Sports radio has a negative stigma among many, but it is almost a religion for me. It is very rare that I am not listening to some form of sports radio in my free time. Having said that-- I believe this is the Golden Age of afternoon sports radio in Boston. There is something for everyone-- a little bit nostalgic, a little bit new, a little bit loud, a little bit amusing, a little bit confrontational, a little bit cerebral.
I will take a look at the four options (yes, there are four) listeners have for afternoon Boston sports talk. Two of the shows can be found easily on the radio dial, the other two require a little more searching online. I will list the four in order of popularity, but, not necessarily, in the order of my preference.
Felger & Mazz-- 98.5 The Sports Hub. Michael Felger, the former WEEI fill-in guest, has been a thorn in WEEI's side ever since he left in 2009. Felger accomplished what was considered unthinkable-- the ouster of his one-time mentor, Glenn Ordway, from WEEI. Ordway has been, and is, an icon in Boston sports talk radio. It took Ordway over a decade to build his radio empire. It took Felger less than four years to crush it.
I've never been a big fan of the show. Felger is too predictable. He plays the role of contrarian to a tee. Give me a topic and I can tell you which side Felger falls on. He is like the politician who has no thoughts of his own, but instead forms all his policies based on poll results.
Felger's longtime sidekick, Tony Massarotti, is grating to my ears. You've heard the saying "he has a face for radio"? Well, Massarotti has a voice for print journalism. I find Massarotti knowledgeable on baseball issues, but lacking in other sports. But that voice...
Felger and Mazz's rise to prominence came, in large part, at a time when Boston Bruins' fans were ostracized at WEEI. Felger accepted those fans with open arms. It doesn't hurt that the Bruins began rising to prominence around the same time.
One of the under-appreciated aspects of their show is the production value. Producer "Big Game" James Stewart is the best in the business-- from booking guests to producing entertaining bits. The Felger & Mazz Show is far and away the best produced of all the afternoon shows.
The Dale & Holley Show-- WEEI (103.7 FM, 93.7 FM). Reunited and it feels so good. This is the spot once ruled by Ordway's "The Big Show." For many years, Dale and Holley were the lead-in to "The Big Show." After Dale Arnold was unceremoniously dismissed from his midday spot in February of 2011, he was called upon in April of this year to be reunited with his old partner in the more prominent afternoon drive slot.
I was very vocal about WEEI making a mistake breaking up Dale and Holley in the first place. It has been surprising to me, however, that I am not too crazy about their reuniting in the afternoon. They just seem like more of a fit in the midday, or even morning time slots. It may sound odd, but each time slot should have a certain vibe to it. I feel the morning time slot should have a soothing vibe. The midday show should be more cerebral. The afternoon should be more passionate, emotional, and argumentative. Nighttime sports radio should be more light-hearted and entertaining.
Having said that-- I think Dale and Holley are too nice for afternoons. Listeners have had long days at work and a little angst is good. People should be upset the Red Sox are in last place. They should be mad the Patriots haven't improved their wide receiver corps. This is the time to vent.
Keep in mind that Holley has now seen three of his co-hosts fired at some point at WEEI.
The Big Show Unfiltered-- SportstalkBoston.com. The King has returned. I was never a big fan of Ordway, but I'll give credit and respect where it is due. Many clamored for Ordway to return to WEEI after his dismissal in February of 2013, especially after the epic fail of his successor, Mike Salk. Instead, Ordway had plans of his own. He launched his online venture, "The Big Show Unfiltered," only a few months ago. He is joined by his former WEEI flash guy, Pete "The Meat" Sheppard. Another frequent contributor is comedian, Graig Murphy (long-time "Whiner Line" listeners will remember him as the voice of Terry Francona). Jerry Thornton of Barstool Sports is also a frequent guest host.
If you want loud and over-the-top, this show is for you. The downfall of Ordway at WEEI was when his show did away with the roundtable format that made it so popular and instead down-sized to a two-person studio show with just Ordway and Holley. Ordway is at his best as a maestro. Sorry, but I don't value his sports knowledge.
He needs to be surrounded by experts to be listenable. Sheppard, Murphy, and Thornton don't qualify as "experts." At one time I liked Sheppard, but he is hard to listen to now. His blubbering is becoming more and more unintelligible. His passion is admirable. It's that passion which endeared him to me years ago. Now he just sounds like a bitter old man who has been stepped on one too many times.
The show is at its best -- and, quite honestly, the only time I listen -- when something happens at one of the other radio stations. The beauty of the show is that it is unfiltered. Ordway and Sheppard are unencumbered in saying what they want about their previous employers (click on the clip above). I've enjoyed tuning in when Mike Salk and Mike Mutnansky were let go at WEEI. Ordway had some solid insights into the radio business. Sheppard, meanwhile, was his usual spiteful, profanity-laden self.
On a side note, former vice president of programming and operations at WEEI, Jason Wolfe, has joined Ordway as chief content officer for his new endeavor. Many blamed Wolfe for the demise of WEEI while others blamed market manager, Jeff Brown.
Sports Town-- Boston Herald Radio. Sports Town host Chris Villani is, in my opinion, the hardest working person in Boston radio right now. Sports Town was launched a year ago along with Boston Herald Radio. Some of the worst sports radio I have ever heard were during it's first months when Jon Meterparel and Jen Royle were the hosts. Meterparel and Royle have, mercifully, moved on to other ventures.
Chris Villani was left to pick up the pieces and has done an admirable job doing so. He has brought with him John Sapochetti as a co-host. Let me tell you-- if you want cerebral sports talk, this is the place for you. The two of them are as smart as they come. Sapochetti, in particular, is an encyclopedia of statistics and comes prepared for every show. Villani is well-versed in all sports and is right on top of the news of the day.
Sports Town is a very viable alternative to the other three better known shows. In fact, it is my personal favorite.
Villani can also be heard hosting on WEEI and ESPN Radio. He writes for the Milford Town Crier as well as contributes weekly columns to the Boston Herald. I recently heard Villani paired up with Mike Mutnansky on a recent weeknight on WEEI (filling in for Mikey Adams) and couldn't help thinking they'd be better than the current midday show on WEEI.