Sports Radio Boston – Bad Karma at WEEI?

Sports talk radio-active

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff February 26, 2009

"You Can't See the WIZARD... Now Go Away!"

"You Can't See the WIZARD... Now Go Away!"

We don’t change the station, and so the station sees no need to change. Ratings are huge, possibly even as huge as the station claims. Its primary demographic has tremendous appeal to advertisers. And New England’s fanatical dedication to the professional sports teams that the station’s hosts bloviate about in four-hour blocks is seemingly endless.

And so there you have it: WEEI. Your sports-radio leader. A perfect storm of arrogance.

What’s that adage about pompous silver-spooners? He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple? That fits certain WEEI hosts as comfortably as a Bloomin’ Onion–stained Tommy Bahama shirt. They think the station’s success somehow reflects on them, that we tune in for their shrill banter, contrived characters, and prefabricated opinions. We don’t — never have, never will. We listen because we love sports, our beloved teams are enjoying a remarkable run of success, and WEEI happens to have both access and broadcast rights. Most of all, we listen because there is no other decent local alternative with a signal stronger than that of a ham radio.

Now, I’m not suggesting all WEEI programming beats your eardrums into submission. Dale and Holley are engaging in the midday, and Mut and Bradford make those weekend chores pass quicker. But it is telling that the two smartest sports radio shows in the city in recent years — Michael Felger’s drive-time program on ESPN 890 and the Ryen Russillo/Jon Anik/Anthony Pepe crew on WWZN 1510 — were broadcast elsewhere on the dial. If only either had owned a signal that didn’t turn into a French-language station a mile from the Zakim Bridge, they might have gained the appropriate audience.

So to feed our unquenchable sports jones, we have no choice but to suffer the WEEI banshees. But that doesn’t stop us from longing for something better, something not only entertaining but intelligent, passionate, and insightful.

We’re not here today for the purpose of holding a sports radio fantasy draft, but for a moment consider the station you could build — and the one ESPN Boston should have built — with roster depth that included the best of the Globe and ESPN, underrated talents such as Russillo and Mike Giardi, as well as the requisite WEEI refugees. (Remember Steve DeOssie after he skipped over to 1510? Thoughtful and articulate. On WEEI? An overgrown Scut Farkas.)

Maybe I’m naïve. 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. And just in case such a benefactor happens to have read this far, at no charge we offer you a thinking fan’s guide to the real dos and don’ts of sports radio in Boston.

Have a well-considered opinion and the knowledge to defend it in an entertaining manner: No, passing yourself off as some sort of insider because of an association with the Celtics two decades ago does not count, particularly when there is mounting suspicion that you haven’t watched more than a handful of out-of-market NBA games since the days of short shorts and sky hooks. In a related note: Yelling the loudest doesn’t make you right. Didn’t your mom ever teach you that?

After you’ve beaten a story to death, please resist the temptation to beat on the corpse daily for another several weeks: Wait, wait, wait … you’re telling me Manny Ramirez quit on the Red Sox? And they traded him? When did this happen? How come you never mentioned this, Mikey? HOW COME YOU NEVER MENTIONED THIS??!!

No more celebrity callers …: Call it the Glenn Ordway Corollary: The more obnoxious the caller, the more airtime he gets. It’s a cornerstone of the lucrative business of pandering to the lowest common denominator. But I can’t be the only one who lunges for the scan button as soon as “Angry Bill” and his miserable brethren begin spewing their first word of venom.

… or sycophantic co-hosts: Ah, another Ordway self-preservation tactic. Surround yourself with a couple of knowledgeable co-hosts, then fill out the rest of the cast with talking-head lightweights and cronies who will argue with you only to the point where you say zip it, refuse to point out your factual missteps, and, for the sake of a paycheck, willingly play clichéd characters appropriate for a failed soap-opera actor. That way, you’re irreplaceable, since there’s no obvious successor to the throne. Brilliant! Also: Unlistenable!

In order to qualify for airtime, a co-host has to be able to put two consecutive syllables together without his tongue tripping over his mustache: Don’t worry, big guy. You’re halfway there.

Hosts are not permitted eight-part questions so long and windy that they require a syllabus and stretch from one commercial break to the next: That means you, Dennis … Denito … Dentillo …

Talk politics or the news story of the day when the moment calls for it: Credit where credit is due: WEEI was riveting radio in the days after September 11. The tone was sincere, heartfelt, and human. Since then, however, the tone regarding politics and world matters has become so extreme that certain hosts make Dick Cheney look like a beatnik. Worse is the increasingly snide disregard for those with different circumstances, views, and — the case certainly can be made — pigment. It’s one thing to be provocative, but too often that crosses the line to irresponsibility. Sure, a certain element is enthralled — hillbillies and cavemen, mostly. Others are simply waiting for the inevitable repulsive comment that leads to your downfall.

Enough with the drop-ins from comedians who’d bomb at the Ha-Ha House of Whiskey and Waffles: And if some clown named Shecky does find his way into the studio — either as a guest or as your nighttime host — have some dignity and refrain from hee-hawing and chortling and racing to laugh loudest as if he’s the reincarnation of George Carlin. He’s not. He’s a D-lister with a captive audience, and his best jokes wouldn’t make the cut for the Whiner Line. Which, by the way, is the best thing you have going. We might note the material comes not from you, but from the listeners. We’re going to assume you miss the irony of that.

"You Can't See the Wizard... Now Go Away"
“You Can’t See the Wizard… Now Go Away”

OT columnist Chad Finn is a sports reporter for Boston.com and can be reached at finn@globe.com

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