Editor’s note: this is a guest column, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Bruce Allen or BSMW.
By George Cain
As reported by Chad Finn of the Boston Globe the quarterly Arbitron ratings are out and miraculously WEEI is back on top, at least in a couple of time slots. It wasn’t more than six months ago that it seemed the Sports Hub had buried WEEI after the results from the Autumn ratings book showed them behind in all three major time slots. So there is hope for the Boston Red Sox in 2014. Let’s quickly recap the Winners and Losers from the last quarter.
WINNER: The Big Show. Ordway and Holley are back from the dead. They finished second place in the market with a strong 7.9 share versus Felger and Massarotti’s third place 6.2 share. No doubt the Celtics long run, positive basketball discussion, the start of the Red Sox season, and the quick elimination of the Bruins helped the Big Show. The Sports Hub should not try to point to the Celtics and Red Sox programming as an excuse. The content has simply been better. Holley has hit his stride and Felger has lost his.
LOSER: Felger and Massarotti. The drop in numbers should be concerning, from an 11.0 share in the Fall, to a 9.8 share in the Winter and now a 6.2 share in the Spring. If you’ve read anything written by myself or Bruce Allen in the last 3 months none of this should be a surprise. You can’t campaign strictly on a message of negativity and the same goes for broadcast radio. While WEEI was giving insight into the Celtics run, Felger was killing NBA basketball and Kevin Garnett on a daily basis. And as Jerry MaGuire once said, “That is not what inspires people!” Felger needs to take a good look in the mirror and decide how far he wants to take the contrarian persona. Does he want to be Skip Bayless or Michael Felger? When Felger came to the Sports Hub after another brief stint on WEEI he had hit his stride. He came off as charismatic, driven and had a fresh viewpoint that stark contrast to the stale radio in the afternoons on WEEI. A matter of fact, HE made WEEI change. But, like WEEI, Felger fell in love with his own success. The show began a simulcast on Comcast and it became all about him. He doesn’t like callers, mobile phones, the Celtics, the Red Sox or how the Patriots do business. It’s never about the sports, it’s about Michael Felger. No wonder he’s been such a proponent of Bobby Valentine, they have a lot in common. Tony Mazz to me is only good when he’s doing his baseball show. He’s Felger’s parrot and not an opposing point of view. He all about the negative every single day, and if I were the Sports Hub I would be making some inquiries to Kirk Minihane now.
WINNER: Toucher and Rich. This has now become the best talk radio show in the Boston terrestrial radio market. It’s not a sports show and if you listen daily they don’t masquerade as one. They have appeal not just in the 18-49 demo but 25-54 where these ratings were done. Whether it is tales of Rob Gronkowski or Bob Kraft’s acting lessons, these guys can take a funny topic and crush it with their audience. They dominate the local twittersphere and have strong appeal with women, very rare for sports radio. They also sprinkle in the local sports experts and conduct entertaining and informative interviews for guys who are not true Sports talks hosts.
WINNER: Dennis & Callahan. D&C did a solid third place with a 7.3 to T&R’s 8.0 in second place. (WZLX and Carter Allen was #1) They cut out or were forced to cut the everyday political radio and usually keep it to sports. Callahan was once a great sportswriter and Dennis was once, well he’s been around the sports world for a while. They know the major sports at a national and local level and don’t play favorites. D&C are never going to oust Toucher and Rich. They just don’t appeal to enough of the demographics. But, by being the “totally sports” alternative they will always maintain at least their 3rd place spot.
WINNER: Gresh and Zo. They eked out second place finish with a rating win of 6.8 to 6.7 in the midday time slot. I don’t want to continue to lament the fact that this show is weak. During football season they have more appeal but they still over-analyze with their “complicated” discussion around formations and receiver patterns. There is no doubt they benefit greatly from the Toucher and Rich lead in. It pays to follow a good show, ask Castle.
LOSER: Mut and Merloni. STILL? If there was a time to grab second place this was it. Yes, the show has come all the way from 13th and a 3.1 share to third and a 6.7. But something is still missing and it;s missing from both hosts. If I am Julie Kahn or Jason Wolfe I look to Minihane and maybe Dale Arnold again and regain second place.
WINNER: WEEI nights. Celtics playoff games and Red Sox baseball gave them the #1 spot all by themselves. They posted a 9.5 share to the Sports Hub’s 5.5. If you happen to get stuck listening to the radio on a night without a sporting event, you’re probably out of luck. Damon Amendolara continues to improve in this market and someday might be ready to host his own show, most likely out-of-state. He and producer Chris Curtis at least make a concerted effort to bring different topics to the radio. Mikey Adams, might be funny, but his act tires quickly.
LOSER: The Sports Hub. It’s time for Mike Thomas, VP of Programming to take a good hard look at these numbers and make some decisions, You don’t want to put too much weight into this ratings book, because it is true these things can be cyclical and that things were falling right for WEE last quarter just like they did for the Sports Hub with the Bruins at the same time last year. The football season is coming. It’s hopefully, going to be a big year for the Patriots and the next two ratings books should really are going to be fascinating to media geeks like myself. Felger is the wild card in all of this. When he wants to talk sports and keep a positive but objective tone he’s one of the best in the market. However, when he makes the show about him and his world view, well that’s when the show suffers. I expect if Felger doesn’t change his tone, Thomas might demand him to change it.
Finally, I can’t help but wonder if the intermingling of sports hosts on Comcast Sports Net/Mohegan Sun/Uno’s whatever, is at play here. You have Felger, Massarotti, Holley, Merloni, Gasper, and Gresh all playing prominent roles on those shows. Some of the best TV is when Holley and Felger co-host together. It brings out the best in both personalities and don’t think for a second that doesn’t play into ratings. This should be an interesting next 12 months both behind the microphones and at the negotiation tables for everyone involved.