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The January Arbitron numbers were published last week by Chad Finn of the Boston Globe and once again, 98.5 The Sports Hub came out the big winner.
This is technically the “winter book” of ratings and the primary sports topic during this time was the New England Patriots. Both WEEI and the Sports Hub benefited greatly from an elongated Patriot run all the way into early February. The conventional wisdom would suggest that the Sports Hub, being the Patriot’s broadcast network, would outperform WEEI, which it did. However, the results from this ratings book were just more of what we have seen for the last year.
Remember WEEI still has “Patriots Monday” and “Patriots Friday” and numerous interviews with Patriot personnel including Tom Brady, Vince Wilfolk and Bill Belichick. So, they are not at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting Patriot players and personnel to their airwaves.
As mentioned above, share numbers were up across the board. Toucher and Rich achieved a 12.0 share to Dennis and Callahan’s 8.6 share. T&R were up from a 10.8 share, while D&C rose 0.7 from their previous 7.9 share.
The bottom line here is that in the age of iPods’s, SIRIUS satellite radio and internet radio, it’s hard to gain market share. Toucher & Rich appeal to a much wider audience. They are the closest thing to a Howard Stern type show that this market has seen in years. Although, I want to make it clear they are not in the same conversation of Stern, but like Howard, they can appeal to 18 to 54 demographics. During the Patriots run they were highly entertaining with a combination of radio comedy, sports talk and Rob Gronkowski.
Dennis and Callahan have been better in the last six months than they were in the last three years. The political talk, which was so divisive, is gone, as is the annoying “Headlines” segment during drive time. Their Patriot discussion was generally solid all season, as were their guests. That being said, D&C are going to have accept their place behind Toucher and Rich.
Toucher and Rich will continue to gain new audience because they continue to swallow up the 18-34 demo. Dennis and Callahan’s audience is older and their appeal to youngsters just isn’t there. WEEI could make a bold move some day and try to get younger in this time slot, but the rating number is solid and because of that they will have bargaining power in future negotiations, which keeps the cost of the show down. The battle between these two shows is over, regardless of season.
I have stated my opinions on both these shows in the past, but for any new readers, I am not big fan of either show. Andy Gresh, to me, still is the most overrated guy in local radio and Mut and Merloni are just not appointment radio. Gresh and Zo saw their share go from a 9.9 to an exceptional 11.8 share, while Mut & Merloni’s rating showed an almost negligible increase from 5.9 to 6.0 share.
The Patriots success was a boom for Gresh and Zo, as their show was almost exclusive Patriot talk. Now, I found a majority of the talk just too mechanical to be interesting. It seemed to me at least, Gresh and Zolak like to show off the fact that they played football while most people don’t really care about who can recite the most plays from their college or pro playbook. I still feel the show benefits most from being sandwiched between Toucher and Rich and Felger and Mazz.
The lack of any bounce from Mut and Merloni is of no surprise. Gresh and Zo work on the Patriot telecasts, while the M&M boys are just too associated with baseball. That’s Merloni’s comfort zone and that’s his appeal. The next ratings book should be interesting because the talk has turned from football to almost exclusively baseball. This is where Gresh and Zo fall out of their element, but most likely there will be enough football discussion with the draft and free agency to keep their ratings solid.
If the numbers do not change during baseball season, then management at WEEI most likely will re-tool the midday show. Unlike the morning show, the differences between the tandems is not about contrasting demographics, its about appeal, and while M&M do not have the favorable lead off show, they should not be beaten so handily.
Station manager Jason Wolfe took a chance splitting up Dale and Holley, and it has not paid off for him.
Felger and Mazz, the crown jewel of the Sports Hub, actually had the lowest radio share of the three shows. They did see their rating share rise from a 10.7 to 11.0 share. They also began simulcasting their radio show on Comcast Sports Net, which has raised their profile even higher. The “Big Show” with Ordway and Holley had a slight uptick from a 7.0 to 7.3 share. The chemistry between the two is better, but Michael Holley will not be enough to overcome this wide a margin.
I considered Felger’s show a breath of fresh air when it first debuted a couple years ago. I wasn’t at all surprised that he overcame Ordway, whose arrogance had created a stale show with little appeal to new listeners.
However, I have never been a fan of Felger’s pairing with Tony Massarotti. The show is less of a back and forth and more of a Carson show format with Mazz playing the part of Ed McMahon. “You’re right Mike” could replace “You are correct sir” as the catch phrase in local radio. It’s because of that lack of a dissenting opinion that Felger has fully transformed from talk show host to character assassin.
The ratings don’t seem to show it, but for the last six months it’s “Texas tough guy,” attacks on Kevin Garnett’s season and legacy, Rajon Rondo is an “a-hole,” shots at Tim Wakefield, “Cap is Crap” and until December, a steady shots at “Patriot Nation.”
I think Felger really came off like an ignorant, condescending political talk show host when he attacked Jason Varitek “as he was retiring” and then hid behind his pathetic comments by saying, “I’m a talk show host.” Does being a talk show host mean we no longer have to any standards of integrity? Is it all just what your ratings say and not what you say?
Felger’s rise is ironic because he was able to get where he is because his competition had become arrogant and lost touch with Boston sports fans. Felger is repeating those same mistakes, albeit it in different ways. He complains about the callers, the fans themselves, and seems to take any opinion he has as “Fact, not opinion.” He carries that from the radio to Comcast and very few outside of CSNNE’s Tom Curran even challenge him on his over-the-top opinions. It makes perfect sense: Felger’s radio and TV shows have the high viewership and the guests are media personalities who need the appearance fees and air time.
I would like to see this fall in quality reflected in the ratings. I think it might return Felger to what made him interesting, which was diverse talk and opinions that while contrarian, were thought-provoking. I am just one opinion on this issue; the people are the true voice. Right now, it’s a steady stream of personal attacks and overstated opinions, but if viewers don’t have problem with it, then I don’t see the gap between these two afternoon shows narrowing anytime soon.
This ratings book result was more of the same for WEEI. The biggest reason it’s not going to change anytime soon is money. The “Sports Hub” is owned by the CBS Corporation, who has a stock price in the 30’s and a market capitalization close to $20 billion.
Entercom, who owns WEEI, has really struggled the last few years. They have a stock price just below $7 a share, and lost almost a half billion dollars last year. Bottom line, they don’t have the resources to attract the talent or broadcast rights (i.e. Patriots) to compete with the Sports Hub. So, for the near future, they are just going to have accept being number 2.
This is leanest time of the year for sports talk. You have Red Sox training camp, NFL offseason and the dog days of the NBA and NHL seasons. Locally, the hosts all seem to take pride in ignoring March Madness, so I don’t expect any serious talk until April. The hosts are going to have to drive the conversation for the next couple months because the sports are on cruise control until the NBA and NHL playoffs and MLB’s opening day.
I am wondering though if future columns on these media wars just become white noise because this war is pretty much over.