For the first time in almost two decades, longtime radio personality Glenn Ordway is no where to be heard on the airwaves of WEEI (103.7 FM in Providence, 93.7 FM in Boston). In response to falling ratings, WEEI's parent company, Entercom, decided to let go one of their founding fathers.
No other person at WEEI had more to do with their rise to prominence than Ordway. For years, WEEI dominated Boston radio despite not even having an FM signal. Again, thanks to Glenn Ordway.
Then along came 98.5 The Sports Hub. More specifically, along came Mike Felger. Along with his co-host Tony Massarotti, "Felger and Mazz" competed directly with Ordway's "The Big Show" in the 2-6 p.m. afternoon drive time slot. Over time, the flamboyant Felger gained traction and surpassed the bombastic Ordway as king of Boston sports radio. Again, ironically enough, Felger can give thanks for his success in radio to Glenn Ordway. Felger was a frequent guest on "The Big Show" before jumping ship for the newly launched Sports Hub in 2009.
Ordway's fingerprints are all over Boston sports radio. What Mike Francesa is to New York sports radio is what Ordway is to Boston sports radio. Ordway was the Howard Stern of sports radio. He was a pioneer and an innovator. His radio talk show host tree is extensive, including Felger and Massarotti. But as Francesa and Stern may some day learn, every thing, and every one, has a shelf life.
So the question for WEEI is, "Now what?"
Reportedly, Mike Salk will be filling the "Big Chair," the nickname given to the top billing for each program. Salk has Boston roots, but has been working in Seattle since 2009.
I've been a loyal listener of WEEI for over a decade. I think that qualifies me to put on my program manager hat for a moment and do some shuffling of the WEEI lineup.
The Morning Show (6-10 a.m.)
Depending on who you want to believe, Jason Wolfe (WEEI's Vice President of Programming) or Jeff Brown, (Entercom Boston's VP, General Manager, and Marketing Manager) was behind Ordway's firing. If they had the boldness to get rid of "The Big O," why stop there? A couple of years ago, management stripped on-air veteran Dale Arnold of his midday show. You have to believe the morning over-the-hill duo of John Dennis and Gerry Callahan cannot be safe. The writing appears to be on the wall.
When times were good, Dennis and Callahan held WEEI hostage in 2007 by taking a hard stance in contract negotiations with the company. The ugly bickering ended in handsome raises for the duo.
Now times aren't so good and the tables are turned. Rival The Sports Hub's "Toucher and Rich" morning show has proven to be vastly more appealing to the younger demographic. While not claiming to be the most knowledgable sports fans around, co-hosts Fred Toettcher and Rich Shertenlieb are vastly more creative, entertaining, and funny. Many of their on-air gags are laugh out loud hilarious.
It is a stark contrast to the dry, bitter, pompous, self-absorbed diatribes spewed daily by Dennis and Callahan. Rumor has it that management has ordered them to cut out their political musings which, frequently, dominated the show. Sad as it may be, listeners are left with little else. While Toucher and Rich don't pretend to be sports scholars, D & C pass off their word as gospel. Callers that disagree with them are dismissed as morons.
If I'd keep either of the two, it would be Callahan. But I would choose to dump both of them.
I'd bring back Dale Arnold for the morning show. Arnold's smooth voice would go well with a listener's morning cup of coffee. His voice and tone makes for a perfect blend in the morning. Most importantly, Arnold knows sports. He is the only living person who can lay claim to calling play-by-play for all five major Boston sports teams.
Management's decision to take away Arnold's midday show was the biggest mistake the station has made in the last few years. One of the major reasons WEEI lost listeners to The Sports Hub was due to their rival's welcoming disenfranchised Bruins fans. It didn't help that the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 for the first time since 1972. The Bruins have always been an after-thought on WEEI. Dale Arnold was the best-versed of any of WEEI's hosts to talk hockey. Arnold eats, drinks, breathes hockey. There is no one on either station more knowledgeable about the Bruins, yet WEEI chose to silence his voice. Big mistake.
WEEI needs Arnold back on air full-time to talk hockey. He is also the best interviewer the station has.
The question is who to pair up with Arnold. The logical choice would be WEEI columnist and fill-in on-air personality Kirk Minihane. Arnold and Minihane have been doing shows together on weekends for a few months now and have good chemistry. Minihane would bring an edge to the morning show in case Arnold's tone becomes too syrupy sweet. Minihane has proven to be opinionated and unbiased, often to the point of seemingly being a Felger-esque contrarian. He's also up on pop culture and finds the right moments to intersperse those pop culture allusions.
The Midday Show (10 a.m.- 2 p.m.)
I was a dedicated listener to the "Dale and Holley" midday show. When Mike Mutnansky and Lou Merloni replaced them, I listened with an open mind. Merloni, who got his start as a frequent guest on "The Big Show," has always been viewed as the rising star of the station. Mutnansky is a Chris "Mad Dog" Russo protege. "The Mut Man" has evoked a wide range of emotions from listeners. Certain long-time WEEI listeners will just never accept him for the fact that he replaced Dale Arnold, but I've seen improvement and development in Mutnansky. One thing I really enjoy about Mutnansky is his embracing of social media as a way of staying in touch with his listeners and involving them in the show.
I would keep Mutnansky in this spot and pair him with Pete Sheppard. Sheppard was a long-time "flash boy" for-- wait for it-- you guessed it, "The Big Show." Sheppard is WEEI's answer to The Sports Hub's Andy Gresh (who I can't stand). Gresh and former Patriots backup quarterback, Scott Zolak, are WEEI's midday competition. It would be intriguing to see Sheppard and Gresh do battle in a sumo wrestling ring, but I digress.
Beyond that, the appeal of both Gresh and Sheppard is their passion. Sheppard's problem is that many times his mouth can't keep with what his passion is telling him to say, resulting in a stuttering monologue replete with um's, uh's, and you know's. I'm not the biggest of Sheppard fans, but his tirades and rants can be classic. Another big plus is that Sheppard knows his hockey and would lend a second voice to the station that is, genuinely, passionate about the Bruins.
The Afternoon Show (2-6 p.m.)
This time slot is the main event. In this corner, Mike Felger and, to a lesser extent, Tony Massarotti. And in the other corner, Michael Holley and...
That is the question, now isn't it? Sorry, but Mike Salk doesn't do it for me. This deserves to be, officially, Michael Holley's show. He should get "The Big Chair."
As for his co-host, this is where I would like to see WEEI make a bold move and bring in a female voice-- something that is missing from either station. There are so many quality choices in Boston.
No, I do not consider Jen Royle one of them. She is too thin-skinned and takes things way too personally to make it on radio.
My first choice would be Jackie MacMullan. Both Holley (although he hates to admit it, he was on "I, Max") and MacMullan's ("Around the Horn") have television backgrounds which gives them national name recognition. She would immediately become the sports savante of the station. She has an encyclopedia of stories she has stored away which would keep listeners glued to their listening devices. "Holley and Mac" would form a winning team and one I would listen to every day.
If MacMullen couldn't be talked into it, my second choice would be Comcast SportsNet's Jessica Moran. She has the voice, the bravado, and she can hold her own talking a wide range of sports.
There has been some speculation about WEEI pursuing another Comcast SportsNet New England employee. Mary Paoletti, who helps Tom E. Curran with his New England Patriots' show "Quick Slants," is a bit soft-spoken for my tastes, but I find her witty, funny, and knowledgable. She wouldn't be my first choice, but wouldn't be a bad one.
Of course, if I can't hire any of those worthy women, I still need to find a spot for Lou Merloni-- the aforementioned rising star of WEEI. If the station truly feels he is the future face of the station, the time is now to pair him along with Michael Holley, who I view as WEEI's top host, against Felger and Mazz.
One last thing, "The Whiner Line" needs to survive in one fashion or another. There is no debating this.
John Ryder is perfect for this slot. He has the perfect voice and tone for lead-ins to games. He is the workhorse of the station, working pre-games, and then expertly fielding calls with instant reactions after them.
I've never been a big Mikey Adams fan. He does have his cult following, though. But if WEEI is to be taken seriously, Adams might have to go on the chopping block.
WEEI has some promising prospects. Scott Sudikoff and John Saucier currently do the sports flashes for the station. Both have personality and know their sports. I'd like to hear more of them. They just a need a little seasoning. They should be groomed slowly, starting out by giving them weekend shows.
The Sports Hub had Damon Amendolara in the same nighttime slot as Mikey Adams, and he has now moved on to a national show. I always considered Amendolara as the best talent on either Boston sports stations. His replacement, Adam Jones, is no slouch, either. It's an indication that 98.5 takes this time slot seriously. Maybe WEEI should as well.