(Originally published in the Northeastern University alumni magazine)

Getting a handle on Eddie Andelman

BY DAN KENNEDY

It’s a few minutes before airtime, and Eddie
Andelman, MBA’62, is going over some final instructions with one of his
producers.

“You got any of that holy music?” Andelman asks. The producer
replies in the affirmative. Andelman runs down the list. A burst of “The
Hallelujah Chorus”? Check. Hank Williams singing “Jambalaya”?
Check.

Just before noon, Andelman slips into the broadcast booth. He’s doing
The A Team, the weekday noon-to-three p.m. show on WEEI Radio (AM 850),
alone today: his partner, Dale Arnold, is off, and Boston Herald sportswriter
Kevin Mannix, who’d been scheduled, is away on personal business. Not that
it matters much to Andelman. In a few weeks the New England Patriots will
be playing in the Super Bowl, and Andelman’s on a roll.

Up comes the “holy music.” Andelman, standing, headphones
on, Diet Pepsi off to the side, leans into the microphone and offers a
heartfelt invocation in his trademark nasal, working-class Boston accent.

“Do you honestly believe that the next four weeks are going to
be among the best of your sports life?” he asks, stretching out “believe”
so that it encompasses four syllables. The music swells. “Do you believe?”
He’s smiling now, a naughty boy’s gap-toothed grin stretching across his
face. “Put your hay-ands on the radio.”

Whatever observations you could make about this performance, the first
that might come to mind is: it worked. Following a dismal season in which
they utterly failed to build on the progress they’d made the year before,
the 1996­-97 Patriots completely reversed direction and went all the
way to the Super Bowl. And one of the first true believers was Eddie Andelman,
who began the season uttering “jambalaya” as a code word/good-luck
charm and ended it on the “Jambalaya Crusade,” a week-long Winnebago
tour to New Orleans.

Never mind that Andelman’s mojo stopped working once the Patriots stepped
onto the plastic turf of the Superdome. It was a hell of a season-and the
perfect capstone to the sixtyish (he won’t reveal his exact age) Andelman’s
broadcast career.

Oops. Did I say “career”? It’s a word that makes Andelman
quietly bristle. For he is, in fact, very different from the persona he
projects on the air.

Eddie is a leather-lunged wise guy, crude and funny, the sort of fellow
you might enjoy getting into a barroom argument with over whether John
McNamara was a worse manager than Darrell Johnson or whether Cedric Maxwell
was a better big-game player than Jo Jo White.

Edward George Andelman is a highly successful businessman who’s made
several fortunes in real estate and insurance, who does a lot of charity
work, and who credits Northeastern University with starting him on the
road to success.

“To this day broadcasting’s never really been my career,”
says Andelman, who’s surprisingly thoughtful and soft-spoken when not in
front of a microphone. “It’s taken up a lot of my time. But it really
has not been what I would consider my career. Business has been my main
career. I’ve never seen myself on television, I’ve never listened to myself
on the radio. Never. I’m not an actor. I do what I do.”

What Andelman has done, quite simply, was to invent sports radio.

It was 1969. Andelman and two of his buddies, insurance exec Jim McCarthy
and lawyer Mark Witkin, were drinking at Patten’s, a bar in downtown Boston,
and doing what they were always doing: arguing about sports. As the oft-repeated
legend has it, a radio executive heard them and suggested they take their
act onto the airwaves. Sports Huddle debuted that summer on tiny WUNR,
and made such a splash that it moved in 1970 to the big time, WBZ, which
reaches a good portion of the eastern United States. (It moved around several
more times, finally ending up on WEEI when that station switched to an
all-sports format several years ago.)

Their show, broadcast Sunday evenings, was a revelation. Sports Huddle
hit the air at a time of enormous social upheaval, and the antics of Andelman
et al. probably caused more jaws to drop than, say, Howard Stern’s do today,
although in retrospect Sports Huddle seems rather tame. The anti-authority
atmosphere of the 1960s had come to sports. In 1970, Jim Bouton’s Ball
Four, his scatological, scathingly funny memoir of his season with the
Seattle Pilots, was a bestseller, forever changing attitudes toward the
guys once known as “sports heroes.” Sports Huddle rode the wave.

Though all three hosts were glib and knowledgeable, Andelman was the
standout. “I think that he was probably one of the best in the business.
He was a very witty guy,” says McCarthy, who continues doing the now-Andelman-less Huddle with Witkin on Sunday evenings. “We spoke as many people thought.
We had the opportunity to vent our feelings on the air, and I think in
many cases people agreed with us.”

Northeastern sociologist Jack Levin, a sports fan who is a student of
talk radio-both as a frequent guest and as an avid listener-was among the
regular Sports Huddle devotees during its early years. “It fit beautifully
within the culture of the ’70s,” Levin says. “Sports heroes had
clay feet, but so did politicians. The irreverence of the show was derived
from the spirit of the times. But it wasn’t just the sports. A lot of their
talk wasn’t even about sports. It was kind of like the working-class version
of an encounter group, where people could express themselves and share
together this interest in something that made them feel good and brought
them closer together.”

I, too, was a Sports Huddle fan in the early ’70s. Once I actually summoned
up the nerve to phone in. My mission: to suggest some ridiculous trade
the Red Sox should make. I was convinced the Detroit Tigers were so eager
for the services of now-obscure outfielder Joe Lahoud that they’d give
up Denny McLain (who’d won thirty-one games just two years earlier) to
get him. Andelman politely got me off the line, not wanting to subject
a kid to the same mocking treatment that he was famous for administering
to beer-fortified adult callers with similarly stupid ideas.

And that wasn’t all. As a publicity stunt, Sports Huddle brought over
from England a placekicker, dubbed “Super Foot,” to revive the
Patriots’ fortunes. (He actually made the team.) Andelman tracked down
Vicente Romo, a pitcher who’d disappeared from the Red Sox in midseason,
in a Mexican barroom. Another time Andelman called Buckingham Palace and
asked whether the queen could spare any guards for the Patriots.

In scheduling an interview with Andelman, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Certainly no one can be “on” all the time, and I would have been
surprised to encounter the wisecracking, boisterous Eddie of the airwaves.
But neither did I expect the subdued, serious-minded Andelman, a man who
appears to be more comfortable talking about the business of sports than
about the action on the field.

No doubt it’s got a lot to do with his priorities in life. Andelman
grew up in Dorchester; his family later moved to Brookline, and he graduated
from Brookline High School. As he remembers it, seriousness did not come
to him until he was faced with the prospect of making a living. He’d just
earned his accounting degree from Boston University and had no idea of
what he was going to do next.

“I didn’t have great grades at BU,” he says. “I had spent
a lot of time in college, like many other kids, having a good time, playing
poker all night, going out on beer-drinking binges, dating, and all that
sort of business. And suddenly you graduate-I didn’t have a penny in my
pocket-and you ask, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’ And
my father said, ‘You ought to get serious, and go get yourself an MBA.’

And so Andelman did, going to night school at Northeastern for three
years, twelve months a year, doing his homework at a Huntington Avenue
restaurant called the Lobster Claw (don’t look; it’s no longer there),
learning the ins and outs of finance and business. “Without Northeastern,
somebody like me at that time could have never gotten an MBA, could have
never gotten very far,” Andelman says. “I’ve always said that
the difference between Harvard and Northeastern MBAs is that at Harvard
they teach you how to fix a company that has $500 million. At Northeastern
they teach you how to make the first million, and I think that’s more important.”

Andelman’s regard for Northeastern extends to other members of his family:
his oldest son, David, will graduate this year with both an MBA and a law
degree. (All three of Andelman’s sons, David, Michael, and Daniel, earned
their bachelor’s degrees at Union College. David is the host, and proprietor,
of The Phantom Gourmet, a food show seen on New England Cable News and
heard on WBZ Radio. Michael owns Integrated Marketing Systems, a company
that helps firms target the sixteen-to-twenty-six-year-old market. Daniel,
the youngest, who just graduated, studied economics at Union and hosted
his own radio show there.)

Andelman met his future wife, then Judi Rosenberg-known to Andelman’s
listeners as “The Fabulous Judi”-when he was in his early thirties
and she was in her late twenties. “He sent me a letter of introduction
telling me about himself,” she laughs, comparing it to an early version
of computer dating. They went out to dinner, but after that he would call
her but never ask her out. She heard from a mutual acquaintance that he
didn’t think she’d go out with him. So the next time he called, she asked
him out.

Judi Andelman, a social worker who teaches English to Russian immigrants
and mediates disputes in the Salem small-claims court, attributes her husband’s
reticence to an attribute his listeners would have a hard time believing:
shyness. “If you put a microphone in front of him, he just sparkles,”
she says. “But he’s actually shy. You put him at a cocktail party,
or any different milieu, and he finds it hard to find something to say.”

Then, too, Eddie Andelman’s reticence may have something to do with
the controversies he’s often found himself in. For when the mike is turned
on, Andelman’s not the least bit shy, bluntly articulating exactly what’s
on his mind.

Sometimes Andelman’s mouth makes you want to stand up and cheer-as it
did last October 1, when then Red Sox designated hitter Jose Canseco launched
into a petulant outburst after the Sox fired his friend Kevin Kennedy as
manager. Andelman told Canseco that what had happened to Kennedy paled
compared with “real tragedies, where Raytheon lays off people.”
He then added that Canseco and some other players hadn’t done right by
the fans-causing Canseco to blow up. “Who are you to call me and speak
to me that way in my home?” Canseco demanded. “How dare you beg
me for time and then speak to me that way?” “I’m not begging,”
Andelman replied, by then his voice a shout, too. But Canseco was already
off the line.

Other Andelman moments are more outrageous. There was the time a year
and a half ago when, in a discussion of the alleged superiority of black
athletes, Andelman asked, “When was the last time you saw a black
man going for a penis enlargement?” (“That was taken out of context,”
Andelman insists. “Just before you go to a commercial break you try
and give them a one-liner. I am wildly popular in the black community.
There’s no one who helps them more.”) There was the time in December
1994 when he asked a caller “if he ever pissed in a bathroom sink,”
and, on being told no, asked if he was “afraid to take risks.”
There was the time in November 1993 when Andelman, disgusted that a “major
announcement” by the Red Sox turned out to be anything but, intoned,
“We’ll be back with more bullshit in a minute,” a remark for
which he apologized.

Andelman’s business career has sometimes been controversial, too. Exhibit
A: Foxboro Raceway, a troubled horse track located next to Foxboro Stadium,
home of the Patriots. A group of investors led by Andelman purchased the
track and surrounding property for $9.6 million in 1976. Andelman and company
struggled, with the track itself, run by another business entity, closing
down some years ago. For years many Patriots fans have blamed Andelman
for their having to park in a rutted, unpaved lot, a situation Andelman
insists he has had nothing to do with. Finally, last May, Foxboro Stadium
and Patriots owner Robert Kraft purchased the property for about $16 million.
Of course, Kraft no longer wants to play in Foxborough, so the parking
lot seems likely to remain unpaved.

Given that Andelman no longer has any stake in the property, it’s interesting
to note he’s still high on the location. A Boston Braves fan as a kid,
he says his ultimate goal was to bring a National League baseball team
to the site. Now he says Kraft should give up on his plans of building
a football stadium in Boston and keep the Patriots right where they are,
erecting a state-of-the-art facility where the racetrack is now, and then
redeveloping the old stadium for some other use-possibly a new racetrack,
possibly a gambling casino.

“It’s a great place for it,” he says. “You’ve got access
to Providence, you’ve got access to Hartford, you’ve got access to Worcester.
A stadium down there is not a bad thing. In Foxborough your water, your
power, your roads, everything is already there. And I think that’s what
will happen.” Indeed, with Kraft having to beat an embarrassing retreat
from South Boston last winter, Foxborough is starting to look like one
of the few places left where he can build.

Beyond broadcasting, Andelman is perhaps best known for the Hot Dog
Safari, an annual fund-raiser for the Joey Fund, which pays for research
into cystic fibrosis. Indeed, few Boston media personalities have done
more for charity than Andelman. His activities for Northeastern have been
more quiet, and Andelman says he wants to keep it that way-although he
admits to being one of the original contributors to the Solomon track at
N.U.’s Dedham campus.

As the British rock group EMF chugs through “Unbelievable,”
a mock basso profundo voice announces: “Two guys with nothing in common.
About as opposite as you can get in every way. Andelman and Arnold. The
A Team.”

It’s the day after the Super Bowl, and Dale and Eddie are offering a
postmortem on the Patriots’ 35­21 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

Andelman: “If you’d just said ‘jambalaya,’ they would’ve won.”

Arnold: “I’m not sure that would have helped Willie Clay make any
of the three plays that he screwed up.”

Andelman: “Anybody figure out Drew Bledsoe’s passing percentage
on plays after he gets hit? It’s like .00001 percent. Now we’ve got all
the bad stuff out of the way.”

Arnold: “No, we’re not done.”

Arnold is right. Before the three-hour shift is up, he and his partner
will be practically screaming at each other over whether the Packers-led
by Desmond Howard, he of the backbreaking ninety-nine-yard kickoff return-came
up short in the class department by shaking their butts in the Patriots’
faces. Arnold is so angry at Howard that he’s beside himself, and most
of the callers are with him. Andelman insists it’s no big deal, even insinuating
at one point that Arnold’s disdain for in-your-face black athletes borders
on racism.

Earlier, Andelman explained it this way: “Dale is the good guy
in the white hat. I’m the bad guy in the black hat.” Retorts Arnold:
“I think that’s a crock and he knows it.” Still, Arnold knows
enough not to mess with a winning combination, even though he admits both
men experienced some “discomfort” when they were first paired,
a couple of years ago. Indeed, Arnold says their on-air disputes occasionally
carry over into off-air arguments, admitting there was some “heated
discussion” after the post­Super Bowl show. “I think we are
legitimately different people,” Arnold says. “But we have a very
amicable relationship. I think he likes and respects me, and I like and
respect him.”

In December, Andelman signed a new three-year contract that will pay
less than his previous salary of $400,000, but which requires him to work
fewer hours. He stopped doing Sports Huddle four years ago, giving him
weekends off for the first time in his life (except during football season,
when he does Eddie and . . . on WABU-TV, Channel 68, Sunday evenings.)
He’s thinner than he used to be, mainly because he now takes time to walk
four to eight miles a day. He has no intention of fulfilling his wife’s
wish that he retire, but clearly his workaholic days are over. These are
Eddie Andelman’s easy years.

“Basically, I’m an entertainer,” he says. “I enjoy sports,
but I am not a get-a-lifer. I enjoy music, I enjoy the theater, I enjoy
movies, I enjoy restaurants, I enjoy travel. My number-one pleasure in
life, besides my children, is reading a couple of hours before I go to
bed at night.

“I’m very thankful for what I’ve got. I’m not in the coal mines
getting black lung. I’ve taken enormous chances. I’ve lived on the edge
for years and years. But those days are past, and now, like most fathers,
I’m living vicariously through my children.”

Dan Kennedy, LA’79, a staff writer for the Boston Phoenix,
wrote about N.U. graduates Nat Hentoff and Dom Cerulli in the golden age
of jazz in the September 1996 issue.


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