Sports Media Musings: The Sports Hub soars in the Winter, WEEI Hibernates

[Update]: Chad Finn has the official numbers from Arbitron posted on Touching All The Bases. 

From the piece:

The Arbitron winter ratings period was a rout for 98.5 The Sports Hub.

The Sports Hub finished first overall in the men 25-54 demographic for the period of Jan. 3-March 27, earning a 9.0 share. Each of its four daily programs finished tied or alone in the top spot in their respective time slots.

WEEI (93.7) finished tied for sixth place with WMJX with a 5.2 share. That’s slightly up from its seventh-place tie and 4.9 share in the fall.

[End Update]

Because fledgling columnists (like myself) love lame gimmicks, let’s just play nine innings with this, shall we?

1. The Story

“The Sports Hub” winning the winter ratings book isn’t shocking. My thoughts on the daily crusade against ownership and (I don’t know?!) fellow media members taking place in the afternoon is well documented. We don’t need to rehash the winning side’s pros and cons. Just know that Michael Felger reminds me of the political pundit in “V For Vendetta” shrewdly saying, “You want my opinion? You’re watching my show, I imagine you do,” then, minutes later, callously reciting his credo: “ENGLAND PREVAILS!”

Bizarre, but very effective.

2. The Real Story

Guest Street is in shambles. Pete Sheppard wasn’t the first radio host in the history of the medium to quit on the air, and he won’t be the last. It’s indicative of the volatile feeling that lives in the New Balance building. Morale, most likely, has reached a new nadir.

Let’s review quickly: The “Dennis and Callahan” show jumped the shark long ago, and their attempt to bring crude, if not inappropriate, discussion to the table (something totally out of their lane), feels misplaced. That failure is not particularly tough to imagine when you got banter like this on your side:

Yikes.

The other money maker, the afternoon drive program, “Salk and Holley,” has the advantage of a fresh start to work with — mind you, something we’ve been sure to afford them in this space. Judging their show at the starting line is a fool’s errand. But there have been rumors that Mike Salk isn’t the most popular personality at the station, and that he is too ESPN Radio (and not in the good way). Is this resistance to change? I don’t know. Either way, what a complete, utter meltdown.

The precipitous fall of the former MONOPOLIZER  leader of sports talk radio in Boston is quite remarkable. 2009 feels like 1999. In his “Sports Talk Radioactive” column in Feb. of 2009, published then for the short-lived, but underrated OT Magazine (produced by the Boston Globe), Chad Finn wrote the following:

[WEEI} think the station’s success somehow reflects on them, that we tune in for their shrill banter, contrived characters, and prefabricated opinions. We don’t — never have, never will. We listen because we love sports, our beloved teams are enjoying a remarkable run of success, and WEEI happens to have both access and broadcast rights. Most of all, we listen because there is no other decent local alternative with a signal stronger than that of a ham radio.

Prescient is the word I would use. The scary thing was everyone knew this much (well besides certain WEEI personalities and Jason Wolfe, evidently). But no one, not even Finn, could have foreseen the alacrity at which Entercom’s hold on the market dissipated.  It’s startling, really.  Since the spring books of 2011 were released, the same period the Bruins made their Stanley Cup run, “The Sports Hub” (for the most part) has controlled the key 25-54 men demographic. The following summer period “The Sports Hub” was victorious again and WEEI finally got on the FM dial.

No longer would signal issues or debate of whether to count the Providence numbers in WEEI’s market share be part of the discussion pertaining to the radio wars. The playing field was level, compelling discourse would win out.

3. Common Formula

Here’s the thing, though: Compelling sports talk didn’t really win out. I’m not learning anything about advanced statistics, insights into the locker room, or, really much of anything besides aimless conjecture, polarizing contrianism, and baseless predictions. But what “The Sports Hub” have accomplished is simple: From the top of its roster to the bottom, 98.5 has out-gooned the Goons of Guest Street.

You remember that Outside the Lines piece about WEEI that ran in its heyday, which showed Michael Holley proclaiming something to the notion of, “It’s not what you know, it’s what you’re willing to say!”  98.5 took that idea to new places.

“Toucher and Rich” have made a living testing what athletes will say in their skits, drunken fans will say after games, and whoever else may cross their path will say. “Felger and Mazz” will say just about anything, even if it’s not true or contradictory to previous declarations, and especially if it’s salacious — just ask Heidi Watney or Mike Reiss and Tom E. Curran.

Remember, it was 98.5 who reported and then blew the Clay Buchholz pool party story out of proportion (even for the Boston media, this was over-the-top). Lou Merloni was the first to call it what it really was – a non-story. It’s just too bad for Gary Tanguay that he didn’t get the memo, leading to this hilariously rewatchable segment.

(Yes, Gary. The trainer. He went to the trainer. Oh, by the way. Per Tanguay, Buchholz is never going to take advantage of his potential, guys! It’s a bad look when Shank is the voice of reason. Never mind that, less than a year later, Buchholz almost became the 30th pitcher in MLB history to pitch multiple no-hitters.)

 4. All The Right Wrong Moves

In the last four years, WEEI has made the wrong move at every turn. They never should have moved Dale Arnold, waited too long to get on the FM signal, curiously brought back Pete Sheppard (yeesh!), drastically overvalued Glenn Ordway, oddly waited (still waiting?!) to properly use Kirk Minihane (the only media member, sadly, capable of challenging Felger), and failed to recognize and execute any “Moneyball” moves. (For example: I know that Marc Bertrand pined for the night shift at “The Sports Hub” when Damon Amendolara went national. I’m not sure if Beetle is still part-time, I know he wasn’t a full-time employee up until last summer, but he’s young, entertaining, and seems well-versed in the takes he can bring to a show. He goes at Felger. And did I mention he’s YOUNG? Wouldn’t hurt to inject some youth into your lineup, Jeff Brown.)

It has been an astonishing lesson on mismanagement from The Suits at Entercom. More alarming, is that these weren’t bad mishaps in retrospect. No, no, no. None of these personnel decisions — not one — were met with great adulation. Not from me, not from listeners.

So here we are.

5. Pat Summerall, the anti-Jack Edwards, passed away.

(For the record, that’s not a shot at Jack Edwards. Hockey requires a frantic and voluminous narrative.)

I was always infatuated with how Pat Summerall said so much by saying so little. Thought this was a clever orbit by Chuck Klosterman

As always, the natural questions turn to legacy: Were he and John Madden the best play-by-play booth in NFL history? Historians will point to Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, and Frank Gifford because it’s Howard freakin’ Cosell (Side Note: How many years does it take Cosell get fired these days? Poor Brent Musburger was chastised for pointing out a hot WAG was a hot WAG. Granted, everyone is a product of the times, but is Cosell’s bravado viewed the same way if it happens in 2013? Who knows.).

I’m not a huge fan of any contemporary teams. (I get annoyed when Jim Nantz says “Hello friends!” at the beginning of broadcasts. Not exactly a tone setter for a big game. And while I’m on the Joe Buck bandwagon — yeah, yeah .. I know — I’m perplexed by Troy Aikman.) And Madden and Summerall were a big part of football’s ascent passed MLB. Even the small stuff, like the duo voicing the Madden video game franchise (a big deal to my generation), played a large role. The rapport the two had with one another was infectious and effortless. Never felt forced. They told us what we needed to know and let the game handle the nuance of the broadcast. As simple as it is, staying out of the way is no easy feat.

6. Still? Really?

I get the “Sweet Caroline” venom around these parts. But trust me when I say this: If this Red Sox team continues to compete, maintain likability, and stay in the sports section and out of the gossip section, much of the media will miss these ancillary story lines. Whether it’s filling radio time or writing a column, remember, they root for the story.

7. Thank you, guys

I am enjoying binge-watching “Breaking Bad.” Happy you all helped me choose it over “Game of Thrones.” Although, I’d be lying if I didn’t concede Don Draper and Co. have my undivided attention. The two-hour premiere was taxing, but Sunday’s episode was fantastic. Pete Campbell‘s salty ways, which caught up to him by the end of the episode, produced the best exchange of the nascent season.

Pete and his pleasure pal were wrapping up relations at his new apartment in the city. While said-Pleasure Pal was getting dressed, the following conversation takes place.

Pete’s Mistress (AKA Pete’s Neighbor): “I’ll park in front of the hotel lobby, that way you know I’m thinking of you.”

Pete Campbell: “That’s nice. Now, move along now. I’m in a hurry.”

I love this show.

8. Twitter Thoughts

In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Twitter proved to be extremely worthwhile. While I bemoan its existence for producing inane observations during games or useless rumors as a trade deadline approaches, the social media site broke all sorts of imagery and updates on the situation. That said, beware of the lowlife humans who create Twitter accounts to “raise” money for victims. These people aren’t people, they’re opportunists.

9. Thanks for reading

We probably don’t have enough hug it out moments here at BSMW. So let’s take a second, if just for a moment, for some Real Talk. After Monday afternoon, getting back to business was never going to feel normal. Not today, anyway. It’s too soon. But last night I told myself, “I’m going to write about sports media because that’s what I do.” Presumably, that’s why you’re here, looking at this page. To get away, to find normal again. It’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

If this helped distract you, even for 10 minutes, then it was worth writing. Thanks for reading. I’ll talk to you guys out there, @Hadfield__.

  • J. Toecn

    Hey Ryan–spell check much? Your grammar is brutal in places. You’re missing words and punctuation and I’ve only made it halfway through your third point. You usually have someone else check your copy for errors? Pretty sloppy there Hadfield…

    • http://twitter.com/Hadfield__ Ryan Hadfield

      Going back now. My changes were over ridden because of video posting issue.

  • latetodinner

    Ryan:

    A few thoughts.

    - Totally agree with you on Mad Men. It is by far and away my most guilty of pleasures. The world changes and through it all Don stays the same. Its brilliant.

    - Most of the people who comment on this board have an opinion on WEEi and its management. What I find so fascinating is the simple point you made above…every move they have made since 98.5 came on the scene…Moving out Dale, firing Ordway, adding Winter to the morning, adding Minihane to the mornings, bringing in Mike Salk, moving Mike Holley, rehiring Pete Sheppard, changing the Big Show’s format, even moving the Sox back over from HDH have either back fired or failed miserably. Clearly WEEI is rudderless…although I have spoken to some inside people who tell me as bad as morale is that with the affiliates they are still minting money. So the big issue from my perspective is how do you fix management or do you continue to portray that there is nothing wrong with management? Until they address the problems in the front office they can’t address the on air problems correctly.

    - The Mike Salk hiring was a disaster in the making as soon as it was made. Had they brought Salk and his on air partner Brock in from Seattle, then it would have been completely new and it might have had a chance (although I still think it would have failed). Teaming Salk with Holley meant he was Ordways replacement and that was never going to work. Whether Salk is liked or not liked at the station is irrelevant. The issue is whether the work he and Holley do on air together is better and more interesting than the Big Show. So far it is not any better than listening to old Gresh and Amy Lawrence shows on the old 790 the score in Providence.

    - Thank you for talking about sports media and the focusing on just the tragedy. I needed a distraction. I appreciate your effort.

    • Jim Ed

      LTD – I respectfully disagree with your point on Salk. With that hire, they won me back immediately for the afternoon. As a somewhat younger listener, Ordway’s act had been stale for years. I can see how it would appeal to an older listener (like Drinkwater), but I (as someone who grew up in CT and loved Mike and the Mad Dog) never really was a fan of Ordway’s style of riling up the fan base. Once I had an alternative, be it at 890 ESPN or at 98.5 with Felger and Mazz, I switched immediately. Hiring Salk (having listened to him on ESPN Radio nationally when he occasionally filled in) to me was a home run. Younger listeners like myself may well gravitate more to Salk’s style than Ordway’s.

      On the other hand (contradictory as this may sound), as someone who prefers a reasoned approach, I really liked Dale Arnold, and the station alienated listeners like myself who really liked a reasoned take from someone who knew sports and didn’t go for the low brow humor — not to mention who was consistently #1 in the Arbitron ratings.

      The station is definitely in a state of transition, but its too early to say the Salk hire is a mistake.

      (And Ryan, if you’re reading this, I find your excessive use of bolds and italics completely unreadable!)

      • Ryan

        Spot on

      • latetodinner

        Jim Ed:

        That was a very respectful disagree. I think you made BSMfan’s point though. You like the more ESPNlike style of Salk…the problem is that style has never appealed to Boston fans in numbers big enough to give ESPN Radio any type of traction here.

        As I said Salk might be good….I don’t think so but others like you who are younger might think he is. The problem is that when they paired him with Holley they set him up to fail. First there was an easy comparison to the Glenn Ordway and after 20 years no matter how stale his show had become…people are fickle and they will immediately realize he is not in the same league as Ordway was. Secondly, Salk needed to define his identity quickly. Sounding like Holley, Answer the Question Jerk and generally coming off as lacking passion/ intelligence only made him seem like a fill in. The more I listen the less I like him and that show. Lastly, I am not sure WEEI did him any favors teaming him with Holley who (and I know I am in the minority) continues to amaze me with how little he says, how silly his “takes” are and how poor he interacts with anyone who has sat in the chair across from him.

        We do agree on Dale!

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Daly/100002270354596 Michael Daly

        You’re wrong about Ordway’s act – it remains engaging; what was suffocating The Big Show was and is Michael Holley. Holley proved he is a buffoon when he replaced Bob Neumeier in midday and in all his years has never established any chemistry with his co-hosts; his banter with Dale Arnold was never sincere and the banter with Ordway or Salk is even less so. Holley threw away whatever credibility he had by his sick man-love of the inept Ellis Hobbs even after it was clear Hobbs was not a particularly good player.

        To cite Felger and Mazz as a viable alternative ruins your argument further. Ordway (and Pete Shepperd) always beat them both on facts in their shows together on WEEI and having their own show is laughable even today because neither of them is worth listening to outside of Mazz’s 6 PM baseball show – when he talks football he’s in well over his head right away.

        WEEI’s problem is the constant hires and fires and the backstabbing by upper management (sounds like Red Sox ownership).

        • Jim Ed

          We’ll agree to disagree. It may have been engaging to you, but you’re also likely older than me (I’m mid-30′s). To younger listeners, Ordway’s act is tired (how many times do I have to hear “Stoke it up Andy”).

          I liked Neumie better than Holley. I don’t think Holley is great… I don’t think he’s terrible. We do agree that Ordway and Holley weren’t a good mix.

          The problem with your argument about Felger and Mazz is that the ratings clearly don’t agree with you. They have consistently beaten Ordway and Holley for the past year.

          Someone made a comment a few weeks ago that the best radio combos (e.g. Mike and the Mad Dog) were polar opposites. WEEI doesn’t have any of that at the moment (although I do like Salk). A show with Dale and Pete Sheppard would have definitely made me listen… Can you imagine the arguments the two of those would have had?!

  • Tyler

    #5: Narrow it to NFL casting – Hell, narrow it to Fox Sports: Summerall was the anti-Joe Buck. The comparison ends with them both being minimalists: whereas the former was powerful and authentic, not just in delivery but having had been a player, the latter – the poster child of undeserved nepotism – comes off as a sarcastic know-it-all, alternating between smug disinterest and smarmy platitudes. I don’t care how he works: you either have it or you don’t, and he’s the only NFL broadcaster so nauseating that my family is forced to hit mute (while I happily deliver far more relevant PbP, free of charge).

  • bsmfan

    BREAKING: CNN is reporting that D+C is the most listened to morning show in New England.

  • APNDaveR

    I’m with Wallach on that one, 100%.

    • Mike

      Yup, much would’ve preferred Dirty Water, or even Shipping up to Boston.

  • dan

    Considering the recent events i wonder what that asshat from the Bills is thinking right now when he thought it was funny to bomb foxboro?

    • bsmfan

      He made a silly comment.

      If you’re trying to go any further than that, it sounds like the people blaming Seth MacFarlane for the recent Family Guy episode having to do with anything that happened Monday.

      • dan

        no just pointing out that he’s an asshat and what he said was beyond dumb.
        P.S.
        don’t ever tell me what to do again…ok?

        I don’t tell you what to write or not write.

        • mike

          Just end it there.

  • bsmfan

    Let the carnage begin. Finn has published the #’s:

    http://www.boston.com/sports/touching_all_the_bases/2013/04/sports_hub_first_in_winter_rat.html

    In morning drive (6-10 a.m), The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich” program was first with an 11.4 (including a huge 12.1 share in March). WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan” was tied for fourth with WBZ (1030) at 6.2.

    For midday (10 a.m.-2 p.m.), the Sports Hub’s “Gresh and Zo” program was tied for the top spot with WZLX (8.2), while WEEI’s “Mut and Merloni” was tied for sixth with WBOS (5.4).

    In afternoon drive (2-6 p.m.), “Felger and Massarotti” was first
    (10.1). WEEI’s programming finished in a three-way tie for fourth (5.3) with WMJX and WBOS. Longtime WEEI host Glenn Ordway was fired Feb. 13 and replaced by Mike Salk, who debuted as holdover Michael Holley’s cohost March 20.

    • Will

      Appreciate all the numbers but absolutely nothing can make me listen to the Sports Hub. Even my wife agrees and she ‘s not big sports talk radio but she seems to like EEI better without my influence. Thanks for the numbers though

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

    1510 supposedly has a “major announcement” in minutes. For Pete’s sake, I wonder if a big show is in the future… way to tease it…

    • Ryan

      Pete Sheppard now hosts 3-6 on 1510. Their full lineup is:

      6-8a Sports Stamp,8am-10a Danny Picard, 12-3pm Diehards,3-6pm(or 6:30pm on game nights) Pete Sheppard

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

    Sheppard back via 1510 NBC Sports Radio, WUFC.
    via Boston Radio Watch @bostonradio:
    New 1510′s local schedule as of Mon : 6-8a Sports Stamp,8am-10a Danny Picard, 12-3pm Diehards,3-6pm(or 6:30pm on game nights) Pete Sheppard

  • CeltsFan

    I’ve been out on EEI since Sports Hubs inception and I tried to give Salk/Holley a shot because Felger and Mr. Everything Sucks have worn on my last nerve as a basketball fan.
    Michael Holley is terrible. And I loved Dale/Holley. I was listening yesterday and Salk was talking about something related to the marathon and stated something along the lines of “wind at your back is good thing” and Holley repsonded with a “not always”. I was dumbfounded and decided to listen to music.
    New or not, they have no chemistry with one another.

  • Frank

    Felger is an absolute FRAUD! I watched a little of Sports Tonight this morning so I could see the anthem from last night again, and there’s Felger saying it was a special night, etc, etc. All I know is if the Red Sox, Celtics, or Patriots had blown a win with under a minute left in the game we DEFINETLY would have heard, “Yeah it was a special night, but giving up the win last night, late in the game, somehow took away from it.” But because this happened to the Bruins, the one team in this town he actually seems to root for, they get a pass.

    Maybe it’s because of hockey’s unique point system and the fact that the Bruins got a point for the tie, and that couldn’t happen to any of the other teams, but I’m not buying it. He would have been all over the Sox last night if they were at home, with all the pregame ceremonies during a nationally televised game (does NBC Sports count as such) and gave up a win in the ninth.

    Or maybe for once he didn’t feel like being the dark cloud in the sky over the city, but because it happened to the closest thing to a binky he has in this town, his choice to not take shots just feels suspect and fraudulent.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Daly/100002270354596 Michael Daly

    How did WEEI overvalue Glenn Ordway? They UNDERVALUED him and still do. They also undervalued Bob Neumeier and have completely overvalued the hideously boring Michael Holley and Lou Merloni. Merloni’s defense of Clay Buchholz was unprofessional because he was defending an episode of player slackery and there is no defense of what Buchholz did; it reflects Merloni’s lack of value as a broadcaster.

    Chad Finn’s piece is laughable because the banter of WEEI’s personalities indeed made them popular – Finn obviously doesn’t understand that the so-called “shrillness” is in fact passionate discussion and he’s a fool if he thinks anything outside of Toucher & Rich is in fact contrived (it has to be given that Toucher & Rich even today are unqualified to be sports radio hosts).

    As for Kirk Minihane, it’s obvious he is in over his head.