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Boston Sports Radio Fall Ratings: WEEI Strikes Back, But Still Lagging

WEEI vs. 98.5 The Sports Hub

The Arbitron ratings for the “Fall Book” came out last week and as Chad Finn of the Boston Globe reported, it was another victory for 98.5 the Sports Hub. However, it was the first ratings period in which WEEI was broadcasting under their new FM signal, 93.7 as well as 850 AM, and the upgrade helped.

The ratings period covered Oct. 15 through Dec. 7 among men 25-54, and both stations had plenty of sports topics to discuss. There was three months of Patriot football, usually the #1 topic of the late-fall season, but the Red Sox shared time with “Chicken and Beer” incidents and what will always be remembered as part of the collapse of 2011. Throw in the departures of Terry and Theo and the promotion of Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine taking the manager reins and you had quite a soap opera. The capper had to be John Henry’s ill-advised appearance on the Sports Hub, which was a ratings bonanza for the network for a good two weeks. And they were the first tell you that.

So let’s look behind the numbers for some more perspective.

Morning drive (6-10 a.m.)

Toucher & Rich (Sports Hub) vs. Dennis & Callahan (WEEI)

Toucher and Rich remained in first with a (10.8) share, up slightly from their (10.3) summer number. Dennis and Callahan, broadcasting for the first time on FM in Boston, moved up from 5th at (5.8) to 3rd at (7.9).

The biggest shocker is that Karlson and McKenzie of WZLX was second at (10.4). I mean, are you kidding me? What guys were listening to that show? Please tell me you turned it off when the music wasn’t playing. Was it George Constanza that said “we are not men”?

As for the matchup, I am not surprised by the numbers. I have always said Toucher and Rich is not a sports show, it’s a comedy show with occasional sports discussion and interviews. It’s more WAAF and less WEEI. How much Adolpho can we really take as serious discussion? The fact that Fred Toucher is a Jets fan I think is a turn-off to many Patriots fans but, despite that, they solidly take in the under 40 demographic, I have no true data on that, I just know from talking to a sample size around the office. But, the number from the summer showed a huge advantage in the 18-34 demo for the Sports Hub.

As for D&C, well, they refuse to change their spots. You can respect it or hate it. John Dennis is still arrogant and now tweeting. Callahan, a superb writer, still obsesses on certain topics and takes a predictable stance on controversial issues. If you listen to the show, you know what I am talking about. If you do not, it’s the current social issues and his personal politics. D&C talked the Sandusky issue to death, and as much as I thought it was an issue worthy of more than one day of discussion, it’s not something people wanted to hear discussed for weeks.

They still have some of the best on-air talent for interviews, with Boomer Esiason, Tom Brady, Mike Lombardi and the always entertaining Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald. Jon Meterparel is still the flash guy, and at this point he’s not much more than white noise.

The winter rating period will be highlighted by the Patriot playoff season, NFL Playoffs, Bruins and Celtics regular seasons. I expect the Patriot discussion to trend more toward D&C’s airwaves for fans looking for content, not comedy. But, when the NFL season concludes, I expect the Bruin diehards and young demos to continue favoring Toucher and Rich in the ratings book. The question remains: will WEEI ever try to go younger to recapture #1? Or at least to beat Karlson and McKenzie? Sorry, this still bothers me.

Middays (10 a.m -2 p.m.)

Gresh & Zolak vs Mut & Merloni

Since the onset of the media wars between the Sports Hub and WEEI, this has always been the most intriguing, perplexing and interesting matchup. Originally when the Sports Hub debuted, it was Tanguay and Zolak against the stable and consistent Dale and Holley. But, when Tanguay was shown the door, (HE’S GONE!) and replaced with Andy Gresh, the Sports Hub started to show life in this time period. WEEI was already countering audience loss to the Sports Hub and was shaking up almost everything after 10AM. They jettisoned long time host Dale Arnold to fill in duty, moved Michael Holley to the Big Show and brought in Big Show guest Lou Merloni and weekend host Mike Mutnansky together to headline “Mut and Merloni.”

First the numbers: “Gresh and Zo’s” ratings went up from (9.5) to (9.9), but finished second to Carter Alan at WZLX. Carter Alan, now that is someone worth listening to for the WZLX lovers in midday. Mut and Merloni had a monster comeback in the winter ratings, but they had no place to go but up. What looked to be a complete disaster as they were a distant 13th place with (3.1) rating is now looking much better with a third place finish at (5.9).

Like Ryan Hadfield, who has commented on these shows as well, I share a disdain for Andy Gresh. I have written this all before but, from my side, I find him arrogant, dismissive, ignorant (that means uninformed, Andy), untalented and generally obnoxious. I know that seems harsh, but this is someone who generally seems not to like the audience he’s speaking to. And yet, they reward him with a (9.9) rating? He had a monologue show at Sirius and that’s really where he belongs. He doesn’t want to hear dissenting opinion; he just wants to talk and tell you why he’s so smart. Gresh and Zo are a little like the show that follows “Modern Family,” it’s going to rate well because where it falls in the lineup. But, as I have said before, you could replace Gresh with almost anyone, except the always boring Gary Tanguay, and deliver similar numbers.

As for Mut and Merloni, it was a good comeback, and it’s an improving show, but I just can’t get over the fact they can’t draw more audience than Gresh and Zolak. I would not renew these contracts if I were the brass at WEEI, and while I like Lou, I just think his talents lies strictly with hardball.

Afternoon Drive (2 p.m. – 6 p.m.)

Felger & Mazz vs. The Big Show – Ordway & Holley

This is always the marquee matchup on the scorecard. I predicted a long time ago that Ordway’s dominance was coming to an end. WEEI reacted slowly to the Sports Hub’s rise and then after the ratings tanked they brought Holley together with Ordway and the two have had chemistry issues early on.

Felger and Mazz’s ratings continue to improve as they went from a (9.3) to (10.7) and stayed in first in their time slot. The Big Show moved up from 7th to 3rd with a (7.0) rating. The FM signal probably benefited this show as much as any other on the network. This is a matchup to watch over the next year or so. First, Ordway as reported once again by Chad Finn, has already taken a $500,000 pay cut. That move right there is Ordway admitting that he is going to have to make sacrifices to stay in the big chair. Second, while the chemistry is better between Holley and Ordway it is becoming more and more clear that Holley is the star of the show. Can Ordway ever be comfortable as the second banana or will WEEI seek another partner for Holley? Watching Felger and Holley on Sports Tonight, this week it’s clear, they would make a great radio tandem, but that’s not even on the landscape at this point.

Here is the opportunity as I see it. Felger and Mazz have adopted the same arrogance that we saw with the Big Show over the last 10 years. They have their CSNNE Simulcast everyday which has no doubt fed that animal. But, it’s more than that. I have never liked Mazz sitting in the 2nd chair. Once again, as I said with Gresh, you could pair Felger with just about anyone and the ratings would be similar. I like negativity as much as anyone, but Massarotti wants it to define him as a radio host. His commentary is a constant attack on the Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics. Not surprisingly, though, is that he stays away from the Bruins. The Sports Hub is the flagship station of the Boston Bruins and the Bruins did win a little something called the Stanley Cup. As Bruce Allen, of, has written many times, Tony’s analysis could be summed up in a few phrases, “He sucks, they suck, you suck.” It’s boring and immature, I mean wasn’t Tony a writer at one point? Isn’t he still?

Felger enjoys Tony’s diatribes as if he’s an amusing late night sidekick, very rarely taking him to task to improve the show. That’s because they think the show is running fine. That is always a mistake. I hearken back to the days of Smerlas and DeOssie talking down any Patriots callers who had the temerity to criticize. If you want to listen to any objective discussion, this is not the place. Actually right now, there are few places, the whole Boston media is so busy trying to define themselves as homers and non-homers it’s hard to fine any steady ground. (But, Mike Reiss is as good as anyone.)
On Felger and Mazz, the volume of calls has declined dramatically, making it more like a monologue show than anything else.

Felger is a column for another time. I admire his climb to the top of the Boston sports media scene, but I still am somewhat perplexed by it. He’s not the most articulate, informed or unbiased guy in the world. He’s a free thinker and that has its perks, but lately it seems he lost the effort he used to put in to challenging others in the media circles. He does have some charisma, but he can be grating at times, and I hear it more often. There is opportunity here for WEEI because despite the opinion that Boston is a town built on negativity, we enjoy winners and we like some credit for teams when they win. One more point on Felger for now, let’s see how things continue to progress for him if the Celtics buy 20% of CSNNE. Will they still allow a personality to openly state how much he hates their product? This is something to monitor closely in the coming months.

For some reason, the Big Show still keeps the always annoying and distracting Mikey Adams on as a part-time host. The quicker they move away from him, the better. While negative sports talk on the Sports Hub has been distracting, I still find WEEI too Patriot and Red Sox friendly and not objective enough. I wonder sometimes if these shows are trying to be Fox News and MSNBC, polar opposites if you will. Fans want objective analysis, they want tough questions for Bill Belichick, and they want a positive to be a positive. So, if I am WEEI, I try to engage the fan more and the independents, they offer the most audience gain.

At some point they need to make a decision if Ordway is still the guy.

Evenings (6 p.m -11 p.m.)

Damon Amendolara vs Mike Adams or the DA Show vs Planet Mikey

DA has come from way behind to take third place ahead of Adams in this time slot with a (7.0) to Adams (6.5) rating. In the summer when Adams had Red Sox telecasts, he was ahead.

Outside of night workers and people driving around at night, they are both gimmick shows. People usually listen at night to hear hockey, baseball and basketball games. Not having the Celtics until now has hurt Adams. Both shows are always trying to attract audiences using attractive women, poll questions or controversial banter. DA is completely in love with his own voice, he’s 32, and often that is clear because his knowledge is limited to fairly recent sports history.

I seldom listen to either show for longer than ten minutes at a time unless I am out driving a long distance at night. I expect the numbers for both shows to stay consistently close, but I like to call this a competition between arrogance and silliness.

Final Thoughts

The Patriots were the interesting story to me over this period. It’s the most divisive topic on the radio and that will continue. I have written, tweeted and blogged many times how disappointed I have been with Bill Belichick’s offseason moves, which I believe resulted in a dearth of talent on the defense, which in the end will cost them a Super Bowl. But, I find another 13-3 regular season truly remarkable, and I hope I am 100% wrong. We have been spoiled here for some time and we MUST acknowledge true greatness like we have seen with Tom Brady this past decade.

So, the battle for the narrative continues, but remember, it’s the listening audience that can dictate what type of narrative we want on our airwaves.

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5 comments for “Boston Sports Radio Fall Ratings: WEEI Strikes Back, But Still Lagging”

  1. I mostly agree though I have 2 slightly differing opinions:

    1) I attribute Felger’s decline more to Mazz than arrogance with success. Felger is at his best when constantly challenged, as evidenced when he works with Holley on CSNNE. If Felger was paired with some like Tom E. Curran or “Sunshine” Paul Perrillo I think the show would improve immensely. I agree that Holley is the optimal partner but think that is a pipe dream.

    2) I significantly prefer DA over Mikey. Both shows are gimmicky but my perception is that DA actually puts a concentrated effort into his show whereas Planet Mikey is completely bereft of informative opinions and effort behind its content.

    Posted by Dan | January 6, 2012, 1:01 pm
  2. My main problem with Mikey is not really the silliness. He has the inverse problem that George described for DA. He has no grasp of sports outside of old timey Boston teams. He clearly does not keep up with current sports events.

    Posted by Phil | January 6, 2012, 3:21 pm
  3. I agree that arrogance has played a role on Felger & Mazz. The show has declined the less they take callers, but I try on EEI at that time and find it disjointed and low quality. Felger & Mazz should take a little bit of the charm of Fred and show some humility. I personally cannot stand Mikey and find DA decent, Mother Ship does provide some smart discussion now and then at least.

    Posted by Radiofan | January 8, 2012, 7:36 pm
  4. Completely agree w/ Dan – Felger needs somebody else to challenge him more aggressively. He’s very good when he’s very good but he clearly sometimes takes “contrarian controversial” positions whether he really believes them or not as a buzz strategy like a shock jock just to stimulate angry callers. He needs somebody to call him out on that stuff and Curran or Perrillo (and Beetle sometimes) do this well. Mazz is far too much of a pandering subservient sidekick.

    EEI management are clearly idiots on the other hand so the competition isn’t really too challenging yet. The way they completely abandoned the afternoon show format when they tanked for a copy-cat “2 co-host” model was idiotic. Especially when the Ordway/Holley chemistry obviously sucked. Sometimes the disdain between them was palpable (actually pretty amusing at times). What made the EEI afternoon show unique and interesting all along was the regular rotation of writers/athletes/media-figures in the guest co-host slots. Fully agree sometimes those guys would be arrogant and the show needed some shakeup and for their arrogance to be challenged, but the way to respond to competition isn’t to abandon everything that makes you successful and try to blindly copy your new competition. You can see they realized this as they’ve gone back to bringing the jocks and writers in for partial shows, but the damage was done already. Hey, Wolfe: Lesson 1 – don’t wait until you are on death’s door to take action, Lesson 2 – when you do take action, be a heck of a lot smarter than just “uh better copy what they are doing”.

    But it is great to see D&C’s hatefest in the tank. Can’t wait until it comes around to contract renewal time for those guys and see if one or both of them finally gets bounced… I don’t care what your politics are, nobody needs every sports and news story to be twisted into a ranting condemnation of Obama and liberal politics. Not why we listen to sports radio, idiots.

    Posted by dumbcucumber | January 12, 2012, 9:59 am
  5. It feels like you were channeling me while reading your piece on Boston sports talk radio. I absolutely loathe Andy Gresh and have since he was on in Rhode Island. Every adjective you used to describe him was spot on. He can’t be fired fast enough for me. My feelings for Toucher and Rich, while not as harsh, aren’t far away. Are you sure their demo isn’t 12-18yr old boys? I find them boorish and beyond childish. I didn’t know Ordway took that much of a financial hit…He has clearly seen his best days pass him by. I find Felger both annoying and extremely entertaining at times… Mazz, not so much..His grating voice and constant negativity have become old very fast..

    Posted by Kevin | October 25, 2012, 4:24 pm

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