Boston Magazine on WEEI

Some of you might’ve heard Gerry Callahan ripping on Boston Magazine last Friday morning just prior to the crossover. He ripped them for awarding “Best of” awards to companies that advertised in their magazine. He ripped them for not being able to get Bridget Moynahan to pose for a picture and instead putting a photo of a brunette named Gretchen Monahan on the cover. He claimed that the magazine was trying to trick readers into thinking that it was Tom Brady’s girlfriend. He made the statement about the time when the magazine “had some integrity, back when they didn’t just hire any clown off the street to write or to edit for them.”

It was a series of strong statements from Callahan, and the Brady/Moynahan stuff at least made it relevant to mention on the program. However, the entire rant was curious when you consider what Callahan DIDN’T mention.

The August issue of Boston Magazine features an article entitled “Loud Mouths” which is a story by John Wolfson about WEEI. I’m quoted a few times in the article, but my role is rather minor.

The article, which can be previewed online but is available in its full text only to subscribers, acknowledges the unprecedented ratings success that the station has enjoyed over the last few years. The nearly 3,500 word story also looks at the methods that the station has employed in order to attain these ratings, as well as the consequences for the participants.

One afternoon, during a break in The Big Show, Ordway explains his approach to me. “Exaggerate anything,” he says. “If a guy’s fat, he’s enormous.”

The article also brings out Glenn Ordway’s acting background and how he claims to have designed The Big Show to be a daily soap opera:

He had studied as a young man at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, the same school that produced Adrien Brody and Robert Redford. He graduated in 1972 and landed a small part in a Jack Lemmon film, and then an off-Broadway play that had a brief run; next came a couple of commercials and an appearance on General Hospital. He decided that The Big Show would follow the formula of a soap opera, treating its audience to over-the-top plot lines and recognizable characters with outsized personalities.

The personalities are certainly there, and they’re very clear cut. Everyone has their “role”, or has characteristics that are constantly referred to or brought up during the course of the program. Here’s my list of the personalities on the show and the “role” they play:

Pete Sheppard = Fan, gambling degenerate,
Larry Johnson = Ordway sycophant, moral arbitrator, voice of the fan
Butch Stearns = “Bullworth”, throwing things out there, rarely correct
Steve Burton = “The Empty Vest” – Sides with the players
Tony Massarotti = Evil Tony
Sean McAdam = The real “Mr. Baseball”, hates the NBA.
Fred Smerlas = Ex-football player, all things B.C. are good, Sasquatch
Steve DeOssie = Tough guy, ex-football player, Harley rider, oft-divorced
Wendi Nix = Screaming woman
Bill Burt = Village Idiot
Steve Buckley = Old Time Baseball Dude. Hair dye, and Boston historian.
Michael Felger = Contraraian, Hand creme user, Mr Underwood.

Please note that I’m not saying these terms define the people in their “real lives” but this is how they are portrayed on the Big Show.

The article gives a few examples of this soap opera mentality and how it is craftily used by Ordway and others at the station. I have a feeling this is a bit of revisionist history at work here. The show didn’t really go into full soap opera mode until after the Globe writers were no longer appearing on the program. I believe Ordway saw the talent he was left with, and decided they needed to change things up and create drama, since the many of the media personalities left were less than overwhelming. Program director Jason Wolfe is also quoted in the article about how the station has never considered toning things down. He says:

“Our goal across the board is to push the envelope,” he says. “If we didn’t do it that way, we would be going back to what we used to be, which was reading the box scores.”

I hope Dale Arnold and Michael Holley don’t find their jobs in jeopardy for refusing to be onboard with the “across the board” goal. It has seemed a few times that they’ve half-heartedly attempted to carry out this edict from above, but it doesn’t fit their personalities. The box score comment strikes me as incredibly condescending. Is that all there is to “real” sports talk? Another interesting quote comes from Butch Stearns:

“I just put an addition on my house,” he says. “My contract’s up in September. The only leverage I have is who wants me. My job is to get people to watch me. Being on this show obviously helps.”

His job is to get people to watch him? That explains a whole lot. It isn’t to accurately report sports, it’s to attract viewers. The article touches on the METCO incident involving Dennis and Callahan, which is perhaps the basis for Callahan’s scathing remarks about the writing and editing of the magazine. After all, if the WEEI article wasn’t in the magazine, do you think Gerry would’ve brought up Boston Magazine at all? I believe this paragraph is the sole reason for Callahan’s wrath:

In 1999 the Globe banned its staffers from appearing on The Big Show after one of its writers used an ethnic slur while referring to a Japanese pitcher. Two years later the paper pulled its staffers from WEEI’s morning program, too. Jack Thomas, then the Globe ombudsman, explained the decision in his column, writing that the paper realized “its sportswriters might do the newspaper, themselves, and common sense a favor by not appearing on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan show as puppets strung among jokes about big penises, fat naked fags, and the banging of Korean whores.” The paper caught plenty of criticism for the ban–after news columnist Eileen McNamara had a piece on the topic spiked, she appeared on Dennis & Callahan to blast the Globe for censorship–but its judgment was vindicated in 2003, when the morning hosts referred to a gorilla photographed at a bus stop after escaping from a zoo as a “Metco gorilla” that was “heading out to Lexington”–a reference to the program that buses minority students from Boston to the suburbs. The comments led to pulled advertising, condemnations from city leaders, and two-week suspensions for the hosts.

The point is made that the writers who appear on the show feel that the WEEI appearances rank above their newspaper jobs. Tony Massarotti even admits that he feels his job performance at the Herald suffers when he is appearing regularly on the station. Michael Felger seems frustrated that public perception of him is largely based on his WEEI appearances. However, none of them are willing to give up their slots. As the article concludes:

Whatever their private feelings about the content, there are writers–nine who’ll admit it for the record–who have made it clear to their papers that if appearing on WEEI is going to be a problem, well, the papers can find someone else to write for them. That never comes up, though. Boston belongs to WEEI these days. And ownership has its privileges.

I just wish that the nine writers were named…it does say that they admitted it “for the record”. Or is it a typo, meaning “none” would admit it?

Overall the article was mostly in admiration of WEEI and what they have accomplished. There’s no disputing the fact that what the station is doing is unprecedented in terms of a sports radio station. I agree with Dale Arnold however, who stated yesterday while leading off his show that the he realizes that the phenomenal ratings are not due to the talent of the hosts, but rather to the passion of the Boston fans. Arnold was probably the only host on the station would admit such a thing. The article makes it clear to WEEI listeners however, if they had any doubt, that the station is in the business of entertainment first, sports news and “reading the box scores” second. Don’t expect any changes as long as the ratings remain out of this world.

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