Sometimes I wonder what WEEI management is doing? I know I am not alone. Just look at their ratings.
Last month WEEI decided to remove Mike "Mut" Mutnansky from the midday show. Mutnansky replaced longtime WEEI host Dale Arnold three years ago in the same time slot. I thought that was a mistake at the time. Now the station has made another mistake by replacing Mut with Tim Benz.
Who? Yeah, exactly.
WEEI should have learned their lesson when they plucked an unknown radio host from the opposite coast to replace radio icon Glenn Ordway. The Mike Salk Experiment lasted a year. It was an abject failure. He was perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an outsider. He had been working in Seattle. He didn't sound like us. Even the other hosts on WEEI ridicule and mock Salk now that he has returned to Seattle. Some (ahem, Kirk Minihane) mocked Salk while he was still employed there. Salk is a running joke. Do they know how stupid they sound? They're making fun of their own station's management poor decisions.
Now WEEI is going to try their failed strategy yet again. After all, who doesn't know when you want to find someone who knows about Boston sports that you have to go to Pittsburgh? Management knew that Benz will be labeled as an outsider and quickly pointed out in a statement announcing the hiring saying that Benz was born in Boston and that his father is the current president and CEO of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
That's nice. So Timmy probably grew up as a rich, spoiled brat. What they fail to mention is that Tim Benz hasn't worked in the Boston market since graduating from Syracuse (of course) in 1996.
Lou Merloni, Mut's co-host for the past three years, remains on the midday show. In addition to Benz, Merloni will be joined by former Patriots' tight end Christian Fauria to form a three-man show. WEEI's decision to end the three-man studio format was one of the big reasons I believe Ordway's "Big Show" failed in its final years. Now WEEI is trending back to the three-man shows with the successful addition of Minihane to the morning show last year, and now this. Even the Dale and Holley afternoon show often features a third person.
I could tell Fauria was positioning himself in recent months for a full-time gig with the station. He was a fill-in for various hosts over the last few months. In small doses, I liked Fauria. He is prone to talking a little too fast, being incoherent, and drifting off on tangents. His enthusiasm is contagious, however. He also appeared to have some fresh ideas. At times, it felt like he was fancying himself as the producer of the show. "Hey, Mut, let's do a push-up challenge!"
To Mutnansky's credit, he showed tremendous class as the station, awkwardly, kept him on the midday show for days after announcing his dismissal. Mutnansky would say several times over those final days that talk radio is "a scoreboard business." It is all about the ratings, and "The Mut and Merloni Show" just didn't connect with enough listeners.
Lou Merloni wasn't as diplomatic. In the show's final days, he mentioned a few times that the show was sabotaged from the beginning. The two long-time producers from "The Dale and Holley Show," Michael Berger and James Stewart, jumped ship shortly after the new show began. Berger went on to work for the Bruins while Stewart went on to work for the rival sports station's "Felger and Mazz Show." Mut and Merloni were left to learn the ropes by themselves, according to Merloni. That's a weak argument even if it were true. The show had more than three years to right the ship.
Glenn Ordway had an interesting theory about why Mut's show failed. Ordway is attempting a comeback on his own. He has an online streaming show called "The Big Show Unfiltered" which airs from 3-6 p.m. every weekday afternoon. The beauty of his new show is that it is, indeed, "unfiltered." He has no hesitation talking candidly about his disdain for his old bosses.
After the WEEI news broke, Ordway said on his show that it wasn't all Mutnansky's fault the show failed. It had a lot to do with the format of the show. It had too many interviews and no fluidity. They would change topics too frequently. One minute they'd be catering to the Red Sox crowd, and the next minute they'd be trying to cater to the Bruins crowd.
Ordway pointed out that having entertaining callers is also very important to the success of a show. Every show needs a "Butch from the Cape" or "Frank from Gloucester." Love them or hate them, you will perk up when you hear a certain caller is on the line.
Ordway is right. Talk radio is a listener-driven business. Talk radio is also evolving with the changing times. It's not just about callers, either, but also Twitter and Facebook. Hosts need to keep the listeners involved and they need to monitor all the station's text machines as well as all the social networks.
I'll admit-- something as simple as knowing that there would be a good chance that Mutnansky would mention my tweets on-air made me more likely to listening. It is empowering to think I can steer the conversation on the radio.
Now, let's turn our attention to the new show titled "Middays with MFB." Believe it or not, I've been listening with an open mind for the last three weeks.
My first reaction is that Benz sounds very sterile and generic. He sounds too polished, too ESPN-ish. Yes, what I am saying is he doesn't sound like a Bostonian. He doesn't have the passion. He doesn't have the accent. He doesn't have the history. I don't see how he is viewed as an upgrade over Mutnansky. Worse off, he doesn't follow me on Twitter and doesn't read my tweets. That's the worst.
Merloni has seemed rejuvenated by having the extra person in the studio. In the final months of the "Mut and Merloni Show," Merloni seemed disinterested and disengaged.
Fauria is the one that is turning me off from the show. This came as a surprise to me. What I first thought was a positive about him has turned into a negative. His "we should do this" antics has already gotten old. The three have already done a chin-up challenge at a local gym. Fauria has discussed his fondness for applying lotion to his legs. He has asked such deep questions like what lengths would you go to to save your cell phone (out of a toilet... or worse even?) and if it is OK for a guy to rub sunscreen on another guy's back. He has also pimped a web site that will send animal feces to anyone you don't like. Riveting.
Benz has chimed in with demeaning comments about beauty pageant contestants. He has made disturbing comments about an influx of immigrants emigrating to Foxboro for soccer games. He has shown flashes of anger at callers, hanging up on one who called him "Mike" (was he thinking Mutnansky or Salk?). I would be remiss if I didn't note that Benz quit a Pittsburgh radio gig last year over an insensitive post he made on Facebook in response to some internet trolls.
If that weren't enough, the part that bothers me the most is that the show has been dumbed down. For the first time in years, I've actually switched to "Gresh and Zo" on 98.5 The Sports Hub a few times (when I know Sean McAdam is on). When Fauria is not talking about coconut oils or feces, he is struggling with the pronunciation of simple baseball names like Lavarnway. He just brings nothing to the table when discussing anything non-Patriots.
I have been impressed with Benz' knowledge of national sports, but his takes on local issues are weak. Small things like the way he pronounces "Pawtucket" drive me nuts. His talking points are weak, as well. Do superstars get a free pass in this town? Are baseball players mentally tougher than football players? Is Tom Brady still a top five quarterback?
Benz has a bond with the de facto WEEI program director (they call it Brand Manager), Kevin Graham. They've worked together in a couple of other markets. For this reason, Benz will be given a long leash. He has a good chance of lasting longer than Salk, not necessarily based on merit. In fact, Benz could outlast his other two co-hosts.
Fauria should be the one who will be gone the quickest. If he does bad, he'll be let go. If he does well, he'll move on to bigger things, like ESPN or the NFL Network. The same goes for Merloni who is already doing a lot of color analyst work on Red Sox radio broadcasts.
Maybe one of these days WEEI will get it right.