new consonants.
Mid-morning to mid-afternoon (10AM to 2PM) – Mut & Merloni vs Gresh and Zo.
Despite the ratings win for Gresh and Zo, we all lose here. WEEI tried to go young but they went unknown. Replacing the tandem of Dale Arnold and Michael Holley has exploded in their face. The new duo of Lou Merloni and Mike Mutnansky are putting up pathetic rating numbers. This “younger” pairing is 17thin the 18-34 demo. I love hearing Lou Merloni talk baseball. I could see him someday replacing Jerry Remy on Red Sox telecasts. But, as a day to day co-host he just doesn’t have the gravitas that makes you want to tune in and listen. Mut could be replaced by any of a 100 guys and you wouldn’t know the difference. As for Gresh and Zo, well, they were failures in Providence and here they have been fortunate. Yes, they are first in their timeslot. But, it’s like being the show following American Idol, its going to get ratings. Zo, is similar to Merloni in that he knows one sport well and the rest not very well. Andy Gresh is an absolute enigma to me. If you look at polls he’s widely disliked, he arrogant, he’s unrefined, he’s obnoxious (by the way I must credit the movie Bachelor Party for those perfect adjectives) and he’s ignorant. Just hearing him rail on women’s soccer makes me shake my head. Gresh and Zo are riding the 98.5 wave. You could trade the hosts on both shows and I guarantee the numbers on each network would pretty much stay the same. The good news is most of us are working when these shows are on the radio.
Prognosis – An eventual shakeup at WEEI and more blather from Gresh.
Afternoon Drive – Felger and Mazz vs the Big Show (Ordway and Holley) & the Straw Man
Ordway was once the star of the market. He was the Mike Francesa (WFAN) of Boston talk radio. But, like Francesa he fell in love with his voice and his opinions and no other opinion really mattered. When he had Smerlas, DeOssie and Shepard on with him to talk football, it was one of the absolute low points in Boston Sports radio. The show became the Patriot Propaganda Network . Any caller that had the temerity to levy a criticism at the Patriots were talked over, shouted down or hung up on. Ordway, never a hockey fan, failed to see the Bruin Tidal Wave coming before it was too late. Pairing him with Michael Holley, whom I consider the second best personality in Boston, was a great move. But adding Mikey Adams to the show is a real head scratcher. His show is meant for a night time audience. It’s meant for a time when I am watching TV. Holley and Felger would be the dream team but we won’t see that anytime soon. Felger’s head is big enough so I won’t pat him on the back too much more. He’s become the dominant sports commentator in Boston. People love him or hate him and sometimes that’s in the same day; but that’s his appeal. He’s light years better than when he first started hosting at 890 AM. Felger has also re-formed himself as the new contrarian. He is a card-carrying member of the anti-Patriot cartel dubbed by me. This is a reference Felger seems to wear with a badge of honor. As an audience I think we just want honesty. Just because WEEI were propagandists 98.5 doesn’t have to be contrarian to balance it off. Felger LOVES the Straw Man argument. He much prefers arguing a point against the Straw Man over callers, who can be annoying. Regardless, WEEI will always regret letting him get away. As for Tony Mazz, well, Tony like Mike is the king of the Straw Man argument. He creates a Straw Man, Pats fans or people that want Jon Papelbon out of town, or Pink hats and argues a whole show or Baseball Reporters segment against it. His sports knowledge is strong but he’s agrees too much with Felger. “You’re absolutely right Mike!” (YARM) I would like a little more back and forth with these two, it makes for much better radio. By the way, the segment “Naughty Mazzarotti” is hilarious. Thank you Toucher and Rich for that gem.
Prognosis – Well Ordway might have a much tougher time in his next negotiation. The question for WEEI is if he can’t bring home #1 how does he justify his contract?
7PM to whenever – Damon Amendolara vs Mike Adams
The mother ship vs the planet. It sounds like a plot for a science fiction movie. Who will win and do we care? I myself prefer Amendolara. He has a more well-rounded show and is more listenable if you happen to be driving around or working the late shift. Nightime is tough; most people are watching TV, so good luck to whoever can make the most out of this timeslot.
Prognosis – Who cares.
The Near Future
I don’t see WEEI making a big comeback in any of these markets. They need an FM signal in Boston and more tinkering of their lineup. They should look heavily at Ryen Russillo and Chris Gasper, two budding stars in the radio and print media respectively. I don’t know what Russillo is pulling down at ESPN but he might be tempted to come back home in a starring role.
The interesting thing to me is that all these media members go head to head during the day and then co-host CSNNE at night. It shows you the dollar trumps all rivalries. It also illustrates how bad the programming is on NESN. Yikes. But, that’s for another time.
Finally, I wanted to end with a little section I call the Head Scratcher.
Head Scratcher #1 – Gary Tanguay. Tanguay is a co-host on Mohegan Sun Sports Tonight and does Patriot pre and post game on Patriot radio telecasts and Celtics TV telecasts. I am sure he is a nice guy. But I just don’t get him. He reminds me of that guy who is always talking sports but then if your really listen to him for 5 minutes you realize…he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I mean his sports knowledge is so, so limited. His opinions are not well thought out. He doesn’t know anything beyond local sports; he’s has no charisma, I find him often embarrassing to watch. Recently, when talking Red Sox trade scenarios he did such poor homework all he could do was pull up a list of players from a March 2011 Baseball America list. Hey Gary, do some research sometime! The Red Sox have 5 or 6 blue-chip prospects at Double and Triple A they could trade for a player rental tomorrow. They just might not want to let them go. Part of your job is to educate the audience, not the other way around. Try soxprospects.com, you might learn something at that website.
Tanguay is also the king of overstatement. “Vince Wilfolk is gone, he’s gone.” “Logan Mankins is gone.” “The Red Sox are not going to pay Jon Papelbon.” “The Miami Heat cannot beat the Celtics.” He’s almost never right about anything he says. Guests on the show sometimes look perplexed by his commentary. I get he has the TV and radio voice but he reminds me of Sam Malone when he hosted the Sports on an episode of Cheers.
Head Scratcher #2 – Taylor Twellman. Hey I get he’s a nice guy. He’s a funny guy, he’s a good looking guy and he knows soccer. After that, he really is just an ex-soccer player that isn’t qualified enough to be on the air discussing the four “primary” sports in Boston. Sorry, I want someone on there that knows who the Patriots backup quarterback is, who the Red Sox 4th outfielder is and who backs up Tim Thomas.
Head Scratcher #3 – Greg Dickerson. Did you see him fill in for Felger on Sports Sunday? Whoa!! It was brutal. Start with his ridiculous monologue on Woman’s Soccer after they won a historic game that day. I am NOT a huge soccer fan, but I am a sports fan, and a sports fan knows when a great moment occurs. Dickerson clearly did not, and that’s why he was probably booted as the co-host of Sports tonight and onto the Celtics sideline as an analyst. And even there he’s such a sycophant I can’t take any analysis he gives seriously.
Head Scratcher #4 – As I said before, its Andy Gresh. I don’t get Andy Gresh. Can someone explain him to me? He’s like the Dane Cook of the Boston sports broadcasting world. Does anyone rush to their radio to listen to Andy Gresh?
Thanks for reading my ramblings. Love to hear yours.