Sports Radio Boston – WEEI & Sport Hub Drama Continues…

Courtesy of: The Boston Globe.com

WEEI, Sports Hub expand their rosters

By Chad Finn, Globe Staff | August 7, 2009

And in this week’s dramatic episode of Boston Radio Wars . . .

Actually, this is still the prologue, since WBZ-FM’s “98.5 The Sports Hub’’ doesn’t launch until Thursday. Nonetheless, there were two significant plot twists in the past few days leading up to the impending showdown for local sports radio supremacy with WEEI, the longtime and lone behemoth in the genre:

WEEI and the Globe have come to a truce, allowing the newspaper’s sports reporters and columnists to return to the station’s airwaves after an often-contentious 10-year absence.

Lou Merloni Boston Red SoxThe Sports Hub, trudging toward its launch, has yet to formally announce any personnel moves, but sources with direct knowledge of the talks confirm that the Globe’s Tony Massarotti will become Michael Felger’s permanent cohost on the station’s weekday show from 2-6 p.m. Massarotti will continue to write for the Globe and Boston.com multiple times per week.

Let’s look a little deeper at this week’s developments and the implications:

“The border war is over.’’ Those are the words WEEI’s Glenn Ordway, host of the drive-time program “The Big Show,’’ used Tuesday afternoon while informing his audience of the reconciliation while announcing that Globe columnist Bob Ryan was asked to call in later in the show. Ordway, who was parroting a phrase made famous by Bill Parcells to declare the end of the Patriots-Jets feud in the ’90s, essentially was correct in his assessment, though there are more guidelines this time around, at least for the time being.

The disagreement between WEEI and the Globe began in 1999, when Don Skwar, then the newspaper’s sports editor, banned writers from appearing on “The Big Show’’ because of what he considered offensive content. Shortly thereafter, the ban was applied to the ribald “Dennis and Callahan Show’’ in the mornings. WEEI responded by barring Globe writers from all programming.

Under the new agreement, the Globe permits its writers to be call-in guests on “The Big Show’’ and “Dennis and Callahan,’’ but only if the topic relates to sports. They are allowed as in-studio cohosts on the midday “Dale and Holley Show’’ – coincidentally, Michael Holley was a Globe sportswriter when the ban was first instituted – though WEEI program director Jason Wolfe said, “Right now, it’s all about being on the phone.’’

The primary impact of that decision could be on the contributors’ wallets: Globe reporters have not been paid for call-in spots thus far, while a source said certain cohosts receive upward of several hundred dollars for a four-hour show.

The timing of the renewed relationship is both curious and fascinating. After a decade of veiled and not-so-veiled shots over the airwaves, Globe writers were, without a hint of irony, greeted as long-lost friends during their appearances this week, and that includes columnist Dan Shaughnessy on “Dennis and Callahan’’ yesterday morning, which was hosted by fill-ins Steve DeOssie and Jon Meterparel. Later in the day, WEEI.com touted the audio of Shaughnessy’s appearance with the headline, “Guess Who’s Back.’’

Wolfe denied that The Sports Hub – which because of its strong FM signal and affiliations with the Patriots and Bruins (including game broadcast rights) figures to be the strongest challenger WEEI has faced – prompted him to extend an olive branch to the Globe.

“That didn’t have anything to do with it,’’ said Wolfe, adding that he has spoken to Globe editor Marty Baron and sports editor Joe Sullivan many times over the years about having Globe writers return to WEEI’s airwaves. “We’ve been successful, everyone has been successful, but the timing just felt right, it felt like the right time to make it work.’’

While offering similar sentiments, Baron said the policy with WEEI is essentially the same one the Globe has with other stations.

“It’s an arrangement that works for both sides,’’ said Baron. “It’s a normalization of the relationship. Our writers and columnists have the freedom to go on the air on a voluntary basis if they desire.’’

Wolfe said WEEI isn’t seeking exclusive deals with Globe reporters, while Mark Hannon, the senior vice president and market manager for CBS Radio Boston, said The Sports Hub is considering every possible contributor on a case-by-case basis.

Thus far, The Sports Hub has taken a below-the-radar approach as its launch date nears.

According to an industry source, former Patriots backup quarterback Scott Zolak will fill the permanent cohost role alongside host Gary Tanguay during the midday program, similar to the Felger-Massarotti pairing in the afternoon.

Hannon said an announcement about on-air staff could happen today. He also noted the station has had “informal’’ contact with a few Globe writers, and it intends to air local evening programing.

“We expect to feature a full slate of local shows,’’ Hannon said.

While The Sports Hub assembles its roster, WEEI goes about preparing for its challenge. While he won’t confirm it, Wolfe’s recent actions to maintain or deepen WEEI’s roster of contributors, such as retaining former Sox utilityman Lou Merloni after he was vigorously pursued by The Sports Hub, strongly suggest he is taking the competition seriously.

The mutual conclusion of the WEEI/Globe ban stands as another indication.

“Ten years is a long time,’’ Wolfe said.“We’re just focused on what we have to do. The Globe has great writers and excellent reporters, and we’ve proven very good at we do, and we can benefit from each other. That’s what we all want.’’

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