Five Years Of 98.5 The SportsHub – How The Landscape Has Changed.

Five years ago, WEEI was still riding high. They had stomped attempts to challenge them in the forms of 1510 the Zone and ESPN590.

In February of that year, Chad Finn wrote a column for the Boston Globe OT that was eerily prescient in what it had to say about WEEI and its future.

Maybe the average Boston sports fan is less sophisticated than I want to believe. But I’m convinced that provided with an equal signal, some savvy program director could build what WEEI claims to be: the premier sports radio station in the country.

Then in July of 2009, it was announced that the new 98.5 The SportsHub would be starting up. WEEI had no reason to be concerned, and even issued statements saying they were prepared to beat this challenge as well.

Five years ago today, on August 13th, 2009, WBZ-FM, 98.5 The Sportshub came on the air. Everything changed that day. Unlike previous competitors, 98.5 had a strong, FM signal. They also had the Patriots and Bruins radio rights. This wasn’t static-filled AM radio with limited signal reach and lesser known talent.

The new station was competitive right away, and while WEEI tried to keep up their air of superiority (Who can forget Gerry Callahan telling Jessica Heslam when asked about Toucher and Rich that he had never heard of them and that ““I am speaking to you from under my desk right now because I am so scared”) but within two years 98.5 overtook them in the ratings, particularly on morning and afternoon drive, time slots which WEEI had dominated for 15 years.

WEEI then made a series of panic moves, none of which really panned out, including ditching the one show that was still winning its time slot – Dale and Holley – and replacing it with Mut and Merloni, which quickly fell behind Gresh and Zo in the ratings.

The station fired or reduced the roles of  the likes of  Pete Sheppard, Glenn Ordway, Jason Wolfe and Dale Arnold, while going through the disastrous Jeff Brown era. They changed management again, and have somewhat stabilized things finally, with Dennis and Callahan topping Toucher and Rich in this past month of July. (which doesn’t mean they’ll win the ratings period, but it is a start.)

Meanwhile 98.5 rolls on. Interestingly, they’ve enjoyed success, not on smart sports talk (for the most part) but on taking what WEEI did and bringing it to another level. The Felger and Mazz show and nightly Adam Jones show thrive on being incessantly critical of every single local team and player, and coming up with “sky is falling” scenarios on a daily basis. Listeners love it, as the ratings bear out.

What do the next five years bring in terms of sports talk radio in Boston? Does 98.5 fall into the same trap that WEEI did? Does another station give it a try? Does Glenn Ordway’s Big Show Unfiltered get picked up by terrestrial radio?

John Ryder Latest To Exit WEEI

John Ryder, who provided a nice dose of sanity and reason to the insane-ness that is the Mikey Adams Project tweeted the above this afternoon.

I would imagine that this could be tangentially related to the weekend news of the midday show ( the details of which Mike Mutnansky confirmed on the air) in that I can see WEEI moving Mutnansky into the roles that Ryder filled, specifically on Red Sox pregame duties. Whether he works with Adams at all remains to be seen.

Ryder was one of the solid personalities at the station, not prone to the hotsportztakes and adept at wielding off the drunken callers.

Mutton Lou No Longer, Fauria, Benz To Join Merloni Middays

Chad Finn had the story this weekend that WEEI is finally shaking up the midday program, reassigning Mike Mutnansky and bringing in Christian Fauria to join Lou Merloni, and adding 970 ESPN Pittsburgh host Tim Benz to the program as well.

According to Finn:

Benz will join the program — titled “Middays with MFB” — sometime later in the month after the Penguins complete their Stanley Cup playoff series with the Rangers.

Tim Benz

Tim Benz

I had heard the Fauria rumors and refused to believe them, thinking that 1) Fauria wouldn’t want a full-time role like this, and 2) that new management would be smart enough to see that the former Patriots tight end doesn’t bring a whole lot to the table other than his NFL experience.

As for Benz, he has ties here, as Finn notes:

He was born in Boston, and his father is Dr. Edward Benz Jr., the current president and CEO of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

We all know how well things went the last time the station brought in an out-of-town talent who had local ties here. Benz’s challenge will be to avoid being Mike Salk V2,

Benz was involved in a bit of controversy last year when he left his spot as morning host of The X Morning show.

Tim Benz leaves 105.9 The X Morning Show over gun control debate

Tim Benz Leaves X Morning Show – This link shows a Facebook post allegedly by Benz where he suggests that a drone strike targeted at the listener’s home would be “doing all of us a favor”

A change on the program was well overdue, and while it remains to be seen how well the new parts will work together, you can see some of the logic in how it was put together. In Merloni and Fauria you’ve got baseball and football covered with guys who have played locally and know how things operate and the unique environment that is Boston. In Benz you’ve got a guy who has covered the Steelers and Penguins and can be the host of the show, hopefully playing the strengths of Merloni and Fauria.

As for Mutnansky, it appears that he’s been Dale Arnold-ed. He’ll likely get some fill-in spots and weekend duty. I’m glad they didn’t fire him altogether, but it remains to be seen where his radio career goes from here.

Dale and Holley – Reunited on WEEI Afternoon Drive

dale-and-holley

What was old continues to be made new again in the world of sports radio. Just weeks after Glenn Ordway brought his old gang back together on the Big Show Unfiltered, WEEI is reuniting their old mid-day combination of Dale Arnold and Michael Holley, this time in Ordway’s old afternoon drive slot.

Chad Finn had reported back on March 20th that this could be a permanent move, and Arnold confirmed that yesterday.

It seems clear that after the Mike Salk experience, WEEI was hesitant to bring in someone from the outside, and instead went for the comfort factor of a show with proven chemistry. No, it isn’t the creative or bold move, but it’s something that will at least keep things calm and will give a nice alternative to the afternoon programming of Felger and Massarotti on 98.5. They’re probably not going to challenge, let alone beat F&M in this timeslot, but they’re going to hold their own and have a built-in loyal audience that is glad to see them back together. This also gives WEEI a chance to sit back a bit and plan what they want to do in the future.

I’m OK with the move. We’re spared further invasion of the Felger Youth, at least for the moment, and while Dale has his detractors (I’m not among them.) he knows and understands all the major sports, and with the Bruins set for another extended run, having his voice on the station gives WEEI something it has been sorely lacking during the last few years of the Bruins success.

Arnold deserves credit for being a “good soldier” and remaining loyal to the station despite being replaced rather unceremoniously  three years ago. He’s been rewarded with a position better than what he had when he left. I’m happy for him.

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A few notes from NESN:

Red Sox White House Visit Today at 11:15 AM

This morning at 11:15 AM, NESN will deliver live coverage of the Red Sox visit to the White House.

NESN.com will provide a live stream of NESN’s coverage at www.NESN.com/WhiteHouse

Behind the B

Tonight at 8:00 PM, Episode #12 of Behind the B will debut on NESN.

Red Sox Opening Day Rating up 17%

NESN’s Opening Day game rating was up 17% over last season’s opener with a 10.1 average household rating (24 Share) for yesterday’s 2-1 loss in Baltimore. Last year’s opening day game garnered an 8.6 HH rating for a 8-2 win over the New York Yankees in New York.

That was  Gary Striewski serving  as the game-day reporter yesterday. He’ll be on for the entire opening road series in Baltimore. Elle Duncan will serve in the same role for the home opening series against Milwaukee (April 4-6).

Entercom Boston Announces Phil Zachary As New VP/Market Manager

Just announced:

Boston – Today Entercom Boston announced that they had hired Phil Zachary as their new Vice President and Market Manager. The Entercom cluster in Boston includes WEEI-FM, ESPN on WEEI-AM, WAAF, WRKO and The Boston Red Sox Radio Network.

This represents a homecoming of sorts for Zachary, whose first paid radio job was as a part-time, on-air announcer at WAAF. Zachary, a 41-year radio veteran, is a Connecticut native and graduate of Holy Cross. He began his radio career in Worcester followed by stints in Providence and Boston. While in Boston, Zachary served as Operations Manager at the old WITS 1510. There his role included direct oversight of both Red Sox and Bruins play-by-play.

Zachary comes to Entercom from Curtis Media Group in Raleigh, N.C. There, he served as President and Chief Operating Officer, overseeing the company’s entire slate of radio stations, networks, digital and interactive divisions and print publications. Prior to joining Curtis Media in 2002, he was VP/Market Manager for CBS Radio in Washington, D.C. Zachary has held similar senior executive positions for HMW Communications and Voyager Communications in Raleigh and Clear Channel Media and Entertainment in New Orleans.

Entercom Station Group President Weezie Kramer said, “Phil is the right person at the right time for Entercom Boston. He is a leader and a listener. He understands the challenges we face but he also sees the tremendous opportunity we have. Phil believes in the strength of our brands, the dynamic nature of our content and the true potential of our team.”
“The only reason to leave a great job in radio is for one of the absolute best jobs in radio,” said new Entercom VP/Market Manager Phil Zachary. “Make no mistake—WAAF, WEEI and WRKO are not only some of the greatest call letters in Boston radio history, but some of the best brands in our industry. This amazing opportunity brings me back to my New England roots and the place I started my radio career. There are great challenges ahead, not to mention best of-class competition, but I look forward to it and can’t wait to get started.”

Zachary will begin at Entercom Boston on October 21st. In the meantime, the company announced they had retained the management consultant services of Joel Hollander to assist in the transition. Hollander is the former CEO of both Westwood One and CBS Radio. He will act as the Boston market manager until Zachary can start work full time.

Zachary is incredibly active in his community, volunteering his time and being part of organizations, including The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau Board of Directors, Wake Technical Community College Board of Trustees and the North Carolina Children’s Hospital Board of Visitors.

He has also been an advisor to the communication departments at Elon University, Appalachian State, High Point University and North Carolina State University. Zachary currently sits on the Board of Directors for the Radio Advertising Bureau, the radio industry’s national leadership and advocacy organization.

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WEEI, CSNNE Shaking Things Up

Things continue to be unsettled at WEEI, where Entercom Boston Vice President Jeff Brown departed yesterday for a similar position with Cumulus Media in Atlanta.

Brown and Entercom say that this decision to leave was Brown’s alone. I had heard last week that Brown was interviewing for a position in Atlanta. But sources inside WEEI and in the industry insist Brown’s exit was not of his own choosing.

Regardless, Brown’s exit has caused much joy within the halls of WEEI, where Brown was seemingly disliked intensely by many. Brown was the man behind the firing of Glenn Ordway in February, and of Jason Wolfe in August. He also brought in current afternoon host Mike Salk, a move that is still unpopular among some staffers there. The station has lost many of its top sales people

Chad Finn says that Entercom is expected to name a replacement today, a move that suggests they knew this was coming and had the replacement lined up.

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Comcast SportsNet New England announced their Celtics coverage plans for the upcoming season, and there are several major changes among the announcement.

Gary Tanguay will no longer be the studio host for the telecasts, Greg Dickerson is out as sideline reporter, and Donny Marshall will not return as studio analyst.

In their places will be Kyle Draper (studio host) Abby Chin (sideline reporter) and a rotating panel of studio analysts, not dissimilar to what NESN does on the Red Sox broadcasts.

Mike Gorman and Tom Heinsohn return on the game call for home games. On the road, Gorman will be joined by several different analysts over the course of the season, including Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge – an interesting arrangement, though not quite like having Red Auerbach in the broadcast booth. Others include Dave Cowens, Cedric Maxwell and Chris Herren.

Replacing Tanguay is a good move. His love for manufactured drama and outlandish statements just for attention are more suited for his Sports Tonight role. Donny Marshall had been viewed as a rising star with the network at one point, and perhaps may be on his way to a more national role somewhere. I feel worst for Dickerson, who battled health issues, but loved the game and his job and did it well.

Here is the full release:

COMCAST SPORTSNET TO TELEVISE EVERY CELTICS GAME

FOR FIRST TIME IN NETWORK HISTORY

Broadcast Duo Mike Gorman and Tommy Heinsohn Return for 33rd Season;

Dave Cowens, Cedric Maxwell, Danny Ainge and Chris Herren to Provide Road Color;

Kyle Draper and Abby Chin Join Telecast Team

CSNNE.com to Provide Social Media Experience Tailored for Celtics Fan and

the Most Online Video and News Reporting

BURLINGTON, MA – For the first time in network history, Comcast SportsNet will televise every single Boston Celtics game during the 2013-14 season. The Celtics regular season tips off on Wednesday, October 30, in Toronto with the debut of new Coach Brad Stevens in his first regular season NBA matchup.

Comcast SportsNet’s schedule is highlighted by now Brooklyn Nets’ Paul Pierce’s and Kevin Garnett’s first game against the Celtics in Brooklyn on Tuesday, December 10, as well as the pair’s first visit to the TD Garden on Sunday, January 26. The schedule features 90 total telecasts – eight preseason and 82 regular season games.

In addition to the Stevens debut and Nets matchups, Comcast SportsNet also has games against former coach Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, December 11, and Wednesday, January 8, among other highly anticipated games.

As part of every Celtics telecast, Coach Stevens will talk exclusively with Comcast SportsNet before the start of every third quarter and immediately after the game.

Comcast SportsNet’s first Celtics telecast will start with the preseason opener on Monday, October 7, which will mark the beginning of Brad Stevens’ tenure as coach and his TD Garden debut with the Celtics.

In addition to a full game schedule, Comcast SportsNet will return this season with an experienced team that features new talent. For the 33rd consecutive season, broadcast duo Mike Gorman (@celticsvoice) and Tommy Heinsohn (@CSNTommy) return as Comcast SportsNet’s primary telecast team. The tandem, the longest running telecast team in American sports and multiple Emmy winners, will call every Boston Celtics home game. This season, Celtics legends Dave Cowens and Cedric Maxwell; Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge; and Fall River native and former Celtic Chris Herren will join Gorman for road games.

Kyle Draper (@kylerdraper) and Abby Chin (@TVAbby) will join the Comcast SportsNet telecasts in 2013-14 as studio host and courtside reporter, respectively. Draper, who joined the network in 2008 as a Chevrolet SportsNet Central anchor, will host Celtics Pre-game Live presented by Ace Ticket, Halftime Live presented by McDonald’s, and Celtics Post-game Live presented by New England Ford. Chin joined Comcast SportsNet in 2013 as a reporter and anchor after serving as Comcast SportsNet Northwest studio host for the Portland Trailblazers from 2011-13 and will be courtside for every game.

Joining Draper in-studio will be Heinsohn, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, Cowens, former Providence College coach Tim Welsh and others.

“Mike is widely respected as the best in the business and absolutely no one is more passionate about the Celtics than Tommy. It is an honor to have them return for another season. Kyle and Abby are familiar faces to Boston sports fans through their work on SportsNet Central. They are exciting additions to our team,” said Bill Bridgen, Comcast SportsNet president and general manager.

Social media will be a big part of CSNNE.com’s coverage of the Celtics. The online home to Comcast SportsNet will feature Celtics Pulse, which is the best way to track all the in-game social media chatter on the Celtics, including Tweets from CSNNE.com Celtics Insider A. Sherrod Blakely (@sherrodbcsn), reporter Jessica Camerato (@jcameratoNBA), @CSNTommy and all Comcast SportsNet talent. Celtics fans can share their comments on Celtics Pulse by using #CelticsTalk. In addition to Celtics Pulse, CSNNE.com will feature all of Blakely’s and Camerato’s reporting plus video news coverage from Chevrolet SportsNet Central and UNOs Sports Tonight.

Can Curt Schilling End The Curse (of WEEI)?

The Boston Herald reported last night that the struggling sports station had talked to former Red Sox ace Curt Schilling about a regular role on the afternoon drive show of Salk and Holley.

Could Curt Schilling pitch in at WEEI?

Entercom Boston boss Jeff Brown is quoted as saying that no offer has been made, and that no changes are expected to the show.

While that might be true, it could be that the station is looking to cover its bases so to speak, by gauging the interest of Schilling in taking the job should Michael Holley decide he’s had enough of working with Mike Salk.

It doesn’t seem to be a secret that Holley would love to get out and jump over to ESPN. He appeared last week on his buddy Michael Smith’s show Numbers Never Lie, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind jumping into the spot opened by the recent firing of Hugh Douglas. Holley could slide in as the replacement. He’s got established chemistry with Smith.

If that were to happen, perhaps Schilling could be a good fit. It might work better for Salk, who worked with a former athlete very successfully in Seattle. Schilling could bring immediate credibility to the baseball talk on the show, and would put that show eons ahead of its competition on that subject in that timeslot.

Perhaps nothing will come of it, but it’s an intriguing idea.

The alternative, according to the Herald article is Joe Haggerty.

CSNNE, WEEI Unveil Patriots Coverage Plans

Both WEEI and CSNNE announced their plans for Patriots coverage this season. Both will have similar programming to years past, with a few minor changes.

Comcast SportsNet Announces 2013 Patriots Coverage

Some of the highlights of the CSNNE coverage are as follows:

  • Logan Mankins will appear in Postgame Live after every game (Wes Welker was the guest last season)
  • Troy Brown and Ty Law return to Patriots Wednesday Live (Brown only) and Pre/Postgame Live
  • Mike Flynn joins the rotation for Pre/Postgame Live

The same format of a two-hour pregame show along with a 90-minute postgame show will be used this season. New England Football Night returns on Thursdays with New England Tailgate at 7:00pm, Patriots Football Weekly at 7:30pm and Quick Slants in its new time at 8:00pm.

WEEI will once again offer Patriots Monday and Patriots Friday, along with NFL Sunday with Dale Arnold, Chris Price and Matt Chatham (and weekly call-ins from Tom E Curran.) and The Real Postgame Show with Butch Stearns, Steve DeOssie and Fred Smerlas.

Entercom Announces Hiring of Kevin Graham as WEEI “Brand Manager”

Here is the release from Entercom:

Entercom Announces Kevin Graham to Lead WEEI as New Brand Manager

Graham Will Direct Entire WEEI Ecosystem from On-air, Online, Mobile, Red Sox Play-by-Play, and the WEEI Regional Sports Network

BOSTON, MA – Entercom Boston announced today that it has hired Kevin Graham to lead WEEI as their new Brand Manager. Graham comes to WEEI from 1320 KFAN in Salt Lake City, where he served as Program Director and afternoon drive co-host. Graham will begin work at WEEI in early September.

One of the original architects of 1320 KFAN, Kevin Graham went on to a successful programming career assembling and building sports stations in Columbus, Pittsburgh, ESPN Radio New York City, Detroit and Salt Lake City. He returned to KFAN again in 2012 to re-launch the station serving as Program Director and host of the Gunther and Graham afternoon show. Graham also has extensive experience in the digital sports arena assisting in building ArizonaSports.com in Phoenix and as the Founder/Editor of SportsMashup.com.

“WEEI is more than a radio station; it is an entire sports ecosystem. From our on-air talent to Red Sox play-by-play to WEEI.com, where we had 1.4 million unique visitors just last month, WEEI is a more complete sports brand than ever before,” said Entercom General Manager Jeff Brown. “We are thrilled to announce today that Kevin Graham will lead WEEI as our new Brand Manager. His background both in front of and behind the mic, along with his years of digital sports experience made him the best choice to lead WEEI. Kevin will bring a fresh perspective to the entire WEEI team and our complete package of digital sports assets.”

“I am honored and excited to join the WEEI team. WEEI is one of the most recognizable and powerful sports radio brands in the country,” said WEEI Brand Manager Kevin Graham. “With great resources, amazing talent, and one of the best digital brands in sports, the sky is the limit. I can’t wait to get started, especially with the Red Sox in the midst of such a great season.”

OK then. We’ll see if Graham can save the WEEI “ecosystem.”