Sports Radio Review- WEEI Boston

Welcome to the first of what will be many reviews of sports radio stations and their programs.  Before we get started you may want to check out my guidelines concerning reviewing sports radio stations as well as what I like about sports radio. 

I have always said that sports radio stations cater to a niche audience…you’re either a sports fan or you are not.  Unlike regular talk radio, rarely are there topics discussed that attract the masses.  Often sports radio ratings (12+) are at best in the middle of the pack of all stations in a market.  For some reason I guess the masses in the Boston market LOVE sports radio.

WEEI has been a ratings winner for it’s owner Entercom Communications.  WEEI is consistently in the top half of the ratings chart for the Boston market and was a close second in the overall ratings race last summer.  Their talk shows consistently are either number one or close behind in the key advertising demographics. 

So what makes WEEI so successful?  Being a resident of southern New England I listen to WEEI quite often.  There is no doubt that the level of sports fan interest in this area rivals or even surpasses the level of “fandamonium” in other parts of the country.  It also helps that two of their pro sports teams (Red Sox and Patriots) have been at the top or nearly at the top of their sports for some time.

Another benefit WEEI possesses is it’s wide coverage area, primarily through the use of affiliate stations in the Entercom chain.  WEEI programming is heard throughout the entire state of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as portions of northern and southeastern Connecticut.  The potential listener-ship of WEEI is indeed expansive.

This type of ratings success must, in part, also be attributable to its programming.  Entercom does own the rights to the play-by-play of the Red Sox and the Celtics, although in Boston games are carried by WEEI’s sister station, WRKO.  Entercom does use its WEEI affiliates across Massachusetts and Connecticut to carry these games.

The WEEI brand is more known for its sports talk shows.  It is one of the few sports radio stations in America that has a totally local line-up from 6am to 12am Monday through Friday.  They also have local programming for a good portion of the weekends as well.  I like that.  To its credit WEEI does not cheapen its programming by relying too much on syndication. 

The WEEI talk show line-up is loaded with knowledgeable and informative hosts, all with extensive media ties to the Boston market.  All this experience does not necessarily translate into great sports talk radio programming.    Boston sports media often find itself making news instead of reporting it.  Some of the hosts at WEEI feel that talking about sports is not enough.  At times their egos drive them away from what they should be doing…talking sports.

Dennis & Callahan (6am to 10am)- For much of his professional career in Boston John Dennis served as sports anchor at WHDH-TVGerry Callahan has been part of the Boston sports media scene on and off for over twenty years and is currently a sports columnist at the Boston Herald.  The pair has been on the air for nearly ten years.

If you were to tune into Dennis & Callahan at any given moment you may find them talking about anything else BUT sports.  For some reason they feel a need to stray from sports to talk about the latest news headlines.  The have a daily 15 minute segment where they often take a sarcastic look at the news.  Callahan especially uses this feature to espouse his conservative-leaning views.  I’m sorry but there are plenty of alternatives for listeners to get their news fix.  Sports radio is not supposed to be one of them.

Despite their straying, Dennis & Callahan do a credible job talking sports.  They handle guest interviews well.  Many of these interviews are, as others on the station, regularly scheduled paid appearances.  These interviews are usually sponsored.  This lends to the perception that the duo may not be as thorough as they could be in asking the tough questions.  Unlike other station programs, callers are generally well received and knowledgeable.

Sports flash guy Jon Meterparel handles the sports news well, but often sounds like a little kid when he interacts with D&C.  I compare it to someone who always tries to talk with the giggles.

Dale & Holley (10am to 2pm)- In my opinion the best talk show on WEEI. Dale Arnold is a native New Englander who began at WEEI when the station first launched in 1991.  He also serves as one of the television play-by-play voices of the Boston BruinsMichael Holley joined the show in 2005 after previous stints at the Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune.

This pair does a great job doing their job…focusing on talking about sports.  They do not make themselves the focus of the show.  When there is the usual personal banter, it never lasts long and never takes away from the sports topics of the day.  Their interviews are informative and enlightening and they interact well with listeners.  A truly professional program.

Mid-day flash guy Jon Wallach does an equally professional job providing sports news updates.  Not much more to say.  Dale & Holley epitomize what is good about sports talk radio.

The Big Show (2pm to 6pm)-  The highest rated program on WEEI is also sometimes its most disappointing.  Glenn Ordway brings a wealth of experience to the show he has hosted since 1995.  His greatest claim to fame (before WEEI) was as the radio voice of the Celtics.  He served as the last color analyst for Johnny Most and took over the play-by-play duties after Most’s retirement.

The Big Show employs a cadre of co-hosts, a pair of which sit in with Ordway each day.  They are a mixture of former players and members of the Boston sports media corps.  Pete Sheppard serves as both the show’s flash guy and daily participant.

Ordway is extremely knowledgeable about the Boston sports scene,  and many times this shows through.  In my opinion the problem with Ordway is that believes he must do more than just share his knowledge of sports with the listeners.  He feels the need to constantly interrupt both his co-hosts and callers, as if he is addicted to hearing himself.  The producers of the show also have no desire in credibly screening calls.  The show relies on the premise that callers who bring nothing to the table are the ones listeners want to hear most.  For the few callers who do make it on the air, Ordway often belittles them albeit subtly.  Intelligent callers need not pick up the phone.

Unfortunately the co-hosts on the show feel they must play along with the follies of Ordway, making the show at times unbearable.  The other problem with the show is that they rarely interview sports figures, save for those paid appearances.

Sheppard is portrayed as a loose cannon on the show.  But when he fills in as host when Ordway is on vacation, Sheppard does a good job in bringing the focus of discussion back to sports.

The powers at be at WEEI apparently feel there is no need to change the show because the ratings prove that what Ordway does makes money.  That’s fine.  It’s too bad that Ordway’s potential is not more on display during the show.  By taking away the petty antics, the Big Show can become a Bigger Deal to Boston sports fans.

Planet Mikey (7pm to 12am)- Mike Adams had been a semi-regular at the station for some time before given the chance to host his own show in December of 2005.  Adams joins Dennis as having experience in Boston sports television.

Adams has the difficult task of attracting a sports audience which, at the time of his show, is probably watching some sporting event.  By nature Adams is light-hearted, and he often falls into the Ordway model of taking the attention away from sports.  He relies heavily on callers, and, when focused, handles them well.  His ratings are solid, and I guess he can get away being a little kooky on the night shift.

Weekend Programming-  WEEI has local programming on the weekend, which is a big plus.  Even though it’s the weekend doesn’t mean people don’t want to talk sports.  To its credit WEEI gives listeners that option.  Craig Mustard & Larry Johnson (sorry, no link) have been filling much of the weekend programming line-up for some time and are a popular team.  They work well together and spend a good amount of time interacting with callers.

In conclusion, WEEI is a ratings winner for a number of reasons, many of which I don’t necessarily agree with.  Their hosts have the insight, knowledge, and potential to be really great, as long as personalities don’t get in the way.  Call me old school.  But I’ll continue listen…and hope.

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