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One year ago Friday, Boston’s sports radio landscape changed as we know it.
For years, airwaves juggernaut WEEI dominated the sports radio scene. They were the only game in town, and when they weren’t, they squashed all challengers in a matter of months. Down went 1510 The Sports Zone. Down went 890 ESPN Boston. And down went 790 The Score in Providence. But back on Aug. 13, 2009, the “On Air” light went out at long time rock station WBCN in favor of a brand new sports radio station, WBZ-FM, otherwise known as 98.5 The Sports Hub.
The Sports Hub made their splash onto radios across the area the day of the Pats’ preseason opener, when Tom Brady made his return to the field after missing almost all of the 2008 season with a catastrophic knee injury. From there, the Hub took us through a very entertaining Patriots season and into the playoffs, where New England sadly fell on its face against Baltimore. 98.5 also was there to broadcast every Bruins game this past season, from the opener against Ovechkin and the Capitals to the bitter playoff defeat at the hands of the Flyers.
Beyond their broadcast rights to the Patriots and Bruins, The Sports Hub has provided sports-crazed radio listeners with a quality alternative for those that have grown tired of WEEI’s same old routine. 98.5 seems to cater to the younger side of the key “males 18 to 54″ demographic that every station covets, while WEEI’s hosts keep doing what they’re doing, which seems to hold the attention of the baby boomer generation and right-wing conservatives everywhere.
When you look at the ratings books for the area each month, you still see ‘EEI with a solid advantage in terms of numbers. But there’s no doubt that 98.5 The Sports Hub has made a significant dent into the WEEI powerhouse, more significantly than any other past challenger. With a bit more tinkering, it might not be long before the younger, more energetic Sports Hub reigns supreme in this town, over the old regime at WEEI.
And so now, with a full year under its belt, I would like to break down the Boston sports radio battle with a “Tale of the Tape,” pitting the two stations up against each other on a show by show basis. I’m going to share my opinions, and I encourage you to formulate and share your own as well.
Now I’ll start off by saying that when “Toucher & Rich” were on in the afternoons on WBCN, I actually listened to both of these shows… “D&C” in the morning and “T&R” in the afternoon. But now that they’re battling each other for a.m. supremacy, I lean towards Toucher & Rich. I think Dennis & Callahan do what they do well. But unfortunately, what they do is rant and rave about topics that seemingly have little to do with sports, more often than not. They are by all means opinionated, but they never seem to have an opinion that matches mine.
T&R on the other hand, while they admittedly don’t have as passionate a Boston sports feel as other shows (both T&R are not from the Boston area), what they lack in local sports fandom, they make up for in comedy and overall entertainment. Now do I expect Joe 50-Year-Old to be amused by “drunken Red Sox recaps,” “dating on demand,” “ask a pink hat,” or any of the other T&R routines? Mostly, no. But for the up-and-coming twenty-something sports fan, T&R is a slam dunk over D&C. The ratings may show D&C with still a comfortable advantage, but look for that to change as more and more young sports fans find their way to T&R in the morning.
How Andy Gresh and Scott Zolak still have jobs in radio is beyond me. They flopped as a pairing in Providence, yet The Sports Hub decides to bring them back, and into a bigger market, no less? Sorry, but you won’t find me in the “Gresh & Zo” corner at all. WEEI’s “Dale & Holley” is arguably the most intelligent sports talk show that WEEI has to offer. As an avid hockey fan, Dale Arnold’s expertise with all things Bruins is refreshing to listen to on a station that has long ignored the local hockey team, while Michael Holley is really the only youthful, modern flavor that WEEI has to offer in its stable of hosts. Granted, Gresh & Zo are above average when it comes to covering the Pats, but listening to Zolak talk about anything else is painful, and listening to Gresh’s voice at all is downright hazardous to your health.
No one’s act is more tired than “The Big Show’s” Glenn Ordway. Afternoons from 2-6pm, he moderates the daily shouting match that is “The Big Show,” where blowhards yell over each other, all while insulting callers who might have a different viewpoint than theirs. For a while, “The Whiner Line,” where callers leave what they hope to be comedic messages aimed at throwing digs at players or show hosts, was a new, fresh, entertaining idea. The gimmick is well past its prime though, as it trots out the same tired hacks who fail at bringing the laughs on a consistent basis. Couple all of that with the recent departure of “Big Show” favorite Pete “The Meat” Sheppard, and all signs point to “The Big Show”‘s time to shine coming to a quick end.
On the FM side of the dial, tuning into “Felger & Mazz” weekdays is a breath of fresh air I really didn’t think would go as well as it has. Sure, Michael Felger’s constant contrarianism can be tiresome at times. And sure, Mazz’s high-pitched voice will never compare to the sweet sounds of Bedtime Magic’s David Allen Boucher. But their show’s content blows “The Big Show” out of the water more often than not, with maybe the one exception being the Monday interviews with Bill Belichick on ‘EEI during football season. To add to that, 98.5′s “The Baseball Reporters,” hosted by Massarotti from 6-7pm, is far and away superior to the pregame festivities that WEEI trots out… no doubt about it.
This one really was very close to call, as I do see pros and cons for both shows. I don’t doubt that WEEI’s Mike Adams is wacky enough to entertain most middle-aged men. But as someone who happily hasn’t reached “middle-aged” status yet, give me a more energetic, younger, albeit geekier Damon Amendolara any night of the week. Now I will say that out of all the time slots that sports radio has to offer, I probably listen to the evening shows the least. What little I do hear during the week however, I usually give the nod to D.A. All that being said, I secretly pray every night before I go to bed that Damon Amendolara gets fired, and somehow, some way, 98.5′s hiring manager finds me and gives me the job. That really would be the dream job, at least in my mind. But for now, D.A. can keep my seat warm for me.
Even though I’m a bigger fan of the Pats & B’s than I am of the Sox or Celts, I have to tip my cap to the broadcast teams of WEEI over The Sports Hub. C’s play-by-play man Sean Grande could be the best radio man in the NBA. Basketball is a tough game to translate to radio, but he does it effortlessly, painting a clear picture of what’s happening on the court. Cedric Maxwell’s color commentary is an acquired taste that doesn’t appeal to everyone, but no one can say he doesn’t bring a high level of enthusiasm and his very own unique style to broadcasts. For the Sox, I’ve grown up a huge Joe Castiglione fan for years, and Dave O’Brien, like Grande, has to be regarded as one of the best in the sport.
Over on the Sports Hub, I have all the respect in the world for the solid job that Bruins broadcasters Dave Goucher and Bob Beers do, night in and night out. Unfortunately, and this might be a minority opinion, I can’t give the nod to 98.5 because of Patriots broadcasting “legends” Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti. Back in their primes, this duo hit the mark. But that “prime” was years ago. To me, they are unlistenable now. But, if them leaving means that the likes of Gary Tanguay, Andy Gresh, and/or Scott Zolak are next in line, Gil and Gino can take all the time they want before they retire.
So whether it be WEEI or The Sports Hub that tickles your fancy, listen on sports fans… this battle is only beginning to heat up.
Tags: Andy Gresh, Bob Beers, Cedric Maxwell, Dale & Holley, Dale Arnold, Damon Amendolara, Dave Goucher, Dave O'Brien, Dennis & Callahan, Felger & Mazz, Gary Tanguay, Gerry Callahan, Gil Santos, Gino Cappelletti, Glenn Ordway, Gresh & Zolak, Joe Castiglione, John Dennis, Michael Felger, Michael Holley, Mike Adams, Planet Mikey, Scott Zolak, Sean Grande, The Big Show, The Sports Hub, Tony Massarotti, Toucher & Rich, WEEI