An Appreciation of Glenn Ordway

I’ve had my issues with Glenn Ordway and his show over the years. It’s no secret. But there is another side, which needs to be told as well.

Warning: I’m about to go into “old bastard” mode and reference things that I remember that happened before some current members of the Boston sports media were even born.

I think I’ve also mentioned before that Ordway was the first media person I ever “followed.” I’m dating myself here, but I was kid back in the 1980′s when Ordway was doing the Celtics games with Johnny Most. I listened to just about every single game. My parents didn’t watch sports, so catching the Celtics on TV was a very rare event. Instead, I had to listen to the games on WRKO.

The first season I followed every game was the 1982-83 season. Johnny Most actually missed a chunk of games that season due to illness and Ordway took over the play-by-play. (Chris Ford stepped into the analyst role.) The games with Most and Ordway were true theater. Each night was good vs. evil, a morality play with the Celtics the valiant warriors fighting off their villainous foes. Glenn would attempt some objectivity, but he too would get swept up in the drama. When Larry Bird hit a game-winning buzzer-beater at Phoenix (Celtics down by one, Bird hits a three with one second left) that season (2/26/83 – 30 years ago this month?????) I can still hear Glenn hooting and hollering in my head after that one.

While there has been much talk over the years (which I’m skeptical of) about the relationship between Ordway and Most  – whether they got along, and how things ended -  their chemistry on the air was terrific. As the decade went on, and Johnny’s health went downhill steadily, Glenn picked him up more and more. They had moments of tension, sure, but there moments of complete hilarity. Most catching his pants on fire with a lighted cigarette (a clip that was played yesterday) chief among them. The times Johnny would knock his cup of scalding hot coffee over the edge of the balcony were always good times, too.

During that same period, WRKO having just recently moved into the talk radio format, was experimenting with a number of shows, including a sports call-in show. The show, creatively named “Sports Call,” featured Ordway with Guy Mainella. (Mainella was already a sports talk veteran, having started “Calling All Sports” in 1969.) The show was on generally from 6-8PM and while there was plenty of Celtics talk, I recall possible Red Sox trades being as much a topic as it is now. On nights that the Celtics weren’t playing, I always tried to listen to this program as well.

Early Days of WEEI

The Celtics broadcasts moved to WEEI in 1987 on AM 590. The Celtics bought the station in 1990, and for a time they kept the all-news format. But by September of 1991, WEEI had made the switch to all sports. It might be surprising to learn that Ordway was not the star of the station. Eddie Andelman was the drive-time host from 4-7PM. Ordway, started out as a midday host, paired with Janet Prensky from 1-4PM. Dale Arnold was on from 10AM-1PM and Craig Mustard from 7-11PM. Andy Moes was the morning show.

Ordway’s show with Prensky (Glenn and Janet)  was largely forgettable. The show lasted a year, and Prensky’s contract was not renewed. Ordway then spent time with Dave Shea, among others. By this time, Ordway was also the fulltime play-by-play voice of the Celtics, after Most was forced to retire due to health reasons in 1990. In August of 1994, WEEI moved from 590AM to 850AM.

In early 1995, Ordway agreed to a four-year deal with WEEI to continue as voice of the Celtics. However, the team, which had the right of refusal, declined the contract. (If you wondered why Ordway was so negative about the Celtics for years on WEEI, other than the fact that they were terrible, there you go.) Speculation was that they felt that Ordway and partner Jerry Sichting were too harsh on the team during their broadcasts. Ordway then accepted the position of program manager for WEEI, a move that would change the very shape and direction of sports radio.

Ordway’s Moves Pave Way For Record-Breaking Ratings

In July, Ordway fired Michael Andelman from his weekend show, citing poor ratings. In August, he announced that the station would be radically changing up their lineup. Starting on September 11th of 1995, the WEEI lineup would consist of the Fabulous Sports Babe from 10-12, The A-Team with Eddie Andelman and Dale Arnold from noon to 3PM and The Big Show, featuring Ordway himself, from 3-6PM. Ordway reinvented himself as “The Big O” and thus an 18-year run began.

Among the original co-hosts on The Big Show were Gerry Callahan, Dan Shaughnessy, Steve Nelson, Lyndon Byers, Cedric Maxwell and Fred Smerlas.

WEEI dropped The Fabulous Sports Babe in October 1997, (Jason Wolfe by then had replaced Ordway as Program Director) replacing her in the 10-12 spot with John Dennis and Gerry Callahan. That duo become the 6-10 morning show in September of 1999, and the A-Team moved from 10-2 and The Big Show from 2-6.

In retrospect, the moves by Ordway beginning in 1995 were brilliant. They set up almost 15 years of ratings dominance. The pairing of Arnold and Andelman was one of two diametrically different men who saw eye-to-eye on very little. Ordway saw that the endless debates on all subjects would make for great radio.  The Big Show format, while tough to listen to at times, brought a plethora of different voices together, with Ordway the chuckling ringleader tweaking his co-hosts and pushing the envelope each day.

Ordway made media stars out of pedestrian reporters and personalities. He also could see talent and get the most out of it. While there were some co-hosts who had no business being on the show (Steve Burton, Butch Stearns, Larry Johnson) there were stars like Dennis Eckersley, Dick Radatz, Rico Petrocelli, Bob Ryan, Jackie MacMullan, Michael Holley, Ron Borges (The latter four found themselves on the outs when the Globe infamously banned its reporters from the station.) Michael Felger, Tony Massarotti, Steve Buckley, Steve DeOssie, even Sean McDonough was an earlier mainstay on the show. Ordway even made stars out of flashguys Sean Grande and Pete Sheppard.

The station brought in ratings never seen before. I’m going to sound like a WEEI spokesman here, (imagine that!) but it is true. They weren’t just winning their targeted demo, they were winning all adult demos. They were the top station in the city. No sports station in the country had seen these types of numbers.

Granted, there was an element of good timing associated with this run. Boston sports in the 2000′s, starting with the 2001 Patriots, went on a professional championship run that no city had ever seen before. Three Super Bowl Championships, two World Series Titles, and an NBA Championship had an already sports-crazed city craving more and more. Ordway was the most powerful media personality in Boston.

Competitors Fall and Rise

The station successfully fought off challenges from weaker signaled sports talk efforts from 1510 and 890. Both of those stations attempted to use former Ordway co-hosts to challenge him in his own timeslot, 1510 using McDonough and 890 using Felger. Neither station mounted any sort of lasting challenge.

When 98.5 The Sports Hub launched in August 2009, they too built their programming around people that Ordway had groomed in to the radio business. Former Herald reporters Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti owe their starts in radio to Ordway and The Big Show. Bolstered by a strong FM signal and corporate backing of CBS, The Sports Hub finally knocked Ordway off his ratings throne.

Still, he wasn’t dead yet. Last spring, as the Celtics went on their unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Finals, Ordway’s by-then revamped show beat Felger and Mazz in the ratings, thanks in part to several Red Sox day games, and incessant Celtics-bashing by Felger.

The Legacy, And The Future

While Glenn Ordway certainly didn’t invent sports talk radio in Boston, (Eddie Andelman, among others, can lay claim to making it a viable medium.) he is nonetheless a pioneer and yes, a legend. He saw where sports talk radio was heading, and what it could be. He put the pieces and format in place that has largely endured. He made stars in the local market, and you saw many many people acknowledging this on Twitter and elsewhere yesterday.

What’s next for Ordway? His comments to the Herald today seem to indicate internet radio or something along those lines may be in the offing. Couldn’t you picture Ordway doing a local version of Bill Simmons’ “The BS Report?” A podcast with endless big-name guests, and going after specific topics, no commercials.

Could he surface on another radio station? There have been recent, quiet rumblings that Greater Media might be interested in dipping a toe into the local sports radio market. Their Boston-area stations include 92.9, 96.9, 102.5, 105.7 and 106.7.

Heck, a station could replicate the entire late-1990′s WEEI lineup if they wanted. Imus, Dale Arnold, Ordway and Ted Sarandis are all available! (That’s entirely a joke, by the way.)

Could he be interested in going back to play-by-play and trying out with the Patriots? Seems an unlikely longshot, but you never know.

Ordway turned 62 last month. He’s not done yet. If he wants to work, there will be a job for him. The show yesterday was the best Big Show I’ve heard in a long time, and showed that he still has that sense of taking the right angle on a story, and presenting in a compelling manner.

While I haven’t always been a fan of the Big Show and the “character” of “The Big O,” I’m a fan of Glenn Ordway. I hope to continue hearing and seeing him.

  • http://www.bostonsportsmediawatch.com/ bsmfan

    Great tribute and history here. Even if you weren’t a fan, it’s always nice to appreciate “how things came to be”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000869090235 Jim Morrison

    Ordway used to think we listened to the Big Show simply because of him. Not that the Sox/Pats were great, or the lack of a viable alternative for Sports Talk in a sports obsessed region. He beleived we listened because of him. He could put on his pal Steve DeOssie three times a week during baseball season and we would listen. Once Sports Hub arrived on the scene as a viable alternative people left in droves. By the time he added Michael Holley it was too late.In the end it was his ego that got him fired. He thought he was Howard Stern.

  • J.R.

    Not a Ordway fan. At all. In fact, his smug “here’s the problem” know-it-all pronouncements from on high all these years were a major turn-off.

    Having said that, the early days of the station in the late-’90s were a good listen, especially when the lengthy roster of various reporters and columnists were available. But, as in any industry — especially one that is a monopoly — success went to the station’s head. Already outsized egos (both on air and management) grew even larger across the board and began to believe they were untouchable. Even worse, WEEI started to ignore its customers/listeners and refused to even try and make any necessary tweaks to their rapidly getting stale recipe.

    Fast forward to August 13, 2009, when a deep-pocketed competitor on a strong, clear FM frequency gave many of us a TRUE sports talk radio alternative for once. I’m not saying 98.5 is perfect (far from it, as Felger & Mazz have become unlistenable carricatures in a frightening short period of time), but it was someplace else to go instead of the same old same old.

  • Patrick Pass

    Milli Vanilli sold a lot of records with an act too. Didn’t make it high quality. Bottom line Bruce, he just spent 15 years on a character you basically said you can’t stand.

  • joshmar

    While I certainly can understand how the “here’s the problem” and know it all stances that the Big O often took could put some people off, the fact remains that he is quite often right in those positions. He is obviously connected and offers an insightful view that I have found compelling for years.

    What I find ironic is that his detractors cite his egostical posture as the reason to flock to a show featuring who I consider to be a far more egostistical and ascerbic character in Felger.

    I hope that Mike Salk brings something to the table and can quickly develop some chemistry with Holley as I don’t want to resort to listening to national sports radio and as JR states, Felger and Mazz are unlistenable.

    • Patrick Pass

      He was quite often right? He was usually amazingly vague and when he did turn out wrong, denied he ever said it. Saying the Pats have to “put eight men in the box” or “its all about leverage” or the other banal crap he spewed for years killed brain cells. It didn’t offer the slightest bit of “inside” information, which Glenn appeared to have less and less of the more years that went on. After awhile, you doubted he watched half the games or more that he claimed to. I NEVER got any good information out of him. Maybe occasionally a guest or guest host at best.

  • etak

    I actually really liked the Glenn & Janet combo. (But I would, being a woman who cares about sports.) Of course, I also liked The Fabulous Sports Babe, so I’m used to being in the minority.

    I don’t actually know the history of the Most and Ordway relationship, in terms of Johnny being uncomfortable with it. (I assume he felt marginalized, or something?) I just remember that the games were damn good radio in that era, when Most was still good and Glenn tried (kinda like Mike Gorman now) to give a semi-neutral point of view.

    I really liked the initial Big O Show years, with the rotating hosts and the so on. Butch Stearns and a few other folks, I could live without, but anyway.

    • DrakeW

      But who was the Fabulous Sports Babe? Bruce mentions the name of the show but doesn’t actually give the name of the woman doing the show.

      • etak

        That’s in part because she was pretty careful to separate the FSB and non-FSB personas. But, Nanci Donnelan. Grantland had a pretty good article on her last year

    • LJ Sandwich

      Wow…Somebody admits to liking the Fabulous Sports Babe. You are a brave individual.

      • etak

        Enh. She wasn’t my absolute favorite thing ever. She was just kinda fun. More fun than Mazz or D&C, say.

        • latetodinner

          Great Fabulous Sportsbabe trivia….the average caller to the Fabulous Sports Babe’s show lasted 30 seconds. Butch from the Cape…he averaged 5 minutes. That is all you ever really needed to know about that show. It was horrible.

          Janet Prensky was horrible. She admitted as such while on the air. She said on a few instances that she was learning sports…but she was not passionate about it…unlike someone like Jackie Mac or Susan Waldman who eat, slept and breathed sports. Prensky was useless. The Glenn and Janet show was unbelievably inane.

        • etak

          Looking back on it objectively, no, she wasn’t very experienced or knowledgeable.

          However, as a 17 year old into sports, there was very little at that time that encouraged girls/young women, or even reflected our viewpoint. Janet had a viewpoint which I resonated with. And I am still glad she existed on Boston radio.

          (I’d rather have had Jackie MacMullan, of course. But I bet she was out of their price range — or busy, since she was SI at the time.)

          The Sports Babe was more annoying and more inane, and her show, I won’t defend. But I still like it better than latter-day D&C.

        • latetodinner

          etak,

          I am not willing to concede the Fabulous Sports Babe was better than modern day D&C…Mutt and Merloni maybe… Another great piece of Fabulous Sports Babe trivia… Born in Boston. She actually knew sports…her problem is similar to what I hope happens to Skip Bayless soon…the celebrity/entertainment/take is far more important than the topic/viewpoint/discussion and the act got stale quickly. In reality the Babe supplanted Nancy as preeminent because Nancy never liked herself. It only took 5 minutes of listening to her to know she was self hating. It was all over for her once that happened.
          So on Glenn’s last show Janet P called in and Glenn says that their shows failing was all his fault because all he wanted to talk about was hoops. The implication of that statement is/was Janet was incapable of setting an agenda or driving the conversation because she was not knowledgable/experienced/talented enough to be an effective foil to the Big O. I remember listening to the old Glenn and Janet show and praying for a fillin host. I do not mean to pile on her, by all accounts she is a nice person, a more than competent business woman, creative, and from people I know good to work with. She should never have been on a sports show as she just was not prepared. There were other women out there back then who would have made far better partners to Glenn…Jackie Mac, Boston Native Susan Waldman who at the time was only in her second or third year covering the Yankees and who had a working relationship with Big O, and Quincy’s own Leslie Visser. What I have never been able to ascertain is why did WEEI put a female sports neophyte on the air. Either that must have been one hell of an audition, she had pictures, or it was a publicity stunt to show they they were modern/forward thinking. It was a dismal failure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/deanharrington2 Dean Harrington

    Not a guy I ever found to have any talent other than overstating the obvious in attempt to make it sound insightful (incidentally one of the cheapest gags in all of media). Glenn always seemed to be a guy borrowing his cache off the merits of others. Bruce does a nice job with the historical tribute here but I wonder if he doesn’t overplay Glenn’s role in “making the careers” of others in sports media. Sounds unlikely to me. Of course, as we have all learned, these sports talk show guys never die, they just do a little time on the ranch and resurface later on. I expect the same with Ordway.

  • Scott

    The only reason he paired andelman and Arnold is andelmans contract stated he work between 10am-6pm. He stole howie carr’s chump line. Did not have the talent to host solo.

  • Jim Ed

    The bottom line is that Ordway thrived when he was the only game in town, and he is vastly overrated. I didn’t like his show at all, but there was no other choice until The Sports Hub came along. Once he had real competition with a real signal, listeners (including myself) bolted immediately. Frankly, Ordway (not Dale) should have been the one who got the boot a couple of years ago. Dale’s show was the only one that I and many others liked. Salk is definitely a step in the right direction though. That guy is the real deal.

  • Collis Jones

    “I want to work,” Ordway told the Herald. “I’ve got a couple of
    projects I’ve been working on in the last few months, including a
    business venture that I believe is the future of our business…

    “I think the business is 
going to the Internet. Internet radio is the next big thing,” he said.

    Sorry Bruce, this quote shows that Ordway just got lucky, right place right time. He’s a dumb ass.

    He sounds like a horse salesman in 1955 that loses his job and starts telling people that cars are the wave of the future. Or Dan Shaughnessy in 2002 stating that blogs were stupid.

    • Mike

      I remember Laquidara saying the exact same thing about Internet radio back when he left WZLX.

  • Jason Coyote

    Very comprehensive history you’ve compiled here, Bruce. But you left out one minor detail of EEI in the 1990’s, and I understand why given that this was a testimonial about Glenn Ordway. But before D&C replaced the Sports Babe mid-mornings there very briefly was ‘B&C’, where Callahan was originally paired with former WLVI Ch. 56 sports anchor Michael Barkann, extremely more humorous and personable than John Dennis. Imagine how drastically different sports radio in Boston would be today had Barkann not decided to pursue a dream job in his hometown of Philadelphia (where he still works for CSN Philly) and thereby forcing Mr. Wolfe to find a new partner for Callahan. Unfortunately for us it proved to be the perfect storm of events, Barkann leaving town just as Dennis was being phased out at Ch. 7 and decided giving radio a try.

    • http://bostonsportsmedia.com/ Bruce Allen

      Great recall Jason. Barkann was a much better partner for Callahan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/anthrocoon Bob Nelson

    >>Could he surface on another radio station? There have been recent, quiet rumblings that Greater Media might be interested in dipping a toe into the local sports radio market. Their Boston-area stations include 92.9, 96.9, 102.5, 105.7 and 106.7

    GM doing sports–interesting if so but I don’t know if they’d kill off any of those stations. 92.9 supp. does well with rock; 96.9 just changed to rhythmic AC, and WKLB (country), WROR (classic hits) and WMJX (adult contemp.) all do well. What almost happened in 06: Greater almost got Sox rights, in a poss. partnership with the team that would have landed them on WBOS, Then they backed down and Ent. renewed (poss. for too much–allegedly EEI lost $3 mil on the Sox last yr). We have 4 stations now: 93.7, 98.5, 850, and 1510. How would a fifth one do? Some think Clear Channel could drop comedy on 1200 and make that Fox Sports–and Ordway? But would they spend money on an AM? (i.e., taking Fox S. which they syndicate but more importantly hiring a local host like Glenn) As for GM’s FMs, who knows. 1510 has Bawstin Diehards etc.–what about Ordway (even if he buys the time). But… AM…

    • http://www.facebook.com/anthrocoon Bob Nelson

      …though I will say Clear Channel could poss. do sports on 1200 and their 101.7 as well, if they ditched elec-dance music. The signal doesn’t cover the full market but who knows? It was brought up on radiodiscussions..picture maybe a Fox Sports 101.7/1200 (when 1200 was conservative talk some thought they could have made 101.7 a simulcast of it…)

  • James Allen

    I actually listened to, and called into, the original Guy Mainella solo act, Calling All Sports, from Rochester NY – such was my thirst for any drip of info about Boston Sports. This thirst was a sickness that struck me at a young age and has never left my system. I am a weak man.

    And yet I turned off The Big Show years ago and never have felt tempted to go back. The constant yelling, at callers, at each other, which in itself is unpleasant enough, but then compounded by the “points” being made consisting of the mostly banal, or worse. I did not find the authoritative tone of the host to be supported by his words, his shouted “wisdom” only more noise. Unlistenable.

    So he’s had a fine career – good for him. Fooled ‘em for a long time.

  • moore

    Cant wait till he gets fired

  • http://twitter.com/Peter_Stack Peter Stack

    For all that Glenn Ordway has done to architect the current state of sports
    radio (locally and nationally, historic ratings success, career merging of
    print, tv, radio, internet, tree of talented industry personalities tied to his
    show on WEEI), these pieces are justified – even if it pains Chad Finn and
    others like him to write them. What’s obnoxious is the way the writers pat
    themselves on the back for ultimately predicting the downfall. A broken clock is
    right twice a day. And a media critic will ultimately be correct. Everything
    ends. And the bottom line is that it worked – and it worked incredibly
    successfully and it is being copied all over the country. And as much as it
    pains the media critics to accept this – just get over it.

  • ChrisinDanvers

    Solid reporting here. I have been to this site a few times, but it is the first time I have commented. Thanks so much for sharing the background that I remember so well.

    I find it fascinating the reaction that has occurred in Boston the last three days that we’ve known that Ordway was on his way out. A lot of revisionist history has been written – but thanks for setting most of this record straight for those who weren’t around the past 27 years or so….that is when I started listening to Ordway.

    However, the reaction to Ordway gets to a bigger point. Many people think he was smug, and arrogant, and a blow hard. But, if you listen to him, it was all part of the act. And, anyone who is a Sports Hub fan knows the same thing happens down there. I love switching between both stations and honestly, except for the fact that the hosts at the Sports Hub seem to goof on themselves all the time, there is no difference. And – yes – they too yell at their callers.

    Abasic premise should be remembered; that is that most stations reinvent themselves every 1-2 decades in Boston. The fact that WEEI has lasted as long as it has in that format is amazing. The Sports Hub’s parent company – WBZ – has changed over the years with a couple of formats, as have most stations in the city such as Oldies 103 and WAAF, WBCN (oh what happened to them). So, change is inevitable.

    While I think it is a shame that Ordway is gone – and I think WEEI had made a huge mistake here – it does show exactly what happens in most markets. The old gets replaced by the new kid on the block (The Sports Hub), which will eventually get replaced by something else. Sadly, a lot of what makes the Sports Hub such an intriguing station is they actually do a lot of the same things WEEI has done (F+M refuse to have callers exchange pleasantries, they hang up on callers, and do spoofs on callers, T+R are as sophomoric as Mike Adams, Gresh and Zo are a lot like M and M). It is the same stuff, with different voices….voices people loved to despise on WEEI.

    I agree…today is a day to remember Glenn Ordway, how he helped revolutionize (not make) Sports Radio, and how it will continue to grow with him….hopefully on a different station. Thanks Glenn.

    • Scott

      Actually when something works here,it sticks. Kiss 108,Magic 106,WVBF 105,WZLX 100.7,wbz 1030 all are 20 years plus with the same format. I dont think any are changing soon. Hosts change but formats haven’t. WAAF hasnt changed-Hill somehow has an audience. I am done with the Ordway salutes ;when you spend 3 days hosting your own tributes,we understand modest and Ordway don’t belong together. Ordway congratulating Planet 70′s Mikey Adams for cleaning up his act was a cheap shot—if the audience did not know Adams was a mess and missing work, Ordway was kind enough to remind us all. Made me think Ordway realizes Adams is done soon and might be competition for work. Adams,Dennis and KKallahan hopefully get axed on a friday so we can be spared the tributes.

  • Sportshck

    PEOPLE, The Big O was a CREATED RADIO PERSONA. All of you who are bashing Glenn Ordway need to get a freakn life and understand the business of radio and how he created a caricature for it.

  • Joe

    I bet you couldn’t wait to go there……….

  • TommiDellisolla

    This was a great recap of his career , good job Bruce
    I had my moments with Glenn over the years , but I always respected him , and knew how much he had/has meant to Boston Sports radio.
    There is no better sports radio town in the country , and Glenn had much to do with it , feeding the sports-crazy fans with more and more good radio
    Bravo Glenn … we’ll see you soon I’m sure
    .

  • vinniefromnorton

    Sports talk radio is all about creating characters listeners ‘love to hate’. Ordway was that guy for me. I was always pissed off at him, but I always tuned in. I’ll miss “The Big O”. (The last two guys to work with Michael Holley got canned??)

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