Arrogance is a dangerous thing. Unwarranted arrogance can be deadly. WEEI may be learning that lesson a little too late.
The people at WEEI would be wise to familiarize themselves with the story of Icarus. In Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of Daedalus. Daedalus constructed a set of wings for Icarus to use to fly. The caveat was that Daedalus told Icarus not to fly too high because the heat of the sun could cause the wax that held the wings together to disintegrate. Icarus, feeling indestructible and relishing in the view from above, ignored the warnings and chose to fly higher. The result was the wax did melt, the wings did fall apart, and Icarus drowned to his death in the waters below.
For many years WEEI was flying high. WEEI was the dominant sports talk radio station, not only in Boston, but in the entire nation for over a decade. And they knew it. Radio station self-advertisements were rife with voice-over guys clinking their glasses, proclaiming "We're number one" while mocking any of their rival stations (which at the time there were none). They were good times.
Then along came 98.5 The Sports Hub. Again, WEEI didn't take them seriously.
Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti were ridiculed for giving up their guest spots on WEEI and landing their own afternoon show on the new station. Andy Gresh and Scott Zolak were in relative limbo after their former all-sports talk radio station failed in Rhode Island years before. They landed the midday show. The morning show went to guys named Toucher and Rich, two former rock music DJs who knew little about sports and who first met while working in an Atlanta radio station.
There were other defectors from WEEI in the early stages. Jon Wallach once did the "sports flashes" on WEEI but left to give the "Toucher and Rich Show" show semblance of sports competence. Sean McAdam was the go-to guy for any Red Sox related news, but he went to the rival start-up station. Producer James Stewart left the "Dale and Holley" midday show on WEEI to produce the more high profile "Felger and Mazz" afternoon show on the Sports Hub.
One of the unheralded strengths of The Sports Hub is their production value. Stewart does not get enough credit for helping the "Felger and Mazz Show" end the reign of WEEI's "The Big Show." His use of sound bites and effects are second to none in the industry. He is also one of the best at booking guests.
The Sports Hub debuted in 2009. In a matter of only four years, they have sent WEEI whirling out of the sky. Many high profile on-air talent have seen their roles either diminished or eliminated. Signs of trouble started in February 2011 when radio veteran Dale Arnold was relieved of his mid-day show duties. Ironically enough, that midday show was the only one that was still holding strong against its rival station. I disagreed with the move at the time and still do. For me, the "Dale and Holley" show was the best WEEI had to offer.
Two years later, in an even more stunning move, Glenn Ordway, host of the aforementioned "The Big Show," was let go. Ordway, a WEEI employee for twenty-six years, once signed a contract in 2009 that was set to pay him a million dollars per year. That was before the Sports Hub came along.
Through all the unsuccessful recent changes, the person responsible for most of them had survived. That was until recently. Jason Wolfe, the program director at WEEI through the very good times and the bad, was handed his pink slip in August. While Wolfe deserves much of the blame for the recent demise, none of us know how many of the decisions were handed down from above.
That question may have been answered this week with news that general manager Jeff Brown was leaving WEEI. Only a few select few know if he left voluntarily or was forced out the door. It appears evident Brown has some work to do on the people skills level. Pete Sheppard didn't sparse words in this interview regarding Brown (caution: strong language). Seems evident to me that Brown was behind the Ordway dismissal.
Shortly after Wolfe's departure came word that WEEI would no longer be carrying Boston Celtics games. The Sports Hub already carries the Boston Bruins and New England Patriots. The Bruins success the last few years has been one of the biggest reasons for The Sports Hub's rise to prominence as the station welcomed fans who felt, and rightfully so, neglected by WEEI.
So is this the end for WEEI? As a long-time listener, the notion feels incredulous, but it is a reality. According to this Boston Globe article, the station has been handcuffed by having "vastly overpaid" for a 10-year, $200 million deal for radio rights to broadcast Boston Red Sox games.
That would explain a lot. The disturbing trend-- not only in radio, but in many industries-- is "younger and cheaper." Heck, you see it in sports all the time. Look at the Patriots as an example.
Gone from WEEI are on-air talents Dale Arnold (in a diminished capacity), Ordway, Pete Sheppard, and Jon Rish. They've also lost producers James Stewart, Michael Berger, Stephen Ciaccio, and Jon Albanese.
Somehow, the morning duo of John Dennis and Gerry Callahan have survived-- at least for now. To see the difference between the two rival radio stations one needs to only listen to the "D&C Show" (and Kirk... why hasn't his name been added to the masthead?) for a single hour, if you can tolerate it. The dynamic between the three hosts proves to be an interesting microcosm of the plight of the two rival stations. Dennis and Callahan are "old school, pompous, arrogant" WEEI, while Minihane is "new school, contrarian, opinionated, up-and-coming" The Sports Hub. Dennis, in particular, will indignantly refer to Minihane as the "guy in the corner." He'll act as if Minihane isn't even there and will address most of his remarks to longtime partner Callahan. It's as if Dennis refuses to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Dennis is too arrogant to even entertain the thought that this "guy in the corner" will, in my opinion, some day take his job. He comes across as pathetic and a very, very, very small part of me feels sorry for Dennis.
What's happening at WEEI is the same thing that is happening in many other workplaces across the country. Poor business decisions from high above are taking a toll on the employees at lower levels. Employees are expected to work longer hours for lesser pay (see Jon Rish). That results in an unhappy work place environment (listen to any of Pete Sheppard's rants after he left WEEI). The end result, for the listener, is a vanilla product. And everyone knows no one wants just plain vanilla anymore.