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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

98.5 vs WEEI...

The Commish tackles the perceived threat of 98.5 to WEEI. There's been a multiple challengers over the years. Is 98.5 the biggest one yet? The Commish takes a closer look. Enjoy...

Over those years, there's been plenty of sports radio to listen to -- The Sporting News

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 -- Sports Zone -- Sean McDonough, Ryen Rusillo, ESPN Radio with Mike and Mike, etc. Probably several more that I can't recall. But only WEEI has been riding the sports radio crest in New England throughout the years. It's always been that way -- WEEI and everyone else.

I'm not sure why 98.5 is considered such a threat to WEEI so far. According to the eardrum test, not a lot is different than what we've seen in other competitors.

Here's what I do know --

98.5 has caught people's attention -- there is a growing constintuancy of fans looking for something new and are changing.

The FM frequency is outstanding -- not sure why AM even still exists, and WEEI loses me when I hit certain roads and I get terrible feedback.

The new station is still in its early stages, while there has been a big push early, and they've signed some notable programs (Patriots, Bruins, Felger/Mazz) -- we'll see how well they've done once the shine fades some

Show by show -- WEEI still has them -- almost across the board -- but nevertheless, they have the advantage. Whether or not 98.5 can change that is what I mean by seeing how they adjust

98.5 has forced WEEI to modify their programs. Remember the 15 minute commercial breaks? Now they're 90 seconds.

WEEI is taking notice of 98.5. They used to dismiss the other stations and laugh, while the lone fact they've changed their format, and now one of the producers has been suspended for some nasty messages. Either it's a funny coincidence, or they've reacted to 98.5. How about the fact that Boston Globe guys are allowed to be on some EEI shows again?


So this is what counts in this business and to be honest, I really don't have a ton to go by here. As far as ratings go, statistics don't lie, but statisticians do. So don't tell me that the Whiner Line is the most popular segment of the station because the ratings prove it. If they ran the Whiner Line at 10:45 PM, I wonder how well the ratings would be for that segment. However, you don't have to be a genius to look at who is advertising with whom. The better the station/program, the more people will pay for advertising. Remember all the betting advertisements you'd hear on one of the older stations? WEEI never has had to delve into that sector, or it seems rare.

I tried researching this topic quite a bit on the Internet. And I struggled sifting through the garbage that comes up in when googling.

The BBB did come across one site that seemed relevant.

This site is run and owned by Arbitron. Arbitron, from what I can tell, is at the core of radio stations ratings. When digging on Arbitron, it had some information. And I toiled with the notion of whether or not I should bother to try to understand the ratings system, seeing as it drives business, I suppose it's a necessary topic. So pardon the ignorance in advance.

From what I can tell, the ratings come out twice a year -- the next one is due March 25. And I'm sure all eyes will be on that one.

Here's what I saw:


DEC 2009 - 3.6
JAN 2010 - 3.7
CUME - 472,000

98.5 -

DEC 2009 - 3.1
JAN 2010 - 2.7
CUME - 504,000

So what does this mean. To be honest, I'm not completely sure -- but nevertheless. I'll try. When adding up all the stations, the total percentage equals 100% population listening to the radio. This obviously does not include people who listen to iPods, CDs, Satellite radio, or simply drive in silence. Of that 100% mark, WEEI and 98.5 add up to roughly 6.5%. The total number of people is close to 1,000,000.

Now this is based on a 5 minute segment -- so it's really not a 1,000,000 people listening to sports radio all the time. Because if you listen to WEEI for 5 minutes and then flip over to 98.5 and listen for another 5 minutes -- you're going to show up in both pools. Either way -- this is all I have for information.

If you're married or have a girlfriend -- it should come as no surprise that Kiss 108 was the winner of the ratings by a country mile, coming in 50% higher than the #2 ranking. But both WEEI and 98.5 were in the top 20 on rankings. WEEI having an edge over 98.5 in both December and January. 98.5 dropped some in January and I wonder if it was a consequence of the Patriot season ending. If you notice, 98.5 had more listeners -- 504,000 to 472,000 -- I'm willing to bet that was due to people listening to Gil and Gino on Sunday afternoons.

What the rankings don't tell us is how each time slot fared... it's a general summary of the entire station. And truth be told, I'm surprised they were as close as they are. However, WEEI is winning, and is showing more consistency delivering similar percentages across the two months, while 98.5 dropped .4 points from December to January.

An interesting little footnote though is comparing these stations to the national scene...

New York - #1

December - 2.7
January - 3.0

Chicago - #3
December - 2.7
January - 2.9

Dallas - #5
December - 3.2
January - 3.8

Washington DC - #9
December - 2.6
January - 2.5

Compared to the leading cities, Boston shows it has a similar fan base as other major markets. Meanwhile, Los Angeles, although ranked #2 as a media market, was pathetic when it came to listening to sports radio.

Clearly we see why WEEI thumps their chest when it comes to ratings. They're as good as any in the nation. Only Dallas comes close when taking this small sampling.

Here was an interesting little footnote. The stations listed above are the top sports stations in the respective regions -- which is understandable. Every major city with a passionate fanbase should have similar ratings, and for the most part, they do. But what about the #2 sports station in those cities.

Here is where 98.5 separates themselves.

Washington DC -- 1.8
New York - 1.2
Chicago - 1.8
Dallas - 1.6

98.5, as the #2 choice in Boston for sports radio is coming in around 2.8. This is as good as some of the big cities #1 sports radio stations and showing significantly higher than the respective cities #2 sports stations.

This could be why 98.5 is getting the credibility it has been since coming on air.

Below is a breakdown of the time slots for the weekdays. I will not go into weekends really. Although, the news of Ted Sarandis going to 98.5 is, in my opinion, a big boost. He represented the pure sports fan at WEEI -- very little social opinion (unless you're a fan of the Dixie Chicks), he didn't have the locker room behavior that existed in other segments. He encouraged his listeners to be, for lack of a better term, the "professional sports fan." I'm not sure why he's on the weekends when he could easily step into a weekday slot and bring his followers with him. Could be his decision. Although he did used to do a weekend segment on WEEI with Fred Smerlas, called the Ted and Fred show. Welcome back, Nation.

Before I get into comparing the segments, anyone else notice Bob Neumeier on WEEI Friday afternoon and Monday? Think they should be bringing him back into the fold over there? See below for my opinion.

Morning Segments

Love em or hate em -- Dennis and Callahan are good at what they do. I personally like them. I don't care so much about their social paths that veer completely off sports radio, but it's entertaining radio either way. If I don't care for what they're talking about, I can always change the channel. It's not the end of the world -- I can always go back. But people get so bent up in arms over the social discussions -- as if it's some major crime against Sports-radio etiquette. It's been this way for a long time, so don't think they've suddenly decided to start talking about non-sports events. I can remember when they would review new episodes of the The Soprano's on Monday morning with Butch from the Cape. People do think about more than sports from time to time. The segments they do with veterans is sometimes chilling. Not sure which holiday it was when they were speaking to a soldier in Iraq and for about 5 minutes they let other soldiers say their name, rank, where they were from and wished a Happy Thanksgiving or something. Quite frankly, it was awesome. I could write a whole piece on that segment, but if you heard it that morning, nothing else needs to be said. It had nothing to do with sports either. Also, while you want to bitch about them going off the sports track, don't think they didn't play a role in Scott Brown's run either. You're probably driving a trcuk and wearing a barn coat because of them stumping for him.

They're smooth and they're knowledgable. But what they have is years of experience covering Boston sports. That's what makes you pay attention. The fact that they're literate, and can read is besides the point. Many people can do that -- Dennis was a sports anchor when it really meant something. And Callahan was writing for the Herald long before getting in front of a microphone. They're also accomplished. Callahan wrote for Sports Illustrated for a stint. Growing up, Sports Illustrated was the Wall Street Journal of sports literature. He's also been on Sports Reporters (a favorite of mine on ESPN) where I always thought only the best were invited to this elite roundtable. Lupica, Albom, Ryan, Connolly, Feinstein, Whitlock, Kornheiser, Wilbon, Callahan.

On 98.5, it's a very different take on things. They represent a different type of sports radio. While I've heard the notion of Toucher and Rich are there because they're still under contract (something they've denied on the air), either way, Toucher and Rich remind me of an FM morning show that I'd listen to on ZLX, or WBC... ummm wait a minute -- right -- that's what they are...So while EEI has 50+ years of Boston sports journalism experience on their AM program, 98.5 has guys who are crossing over from FM rock radio to sports radio. They're no doubt talented. They know their way around the microphone. They also have quality guests. Plenty of them -- and they handle those interviews very well. But they don't have that credibility I really am seeking. Instead they sound like 2 guys who know as much, or some cases, less than me about various sports topics. That's aggravating. So why did 98.5 go with them? I don't have inside answers there, but they are very, very different than Dennis and Callahan, and maybe they were trying to accomplish that. They have a different take, with a different spirit that may attract a younger genre in the 20-30 yr old range that can't relate to John Dennis and "4 Dead in Ohio." or the fact that Gerry Callahan used to do a tv show with Upton Bell and he had a full beard and I thought he was Wade Boggs.


The credibility factor for 98.5 goes up quite a bit in the mid-day. But EEI still has them by a lot. Dale Arnold is the person Gary Tanguay seems to be trying to be like. Which isn't a bad thing. People want to criticize Dale Arnold for being too "Ned Flanders-esque", still though, he seems like the guy you might want as your neighbor. Is there anything wrong with that? At some point that becomes acceptable behavior. For some reason Tanguay has been this guy who's done various sports shows. But I find myself asking the questions of "who is this guy" "What is his history?" I can probably say the same thing about Dale, but he was calling hockey games in Minnesota before coming to Boston. And he did call Bruins hockey for some years. That's credibility. Tanguay is fine -- but I guess that's the problem -- he's just fine. Arnold is as well -- he's fine. Neither of them carry a show. Although Dale Arnold has been doing it on the air in Boston since the mid-90's. Either way, they're professional and experienced in broadcasting. The difference in the show goes with the co-host. Scott Zolak has credibility. Let's not mistake the fact that he was in the pros for a good stint. You don't make the pros unless you're very, very good. And he understands the game of football very well -- the nuances, the personality of the game if you will. He gets it and he can describe it. People will harp on him for not knowing anything about the other sports -- which probably isn't true, but if you're expecting the same knowledge that he has in football, forget it. Don't simply dismiss an ex-athlete as a one-trick pony. That's not always the case -- in other places I've traveled, some of them do a great job -- Tom Waddle in Chicago, Boomer in NYC, John Thompson in DC, and one of my favorites -- John Riggins in DC -- they brought personality to the show and were able to cross over more cleanly. Fair or unfair, they also had more successful careers than Zolak. However, he's got personality, and he's got knowledge. And for someone who is still finding his way this being his first permanent regular talk show, he's not doing terrible -- he just has plenty of room to improve. The question is whether or not he does. The big ticket in the mid-day though is Michael Holley. He could be the best personality on both stations. He has the credibility, having been a reporter in Cleveland and Boston. He wrote "Patriot Reign" and leveraged that puppy along the way. He's current with his topics. He's mainstream with ESPN. He's hip. Simply put, he's very good.

Afternoon-Drive Time

Right now, this is the only time during the day that 98.5 goes toe to toe with WEEI. Felger and Mazzarotti have that credibility I've been talking about throughout the piece. Both have been reporters in Boston for a considerable amount of time. One of them has specialized in baseball, the other in football. They know their business. Again credibility is what reigns supreme in the eardrum test. Felger has strong opinions that bring out reactions. While Mazzarotti is more level-headed and has become edgier than his early days on EEI. Together, they deliver a quality combination that is worthy of being considered the best sports talk program in the region. They focus on sports, unlike Dennis and Callahan who veer off that. They are both polished and knowledgeable. And the show is tight. The goofiness or slobbery that occupies other shows doesn't exist. Of all the noise around 98.5, Felger and Mazz gets the most attention, and deservedly so.

They also have the hardest time slot to succeed as they go against the king himself, Big O. The Big Show has been the benchmark by which all other shows are measured. It was the training ground for just about everyone who has their own show now. Callahan, Holley, Felger, Mazz, Zolak -- all paid their dues on the Big Show. Bob Ryan, Jackie MacMullen, Ron Borges, Dan Shaugnessy. All of them spent time on the Big Show, before they were doing Around the Horn, before they had written Patriot Reign. Glenn Ordway knows a few things -- he knows radio having been a program director himself. He knows the region, having lived here is whole life. And he knows the Celtics very well.

The biggest challenge any show has to being compared to the Big Show is variety. Think about it -- all other shows have a consistent foundation of personalities. But the Big Show has how many guests? Buckley, DeOssie, Smerlas, Merloni, Larry Johnson, Tom Curran, Paul Perillo, Sean McAdam, Cedric Maxwell, right? I am sure I am missing some names. How can the show not be fresh, different, and evolving. None of the other shows have even close to that.

According to an unsolicited, unqualified poll of the eardrum test taken by a pool of 20 of my friends who are long-time listeners, some faithful followers of the Big Show. From the ages of 35-45 yrs old, men are LOVING Felger and Mazz. Even the loyal Big Show supporters are acknowledging Felger and Mazz as being quality talk radio. But again, it's 20 guys -- all representing the same demographic -- so it's not exactly a dynamic pool of people -- however, I'm willing to bet a larger poll would show similar results. Lately, one of my big hang-ups on the Big Show is the way they've been condescending their callers, more so than I can imagine before. Suddenly, everyone's an idiot -- and the show treats them that way - which surprises me on a few fronts -- they have call screeners -- so if the callers are idiots, can't they do a better job of screening them? And isn't there some sort of code of conduct where they could treat some callers with more dignity? I haven't seen it as much with Felger and Mazz - then again give it time.

Night Time Shows

Let's leave the games out of it -- because the games are the games -- so C's, B's, Sox, Pats -- it's a wash -- I don't understand for the life of me why WEEI has remained committed to BC Basketball. Help me understand why BC Basketball warrants broadcasting on the top sports station in the region. But I digress. So this is where stations can get away with a looser format. While I like both personalities, there are downfalls with both shows, so neither of them captivate me like some of the earlier shows -- or even like Ted Nation used to. For a time, Nation was the best out there.

Planet Mikey is very likeable -- I rooted for him to get the show when Sarandis was taken out of the spot. Mike Adams gives his callers plenty of time, he is usually entertaining. However, sometimes it's over the top goofy. And maybe I'm just not in the mood for the goofiness sometimes -- As far as the DA show -- it's fine -- but I can't go so far as to call it very good. He knows his stuff, he's well rounded -- but he's almost too text book manufactured. His biggest drawback is that he's not from here. Even though John Dennis, Felger and Holley aren't from Massachusetts, by the time they got on air -- they had been a part of this community for a lgood period of time. Most importantly, they had credibility. With DA, who is this guy? Where is he from? So he can develop into a more prominent personality, but it's gonna take time.

Which leads us to another point. How much time does 98.5 have -- because eventually the shine will wear off. Right now, across the board, I have to give the props to all the WEEI shows. I would rather listen to D&C, Dale and Holley, the Afternoon Drive is a toss up -- and comes down to topics of the day and the guests that the Big Show has -- if it's Curran, Perillo, McAdams, my listening time will increase. At night time, it depends on the topics again.

A few things are certain in my opinion:

* If WEEI was on FM, they would crush 98.5 if they aren't already. I understand that 850 is the "original sports radio" in Boston dating back to something like the 50's. But let's be honest, between Satellite radio and FM, AM radio is like still owning your Iron Maiden cassette tapes.

* This town is big enough for 2 good sports radio stations - I know I enjoy it.

* There is an audience for hockey fans -- it's out there. And while WEEI has dismissed hockey regularly -- for whatever reason -- 98.5 is getting plenty of calls and action on hockey. The Bruins are relevant. They've slipped some, but they still matter and people still care.

* The betting advertisements worry me on 98.5. I don't like that sign -- While I don't know the details, betting ads -- you know the "Call NOW and we'll give you 3 locks for tonights games!" Maybe I am ignoring it, but I don't seem to hear those nearly as often on EEI as I do on 98.5. You know why Comedy Central would run Paid Programming ads for "Girls Gone Wild" at 4:00 in the morning -- is because they were desperate to fill the slot. I wonder if 98.5 is desperate to fill the ad slots, leading them to run a lot of betting ads... this makes me wonder how much money they may have.

* If 98.5 has money, they could pony up for some personalities that'll draw a charge out of the masses. You tell me -- who wouldn't want Bob Neumeier back on the airwaves. He was great on radio. What about Ron Borges? You want controversial -- everyone hates Borges because of his Belicheck-hating, but he has the credibility, and knowledge that really makes for the best radio. Remember the Patriots drug scandal after the 1986 super bowl -- the way my father tells it -- Borges broke the story. Now I remember the story -- but I was 14 at the time -- so I wasn't reading the Globe on a regular basis my freshman year in high school. With all due respect to Toucher and Rich or Tanguay and Zolak, but wouldn't you be more intrigued by some of these personalities... they're legendary, they're credible, and they're from the region.

Here's a look at names that would draw very good attention:

Bob Neumeier -- He was loved by radio listeners back at 850. No question he'd bring legitimacy to 98.5. He could name his time slot and it would do well

Ron Borges -- Say what you want about the anti-Belicheckisms, he knows football cold. He's forgotten more things than the current beat guys know.

Kevin Paul Dupont -- If you're going to hang your hat on hockey -- there is no better hockey man in the area

Bob Ryan -- You may have over-dosed on him as he is in a lot of media outlets, but he is also a hall of fame boston reporter

Jackie Macmullen -- As knowledgeable about the C's past and present as anyone out there

Gordon Edes -- Still working the Red Sox beat

Mike Reiss -- Has become the man plugged into the Patriots for quite some time

Curt Schilling -- Opinionated, accomplished and capable of talking more than baseball -- even if it is politics, and Iraq -- he'd still draw attention

Peter Gammons -- I would have to think he's been approached already -- as he could probably have a radio show at the snap of his fingers -- Gammons is retired from reporting -- but still lives in New England

Dennis Eckersley -- When he did color commentary while Remy was on leave, Eckersley was a pure treasure

Charlie Pierce -- Has authored a Magic Johnson book, authored Tom Brady's "Moving the Chains" -- that's inside information right there -- and has been a part of sports reporting for a long time

Bob Lobel -- After watching John Dennis and Bob Neumeier transition from television to radio, there's no question the sports anchors make it look easy --

I'm sure all these people have probably been approached and have declined or it hasn't worked out.... but we both know that if any combination of these people decided to host a show on 98.5, then WEEI would have something to take seriously.

In the meantime, I don't see a ton of difference between 98.5 and the other former sports radio stations... Felger had his own show on one of them before... 1510 used to be the station for the Celtics... none of it seemed to matter as EEI continued to crush them.... and it all comes down to credibility. People know the personalities on EEI -- they know them as foundations of sports media in Boston. Right now, 98.5 doesn't have that completely. They have it with one show. And one show isn't enough.

The Commish is a contributor to the Bingo Bar Blog and aspiring journalist. He's made his bones covering the MVFFL as a beat writer and now enjoys a freelance career.


  1. Jesus christ. Why don't you edit what you write.

    "I don't like that sign -- While I don't know the details, betting ads -- you know the "Call NOW and we'll give you 3 locks for tonights games!""

  2. Vaderface,

    What's wrong with that phrase?

  3. Bob Neumeier? I heard this clown speak live at a work dinner and he was dreadful. Went insofar as f'd up the actual results of one of his favorite sporting events. He is a joke.

    As far as Lobel transitioning, I guess the beat writer didn't listen to him on that pathetic start-up sports network a few years past. He was not only apalling, but it sounded as if he was speaking from a overcrowded closet.

  4. did you forget that entercom's stock is in the tank and they just released "popular" update guy Pete Sheppard? Did you forget that CBS radio pulled the plug on legendary rock radio WBCN in order to put on the sports hub? 98.5 has all the money in the world and (so far) they haven't had to overpay any of their talent. EEI on the other hand has a much higher payroll which is what forced the release of the aforementioned hack.

    98.5 will be around for a while, unlike WWZN and WAMG, they have a strong signal, good local programming, and good ownership(comparitive to the other 2). WEEI will continue to be the leader because baseball games translate the best to the radio, but you can bet that CBS will bid large dollars to get the radio rights.

  5. Will return for more comments but the reason weei has the BC basketball games is because they are required to broadcasts bc basketball and football as part of their contract with the red sox. the red sox and fenway sports group represent BC so they negotiated to have weei broadcast the BC games along with the red sox games.

  6. I listen to EEI on 103.7 FM...... I agree with the writer... Love EEI for morning and midday... and for drive home switch back and forth between the two with slight edge going to Felger and Mazz.....

  7. WEEI refuses to air betting advertisements precisely because they think it hurts their image. instead they run hundreds of $5 commercials for scams telling you they can get you out of $30,000 in credit card debt. dont let them fool you, they are not even close to selling out their commercial inventory.

  8. Once Toucher and Rich are gone 98.5 will be able to compete at all time slots. Dale's routine is sooooo old.

  9. Morning: NPR and D&C
    Midday: NPR (Hate Dale, the worst)
    Afternoon:Felger/NPR then whiner line.

  10. Hmm. was watching the game at the bar, its really great cuz the mngr got this new service so he actually shows the good games now.

    Its called SBMX. and if you run a bar you should consider getting it. And really… it makes it easier to focus on what you should be focusing on without having to shuffle thru TV guide.

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