The Devolution of Sports Talk Radio – Is It Permanent?

Before we get into this, let’s make one thing clear – sports talk radio was never the territory of Mensa candidates. Over the years though, it has somehow devolved into just grabbing onto the lowest hanging fruit.

There is in fact, very little sports talk on this genre. There is practically no analysis, no insight, just reactionary hot takes, which are only intended to stir people up.

Most of what you get on sports talk radio these days falls into one of these categories:

Contracts

Does player X deserve a new contract? Is the team disrespecting player Y by not giving him a huge extension right now? Why do the Patriots have to squeeze every single player down there? Why are the Red Sox giving out money hand over fist to players? Why are the Patriots disrespecting Vince in the final year of his contract??? Why is David Ortiz being so greedy and wanting an extension beyond this year???? The Patriots screwed up big time with Wes Welker! Why are the Bruins so tight with money spending so much money on their own players?? The Krafts are so cheap! Jon Lester – you’re going to pay HIM like an ace?

You get the idea. It’s an easy topic to put out there as there will be people on both sides of the argument. It’s also incredibly tedious.

Past Personnel Failures (Real or Perceived)

Let’s revisit the Patriots 2006-2009 drafts again! Peter Chiarelli traded away the 3rd and 6th leading scorers in the NHL!!! Danny Ainge cost the Celtics the 2011 championship when he traded Kendrick Perkins! Was Carl Crawford the biggest free agent bust of all time??? Belichick the GM is failing Belichick the coach! Ainge drafted Fab Melo – we’re supposed to feel good about him not screwing up these other first round picks??  The Bruins didn’t do anything at the trade deadline!

Fear-Mongering
No matter what success is happening right now, there is always the “Yeah but…” card to play. Mike, I’m worried that they’ve woken up the Yankees! Mike, I’m worried that Tampa is going to pass them in September – they always play well in September and the Red Sox always play LOUSY in September! Mike, I know we’re in the World Series, but I’m worried about next year – who is going to play centerfield?  THEY CAN’T REPEAT, MIKE!

Dumb, Stupid Arguments That Aren’t About Sports At All

Are you going to boo or cheer player X when they come back to town? It’s better to lose in the first round than get to the Super Bowl and lose. Whose legacy has more to lose/gain this week Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? John Lackey had a Bud Light in the clubhouse after the game! Tyler Seguin parties too much to be an NHL star! If Rajon Rondo is your leader, you’re in trouble. Is player X tough enough to play in Boston? They just need to get some damn players in here and win some damn games! Etc etc etc.

Mundane Stuff About Themselves/Promoting Their Own Deeds

Hey…did you know John Dennis is getting married? YOU could go to his bachelor party! (If Toucher and Rich don’t send a mole to this thing, I don’t know what they’re doing in life.)

Endless Celebrity Callers

These are the worst. The same callers every day, with the same script, same talking points. Most have a grating voice and annoying mannerisms. They bring nothing to the table but misery, yet the hosts eagerly punch up their call when they’re on the line.

*********

This formula apparently works, as sports talk radio continues to dominate the market. I find it intolerable. It’s just not enjoyable to listen to, from where I sit. We know why it is this way – it’s easy. To provide cogent analysis of games/transactions/drafts takes work. To give a #hotsportztake just requires your mouth. Also, there is only so much analysis you can really do before it becomes repetitive, so to fill time, you’ve got to get people stirred up, say something outlandish – and stick to it. It’s entertainment, I get it. But shouldn’t it be entertaining?

Mike Felger can pull it off. He’s intelligent and creative enough that he can play the game while remaining – most of the time – entertaining. His partner can’t do it. Just about everyone else in the market cannot do it. Everyone wants to be like Felger, but they can’t pull it off.

I’m encouraged that Dale and Holley seem determined to go another route. It could be an interesting contrast in the afternoons. Having Glenn Ordway and his cronies back and available to listen to also makes things interesting.

I’m hoping that perhaps we’ve hit bottom in terms of the devolution of the genre, and perhaps there can be some changes for the better coming down the line.

  • Doug

    Last week during the Patriots’ QB workout talk, Mazz with a straight face argued that the reason they had them in for workouts was “Belichick is doing Bill O’Brien a solid and helping him decide on the #1 pick.”

    This is how stupid this man is.

    • Mike in Southie

      He was completely serious about this. That statement should disqualify Mazz from all future NFL discussions.

    • Moon

      Jim Calhoun hasn’t been at UConn for two years, and he didn’t know that either! I understand college sports aren’t big around here but if you’re a sports reporter/host you have to know that one of the most successful college coaches in history is not longer coaching his team.

      • bsmfan

        That was funny.

        Right after that, I was wondering if he’d pick UCLA to win the tournament because Wooden was still the coach.

        • Homer Greenz

          Walton is a junior.

  • Andy Dursin

    Nailed it once again Bruce. More and more I find myself not even listening to the local shows: Mutt & Lou are godawful, Gresh & Zo worthless when football season isn’t going on. Felger & Mazz’s shtick appeals to some but not to me, and it’s also repetitive and doesn’t wear well (does anyone actually listen for more than 30-60 minutes at a time? It’s the same points regurgitated for 4 hours. Talk about lazy). It’s good to hear Dale & Holley together again, though the fact we’ve now reached a stage where the old shows we once complained about are the pinnacle of local radio is kind of sad (Dale’s sanctimoniousness is grating at times, but at least it’s an intelligent conversation…most of the time).

    Sports radio ought to be about analysis and insight — that’s the key area where these current shows utterly fail (especially 98.5). Instead they’re about “hot takez” — a lazy way of driving a dumb conversation that’s even easier to tune out than it is to tune in. When was the last time you actually LEARNED something from one of these shows? Or heard a really insightful conversation on a particular topic? I usually drive around listening to music or WFAN (yes even Big Mike’s show is much more interesting) or the new Big Show, which (despite its problems), at least is listenable.

    It’s a sad state, but you’re right — the programming HAS devolved in this market.

  • Mike in Southie

    Felger’s tend’s to beat a topic like a dead horse. Mazz being a complete empty suit doesn’t pull the program out of this rut. Just agreeing with Felger while screaming at a higher pitch begs me to change the channel. Fred Toucher and Rich Shirtenlieb are smart, funny and very entertaining. When I do get to listen to an afternoon show, there is nothing there to write about.

  • latetodinner

    Oh where to start….

    Bruce I agree with you the genre in Boston at least has devolved. It was the natural progression of listener dominated radio. The listeners drive the agenda. They are repetitive, not very sophisticated and given at most 30 seconds so they have to reduce their argument to a Hot Sportz Take otherwise they are cut off. Part of the problem is the demographics show that people do not listen for much more than 30 minutes at any given time as they are in and out of their car quickly. That is why the morning and afternoon drive shows are repetitive whereas the midday and evening shows tend to cover more ground and explore topics in more depth.

    Where I disagree with you is that Dale and Holley(as currently constituted) or the Big Show is an alternative to the F&M. All are caller driven. As such all have the same format. The only difference is how the hosts play off the callers, and how the hosts generate conversation. You are correct that there is no analysis…there can’t be. The genre demands that the consumers (callers) set the agenda and get their say.

    A true alternative would not work at drive. The attention spans of the drive listener is too short because they are in and out of their car too quickly. It could work during the day where the listener is more likely stuck in an office. Something like Dick Schapp’s old show “The Sporting Life” or Chuck Wilson’s “Game Night” on ESPN, neither of which had callers, both of which did long form essay and exposition of topics could only work if the format was modified to include some call in’s (kind of like what Jim and Margerie do on their NPR show now) to keep listeners vested. However the call ins would have to be severely limited which in turn puts a lot of pressure on the hosts/producers to have the right guest and the right topics lined up and ready to go.

    In either case, I doubt Boston can or would support a more intellectual weekday sports offering. Boston has chased out most of the more thoughtful political talk. I doubt it has the patience for sports talk. It is the nature of the beast.

  • bsmfan

    Doesn’t much of the trend have to do with the ‘mothership’ ESPN? Love or hate them, they dictate not just the topics but the tone.

    Take, for instance, the Irsay story that the Indy Star put out:

    http://www.indystar.com/story/news/2014/04/06/colts-owner-jim-irsays-troubles-go-beyond-march-arrest/7368789/

    ESPN ignored it completely, I think mainly because they don’t want a call from Park Avenue (some claimed other reasons in re: DeSean Jackson). We had coverage here but I think mainly because they’re a division rival and even w/o Manning, there is still a small rivalry here. Nationally? Nothing, even though the accusations in this are pretty big. tl;dr: Irsay seems to have been using his team as a front to house people who helped him getting prescription drugs. While the team is private, the stadium was largely funded by tax payers, and he profits quite a bit off that deal. How is that not a big story ESPN should cover? There’s some pretty serious stuff in there that I’m amazed a local outlet dared to publish.

    Tone: The “drone” you mention is largely echoed by ESPN. Is there real analysis on it anymore? Was there a ton in the past? I’d be interested to know if this was ever studied. But, now, they take whatever is the topic de jour and it gets resonated each cycle/show by different people.

    The post does remind me a ton of the “Fellowship of the Miserable” article I think Boston Magazine did some time ago.

    • agramante

      I gave up on ESPN a long, long time ago. Owners, coaches, athletes and teams generally aren’t treated as people or organizations to be reported on, but as promotional partners.

    • HighWireNickEsasky

      I actually think ESPN radio is much less prone to this nonsense than Boston sports radio. Since moving out of the area, i mostly only listen to ESPN in the car. Besides Cowherd, the hosts really don’t get involved in the Hot Sportz Takes. And actually Cowherd had Cris Carter on about the Desean Jackson gang issue and he was very thoughtful and interesting.

      That’s the difference, i think, is that they generally invite guests that have some knowledge and perspective on the issues they are discussing – and the hosts are actually prepared and ask interesting questions (no stuttering sycophant Sheppard with Belichick or Minihane just trying to be a dick). And because they are talking about more than just the 4 (or maybe 2.5) Boston teams they don’t need to fill hours of airtime with these BS contrived-oversies. They also don’t take calls for the most part, and a vast, vast majority of talk-show callers are compete morons – not just the celebrity types.
      I know some on here think it’s too generic, but Bruce outlined yet again just how awful the alternatives are right now.

      • Jason Coyote

        It’s evident that Bostonians prefer the kind of sports radio they’re hearing on EEI and 98.5. Seeing Salk exiled back to Seattle is all the proof you need that the majority of the listening audience doesn’t want to hear the slightly more sensible ESPN-type take.

  • agramante

    Well, I’m a Felger & Mazz honk, and I do agree with you, Bruce, that Felger’s smart enough to pull off the sensationalist bit while also maintaining an undercurrent of thought. His “cap is crap” mantra might be the best example of this. “The cap is crap” is an easy phrase to remember and get mad at, like an ad jingle. But like any ad, it’s not the whole story. If you listen to occasional nuances (they’re there), you’ll hear Felger round out the idea that, yes, there are spending limits in the NFL, but there are so many ways around the system, through restructuring with bonuses and extra years, and probably other things besides, that teams have a lot of leeway to massage their numbers. And because of that leeway, teams’ ability to sign players is seldom as restricted as it might appear. Not never, and they certainly can’t go willy-nilly after everybody (and not that it’s even smart to try–ask any Redskins fan), but the salary cap is a lot more malleable than it seems. But “the cap is crap” is quicker to say and easier to remember than “the salary cap is a lot more malleable than it seems”.

    There aren’t always yes/no debates to be had on these topics, but others of Felger’s catch phrases–“green teamers”, “Patriots honks”, “Red Sox toadies”, and the old classic, “Texas tough guy”, fall into the same category of easy caricature. Boston’s hardly alone in the major teams having financial and editorial control over some of the commentary (certainly on game days) about them, and it’s worth being reminded of. But Felger turns it into a cartoon-style picture with clear, definite lines separating bright solid colors, one group from another (and making it clear which group he’s not part of).

    Stepping back, I think this is symptomatic of what’s happening, and has been happening for two decades or more, in electronic media. Hell, when ESPN was founded in the 80’s, the first word in the name was “Entertainment”, not “Sports”. It’s not SEPN. Radio, cable TV, internet–news and information channels are profit streams, and like any product, they’re pitched to a niche. Media has balkanized as it’s become increasingly the venue of high-intensity profit competition. And how to maintain the balkanization, and the profits, and keep viewership/listenership up? One way is with anger. Sex sells, anger sells, and fear sells. In the main, sports radio steers clear of sex and fear. But anger? The gig these days is how to generate anger out of a topic. Could be the same topic as last week–in fact, it usually is.

    • Brian Shea

      Here’s the issue I got with the “cap is crap” thing though, I think like many aspects of the F&M show, he’s gotten fat and happy on it and rather than using it as a well thought out discussion, he throws it out there, says little more, and uses it as a tool in the show’s very heavily anti-Patriots schtick.

      Early in the show’s life, Felger had a point that I think most of us here could admit was a good one. That the cap was going up by a large amount of money each year, and hence the cap was not as important as it used to be. Teams could push off some money to the future on deals knowing that the cap would go up and it would not be as harmful to them.

      But somewhere along the line the cap stopped going up. In fact, after the uncapped year, it went down quite a bit and for several years was going up at a miniscule amount (like $1 million a year). I think it wasn’t until this year that the cap returned to an amount that was as high as it was before the uncapped year.

      If Felger acknowledged this fact, I failed to hear it, and I have listened to the show quite a lot over the years. Felger completely ignored the fact that one of the key drivers of his argument became moot. And not only that, he doubled down on it. Rather than explan his point on the matter, Felger largely devolved the argument into one that is that teams have hard dollar budgets, those are all that matters, and that the cap is meaningless. That teams can structure any deal they want to get around the cap and that for all intents and purposes any NFL team can sign as many players as they want at as much as they want. Which is not true. I think the argument has largely been used as a means to criticize the Patriots and the Krafts and to make them appear to be cheap.

      The other thing I would say on the matter was that Felger was 100% wrong when it came to the uncapped year and the teams that went over it not being penaltized, and frequently builds a strawman argument about “cap jail”. That teams don’t go into cap jail, and its another reason why the cap is meaningless. Who argues about there being a cap jail in the first place though? Teams cannot go over the cap. If they are, then they need to release players to stay under it. A team is never in cap jail, but they sure as hell have to cut players or fail to sign players that they want to not go over it. If that wasn’t the case, then wouldn’t the Jets have signed all these high priced players that Felger had proclaimed they were going to do (because the cap is crap)? Instead, players that Felger proclaimed they would get, like Nnamdi Asomugha, signed with other teams, and they dealt away Darrel Revis.

      I don’t disagree that there are ways around the cap and it is not as important as it is in a sport like the NHL. But on this subject I think Felger really does proclaim his opinion in a fashion to go after the lowest common denominator and deliver the show’s very heavily anti-Patriot tone. Now that the cap dollars actually are going up by large dollar amounts again, I hope he uses that to explain his opinion in better fashion (and to his credit, on some recent hows around the time of NFL free agency he did so).

      • agramante

        Fair points. You’re right, I don’t recall his mentioning once the actual dollar value of the cap even once. I suppose you could define cap jail as dead money, but even then, I’ve never heard even Beetle on that show quote numbers for the various teams they’re talking about.

  • Brian Shea

    Yesterday on F&M Bertrand declared that he had no faith in BB’s ability to pick the next QB because he’s never done it before. Completely ignored BB drafting Brady. Picking him over Bledsoe when the media was calling him crazy. Deafting and developing a QB who hadn’t started since high school in Cassel, who went 11-5.

    No challenge to that comment whatsoever from Felger or YARM. They can’t even cover the most common sense stuff without idiocy or their extremely over the to negative bias.

    • latetodinner

      He picked Testeverde over Kosar and that year went 11-5 and beat the Parcells Pats in the first round of the playoffs. Bertrand is another in a long line of uninformed football comments.

  • OpinionNotFact

    “Celebrity” callers are, without a doubt, the worst. If Mike in Attleboro’s sports takes are so blazingly hot then maybe he should write a blog or start a podcast where I can hear them instead of him having the number to the Batcave whenever he wants to make a point.

    And why on Earth would anybody who isn’t a close, personal friend of ol’ Dino’s want to attend his bachelor party? THOSE are the folks who live in basements, not bloggers.

    • bsmfan

      I was baffled by the station’s decision to sign off on him using the platform to endorse it. If he wanted to advertise it via Tweet is one thing but WEEI seems to have no problem with him announcing it on the air.

      As Bruce said, he’s just asking for trouble or something dumb to happen, either from T+R or other clowns in the area.

    • homestand

      When Mike in Attleboro comes on I always think he is trying out his act for the Chuckle Hut. He brings nothing to the table except poor humor and little content

  • Early_Riser

    So long as we listen (or watch in the case of D&C and F&M) we contribute to the problem. It’s also not 100% the fault of the callers. It’s the fault of the screeners/producers who decide who gets on and who doesn’t get on. That dictates the quality of the calls as much as anything. Most people who call are the same people who do nothing but rant and rave and provide either the #hotsportztakez or serve as fodder for the hosts to rip on. Occasionally, some callers provide something of substance but it’s been rare. Celebrity callers are god awful, but there’s a reason they become celebrity callers. They will do the bidding that is expected of them & provide the appearance of an interactive show, which is a falsehood.
    I stopped listening to much of it, which sucks because I enjoy sports and sports talk when done right. I agree with Bruce’s take on Felger, but Straw Man Massarotti is a joke now. Dale & Holley are listenable but they likely won’t become much more than they are now. Ordway’s show is tolerable but still falls into the same old traps it always did back in the day. At least the Whiner Line provides some levity, though it’s a shell of what it used to be. Forget midday. Two meatheads vs. an unlistenable show. This is when I get the most work done, easily. I can tolerate T & R to a point, but they bring the douche too often for me to consistently listen all morning. D & C & M are just mean spirited pricks. Turned it on this morning just in time to hear them yukking it up about the Ultimate Warrior dropping dead. Yeah, cause death is funny, right? Even if UW did every steroid and snorted enough coke to put Tony Montana to shame, he’s still human. The guy has a wife and two daughters. Decency: Not found on D & C & M since….ever.
    I fear that we haven’t even begun to hit bottom, as the younger generation eats this stuff up. Trolling has become commonplace. Even “journalists” engage in the process. We know about Shaughnessy, no need to beat that curly-haired dead horse. Borges has his agenda as well. Haggerty is his own biggest fan by a mile & trolls constantly. Tanguay is a joke. NESN is a shameless FSG promotional tool with two captive audiences (Red Sox & Bruins fans). CSNNE is becoming troll central. Check out the quality of their offerings and tell me how long it takes to find a trolling article disguised as “opinion”. Won’t take long at all. Yet we listen and watch. The only thing that registers is a drop in numbers. Want to change things? Stop consuming the product. As much as that bothers me to do, I feel like it’s all that I can do to truly voice my displeasure.

    • HighWireNickEsasky

      They yuk it up about the Ultimate Warrior’s early demise and yet when the useless scumbag “Butch from the Cape” died years ago they treated it like the passing of a head of state. I remember listening to the over-the-top eulogies D&C each did about a former two-bit gangster turned over-rehearsed celebrity caller and thinking it was a joke. Sadly, it wasn’t.

    • the_other_side

      “I stopped listening to much of it, which sucks because I enjoy sports and sports talk when done right.”

      I am right there with you. I listen to NFL radio or occasionally college sports radio on Sirius now for my sports talk. It’s one of the few places I get anything worth any substance.

  • J.R.

    I’ve greatly reduced my listening time to sports talk radio for all of the reasons cited in this article, plus one more: I value my brain cells.
    When I DO allow myself to catch five minutes of F&M here and there, it amazes me how often Felger baits Mazz without the latter even being aware of it. Felger wil ask Mazz something like, “Tony, do you think the Bruins should rest their key players down the stretch?”, implying that he (Felger) does. Mazz will rise to the surface like a good little guppy and eagerly say, “I do, Mike!” at which point Felger invariable says that he doesn’t think they should. Mazz then starts to sputter and changes course by saying he doesn’t think so either. Riveting radio. Click!!

  • OpinionNotFact

    Frank. From. Gloucester.

  • bsmfan

    I thought WEEI banned him but maybe they changed that. People shouldn’t be banned from talking, but someone like him, who also calls BOTH stations and MULTIPLE SHOWS, is your exception.

  • DryHeave

    Great points Bruce, you hit the nail on the head…once again I have to quote George Carlin… “It’s all bullshit folks, and it’s bad for ya”..

    While I like to keep the pulse of what’s happening in sports media (by coming to this site) It’s all about THE ACTUAL GAMES for me now. What happens between the white lines, that’s it,and when the final gun sounds it’s over and on to the next game. Everything else is meaningless babble. Completely worthless. I guess some find it entertaining and to each his own, but count me out.

  • Homer Greenz

    Well summated, Bruce.

  • Homer Greenz

    On the cable news analogy, that’s actually a good one, but no one has mentioned the most obvious aspect of it. Part of Felger’s routine and that of Fatty and the Forehead and others (Big O?) is assuming the role of Boston Sports Media Ombudsman. If you’re not playing the phony contrarian, you’re the “Everything is Awesome”, footy-pajama wearing green-teamer. And this is aimed at the fans, but most importantly for Felger, etc., at their fellow mediots. The line must be drawn between the buffoons that like to pretend that they’re serious journalists, boldly holding the team owners, managers and players up to high standards and the ass-kissing, water carrying, cheerleaders.

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  • the_other_side

    The past failures is an easy topic for them to grab onto when the topic isn’t local. I heard it this week when talking about UConn and the APR thing and about UConn recruiting violations. (Full disclosure, I am a UConn alum and former season ticket holder.)

    A lot of what they said was just patently untrue or misconstrued. It is like listening to so many talk about spygate. The message has been warped so many times, you just can’t even find the framework of an original truth. Yet it keeps getting perpetuated.

    The APR is not about graduation rates, nor was it about the kids on this team or even last year’s team. UConn has had one, ONE recruiting violation in it’s history, yet they make it sound like we are talking about a team full of Derek Rose’s.

  • bsmfan


    @Sean_McAdam Publicly, Red Sox didn’t seem too bothered by appearance of pine tar on Pineda’s hand. Privately? A little different http://ow.ly/vFyfv

    So, on the “stuff” Pineda had on his hand last night that NESN and many here were going nuts about. Sorry to pull a “Felger” here but if we’re gonna talk about that, why did many of those same people say that what Clay Buchholz had on his hand up in Toronto was legal? It sure did look like pinetar on Pineda’s hand but I have to imagine Farrell said nothing because he knows his guys use it. Cheating? Yeah, it’s against the rules, but it seems quite common.

  • HighWireNickEsasky

    Just when you think things can’t get any worse, Mazz gets his boston.com column back. Kaufman, Wilbur, Mazz. Murderer’s Row of trolls.

    • bsmfan

      You forgot the illustrious, CHB.

      Has anyone ever figured out if Boras gets a paycheck from the Globe for his daily PR memos that appear in Cafardo’s columns, or does Nick just PayPal him a small stipend?