Q&A with Michael Felger

Michael Felger has been a member of the Boston sports media since 1992.

Michael Felger has been a member of the Boston sports media since 1992 when he graduated from Boston University. He has spent time with a number of media outlets with various roles for each from beat reporter to now radio and television host. He has become one of the most prominent members of the Boston sports media. Like him or not, for every major Boston sports story or game everyone wants to know what Felger has to say. Felger celebrated two milestones this week, one being the three year anniversary of 98.5 The Sports Hub and also the 5,000th Sports Tonight Show on Comcast Sportsnet. Boston Sports Media Watch had the chance to catch up with Felger for a Q&A on a wide variety of subjects.

BSMW: What do you miss most about being a beat writer and covering a team on a day-to-day basis? Do you miss the writing side of journalism?

MF: There was nothing better than breaking a story in the newspaper (i.e., the actual thing you held in your hands over morning coffee), which was still possible during most of my time as a beat reporter. Now, of course, that rarely happens. So the thing I miss the most doesn’t really exist any more.

Otherwise, I liked this time of a year a lot on the Pats beat. I thought that if you went to those training camp practices every day, paid attention and knew what to look for, you could learn about the team. Once they got out of camp and closed practices, forget it. Everyone was back in the dark. But right now was one of the few times you could provide true insight. Covering hockey was great because of the people– the players were mostly humble and fun and there were characters like Pat Burns and Harry Sinden who I enjoyed even as they crushed me. The hockey culture is unique. And the games were great.

But to say I  “miss” any of that would be an overstatement. I’d rather be doing what I’m doing now. I don’t miss writing.

BSMW: Do you enjoy working full-time in radio and TV more than when you worked in print? Has not being on a beat/covering games allowed you to voice your opinion on players more than you would if you were still covering games?

MF: There were many days when I categorically did not enjoy being a beat reporter. There are very few days when I don’t enjoy commentating on radio or TV. The radio, in particular, is a blast. There’s nothing else like it.

As for the voicing of my opinion — yes, of course, there’s more freedom now. And that’s essential, because I pretty much can’t  put a sock in it, so to speak. It ultimately made me a pretty average beat guy. If I was doing a report card in the Herald and Joe Andruzzi (one of the best guys to ever come through there) had a bad game, I couldn’t downplay it just because I was friendly with him. Or if I felt the Pats should have paid to keep Deion Branch or Adam Vinatieri, I wouldn’t hesitate to criticize the team even though Bill Belichick wrote the epilogue for my book or the Krafts had been good to me (both true). So relationships were frayed, and I grew to hate the politics of the job.

This is hardly unique to me, by the way. If you want sources, you pretty much have to play favorites. That’s not a criticism of reporters who do it. It’s just the nature of the job. It’s a hard, hard thing to pull off. I’m a heck of a lot more comfortable coming at it from the outside and just saying what I think.

BSMW: What is your take on being labeled a “DB”? Does it bother you at all? Is it what you’re trying to be? Have you always been this way?

MF: You mean, was I born a douche bag? No. I’d say it’s a skill I’ve developed over time.

Seriously, it doesn’t bother me, but it’s also not what I’m trying to be. I’m not trying to be anything other than myself and, hopefully, entertaining. How it actually comes across to listeners  is up to them.

BSMW: Having worked at WEEI for some time, what do you see are the biggest differences between WEEI and 98.5 The Sports Hub? Has there been a time where what Felger & Mazz and 98.5 in general has done has surprised you, in terms of growing so quickly? Is there something you’d like to see your show to do in the near future to help it grow?

MF: I’ll pass on most of the first part of your question, except this: When Tony and I came on the air (exactly three years ago, Aug. 13, 2009), I said we would be different because we wouldn’t be held hostage by the relationships we had. Too often when I listen to sports commentary (the radio, ESPN, etc), I feel punches are being pulled because of a friendship, or a business relationship, or a broadcast rights agreement, or a weekly interview segment, or whatever. Just too much protecting of the brands and the people. I like to think Tony and I avoid that better than most. We try to go after everyone the same way. And I think the Hub and Comcast deserve a lot of credit for allowing it. Comcast doesn’t stop me from speaking my mind on the Celtics and the NBA, and the Hub doesn’t prevent me from going after the Bruins or NFL owners. That’s rare. We’re lucky.

As for the how quickly the competition heated up on the radio, I was surprised by it. I thought if we were lucky, that by Year 5 we’d have made it a ball game. Instead, we starting winning in 2010 and were No. 1 in the demo for a year starting in the spring of 2011 (the only sports show to do that since we came on). By this spring, it was actually treated like a failure when we finished third. We also got the simulcast deal in place. All that happened within three years.  So, yes, I was not expecting all that so soon.

BSMW: Why aren’t you on Twitter? Will you ever be on Twitter? Do you think it is good or bad for sports journalism?

MF: Excellent question. Laziness. No other reason. I have nothing against it. It seems like a great tool for news events (like a trade deadline), and as a marketing vehicle, it’s not just the future, it’s the present. So you can add “dumb” to “lazy.”  I should be on there.

BSMW: Where do you see yourself in the coming years? Have you ever considered moving to a national platform?

MF: No one has ever asked me to move to a national platform, so I’ve never really considered it. Basically, if I can do what I’m doing now for the rest of my professional life (on the radio every day in Boston; some TV at night), I would consider myself extremely lucky. In fact, I’m sure they will have to tell me to leave, not the other way around.

Follow me on Twitter at @hannable84. Shoot me an email at [email protected]

Who Are These Guys? – Mike Mutnansky

Mike MutnanskyMike Mutnansky was recently named the co-host of the new Saturday morning WEEI.com Radio Show.

Mutnansky grew up a basketball junkie in Pepperell MA, and went to UConn simply for its basketball programs. While there he wrote for the UConn’s Daily Campus covering and traveling with the men’s basketball team for two years. During his Jr year he interned with Big Show at WEEI. He graduated a bachelor’s in journalism and communications.

After graduation, Mutnansky moved back to MA.  He tried to get a job at a few of the local papers with no luck, and  was days from going into pharmaceutical sales when he met Marty Tirrell. He had just left his evening show at 1510 the Zone, and was starting a sports show on the then 5000-watt 1590-AM WSMN in Nashua, NH. Mutnansky was able to land a job as a “flash guy/co-host” on an afternoon sports show Monday – Friday and a Saturday morning show. He also helped launch and execute “Friday Night Lights – NH High School Football in Action.”

WSMN and land of station was sold in early 2004. A summer of landscaping work followed for Mutnansky. Then, late that summer,  Tom Monahan funded a similar sports show with Tirrell and Mutnansky on 900-AM Nashua. Monahan purchased the station soon afterwards and went to an all sports format. The show continues, and landed number of regular guests, including Bob Ryan.

In late 2005 Dennis & Callahan producer Steve Ciaccio called Mutnansky and offered him a chance to start doing occasional sports flashes at WEEI. By early 2006, Marty Tirrell had left the Nashua station and headed for the green pastures of Springfield. Mutnansky then assumed the lead role in Nashua.

He continues to work at WGAM (900-AM Nashua and 1250-AM in Manchester), hosting a weekday afternoon on show Mon-Fri 3:00-6:00pm while also filling in at WEEI. Last year, Mutnansky got the chance to start hosting and co-hosting at WEEI. It was mostly on weekends, and then this summer had the chance to host solo and also fill in on WEEI’s weekday programming, leading to the announcement about the WEEI.com Radio Show this week.

As for his philosphy on his job: “I am extremely, extremely lucky to be doing what I’m doing. The crew at WGAM and WEEI has been very supportive. The passion and energy of the New England fans is unmatched. I just try and match their energy and passion in any shift that I have. I’m not looking for anything scripted. Organic sports conversation that informs people, makes them laugh, makes them think. I like to argue. Hopefully I bring a bit of a younger voice to the station amongst all these “old guys.”

I still kind of have to pinch myself – I essentially grew up on Glenn and the Big Show. Now I get to take heat from them and their listeners on the Whiner Line. It’s a bit of a trip.

I’m fired up for the WEEI.com Radio Show Saturday mornings with Blogford, er, Mr. Bradford. Guys are out taking care of their honey-do lists and errands for the day. It’s a great time to talk sports. I’m thrilled at the chance to be a part of this new show.”

Who Are These Guys? – David Brown

David Brown covers the Patriots for the New Bedford Standard Times.

He grew up in Rhode Island, and went to URI for a a bachelor’s degree in journalism. During his time in school he covered the URI basketball team in the Jim Harrick/Lamar Odom era while interning for the Newport Daily News. In his senior year, he did a co-op at The Boston Globe during the 2000 election.

After graduating from URI, he went to Chicago to work on his master’s degree at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He lived five blocks from Wrigley Field and covered Chicago sports for the Medill News Service.

After grad school he moved back to Falmouth for a time before moving to Hendersonville, N.C., and becoming the Prep Sports Writer at The Times-News in that town. He covered mostly high schools, but occasionally covered the Carolina Panthers (coincidentally during their run to Super Bowl XXXVIII vs. the Pats). He was recognized by the North Carolina Press Association with an award for sports feature writing in 2004.

He escaped the mountains of North Carolina after two years and returned once again to Falmouth, where he was hired by the Standard Times. He’s covered a number of sports for the paper, eventually landing on the Patriots beat alongside the late Danny Pires. He also covered the Red Sox World Series run alongside Jon Couture last fall.

In his time with New Bedford, Brown has been honored with three awards from the New England Associated Press News Editors Association (NEAPNEA) and two from the New England Press Association (NEPA). Last spring, he was recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) for an enterprise series on the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA).

He describes his philosophy towards writing as this:

“I’m obligated to produce something that I would want to read. Because if I have no interest in my copy, then I can’t expect my readers to. Also, I’m a big fan of sleeping until noon and getting paid money to attend the Super Bowl. I can’t stress enough just how awesome that is. My greatest ambition at this point is to get paid more money to sleep until noon and attend the Super Bowl.”

For a couple examples of his work, he cites his Patriots training camp preview, as well as a piece on  Al “Bundy” Martinez, a mixed martial arts fighter from New Bedford.