Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Dirty Jobs: WEEI Listener
Pink Hat Hell is happy to welcome its second guest blogger, Buzz Byrne, into our happily dysfunctional home. Buzz and Chico are two great writers, which makes me wonder what the hell they're doing writing here but I'm not so dumb as to look a horse's mouth in its gift box. -Tiki
Between the years 1996 and 2000 I had a job I hated and my main interests were the local sports teams and drinking in the late afternoon. If I had erection problems or was losing my hair I would have been the perfect target listener for WEEI AM850, at least according to the ads that were played throughout the day. Despite my full, luxurious and present hair and boners I was a listener anyway.
Thinking back to this era in Boston sports, say ’96-97, let’s remember that the Red Sox were waving goodbye to ace Roger Clemens and replacing him with Steve Avery. Bill Parcells was building a Super Bowl contender that would never finish the job and the Celtics had Michael Leon Carr straightening up the dump for the soon-to-be colossal failure that was the Rick Pitino era.
It was a miserable time to be a fan of the local teams. I don’t think I was very happy in general then either.
So some changes were made by me, your buddy Buzz. One happened to be to listen less and less to WEEI. September 11 and the run up to the Iraq Invasion made that a bit easier. If the show hosts had struck me as narrow-minded, self-involved and particularly venomous to athletes and fans alike- groups they were commenting on and commenting for and that they theoretically were knowledgeable of, why would I stick around for their take on matters of great import? They made it easy to lose me as a listener and fairly soon I became more involved in getting opinions and facts and theories and entertainment from the internet. By the time Aaron Boone crushed another season of hopes for Red Sox fans, turning to WEEI was the furthest thing from my mind. I didn’t want to commiserate with these hosts who would predictably pull the old axes from their closets and use my misery to grind away. Nor a few months later when Adam Automatic booted one through the goal posts to secure New England’s place at the table for a solid “Dynasty” discussion could I imagine turning to celebrate with these folk. Who wants condescending “I Told You Sos” when you’re ecstatic? Not a sports fan.
I guess that was when the habit was easiest break, when I realized they didn’t particularly care for sports anymore.
Something unusual happens to people who perform for audiences or engage crowds. Often times when they encounter a small or even large feel of success or acceptance and they come to believe that they are greater than the group- that they as the entertainer cannot possibly be replaced by something as delicately nuanced as a farting monkey. Success breeds a repetitive cycle of attention that comes in both positive and negative fashions- overblown admiration as well as critical examination. Too often the positive is seen as gospel while the criticism is viewed as jealousy. And because radio hosts have control oven subject matter, volume and callers, filtering and subjectivity cannot help but become a part of the daily routine. And because they are part of the media, albeit the infotainment section, they cannot help but become part of the story. They cannot help but feel equal to the entertainers they opine upon. And when this shift happens irreverence turns to condescension, spin takes the place of analysis, the central subject is supplanted by the cult of personality and wit, jest, eternal wisdom and mental acuity flail about as flaccid self-important smarm.
But where does that leave us today? I thought what Tiki has been doing here at Pink Hat Hell was pretty cool. I also worked as a critic for awhile so I sent Tiki a proposal that I take another listen to WEEI. Especially as they are making some big waves in the local sports media scene with a re-launch of their barely-breathing web site. In press releases, WEEI management had promised the web arm of their network will become a continuation of their quality on-air programming.
Right there I was highly skeptical. Seemed like a fallacy built on an eroding sand bed of spin. But who was I to judge; I don’t listen anymore.
My proposal was to listen to a full day of WEEI’s quality programming from sun up to sun down. I would listen to every minute of Dennis and Callahan from 6 AM to 10 AM, then every minute of The Dale and Holley Show from 10 AM to 2 PM and then every minute of The Big Show with Glenn Ordway from 2 PM to 6 PM. There was no way I could bring myself to include Planet Mikey in this. I like a challenge but one man can only be expected to take so many shots to the nads.
When I was on my way back from the gym at 5:58 AM today, I thought I would switch off the satellite radio and see if John Dennis and Gerry Callahan were back from vacation. Jon Meterparel is doing the first sports flash of the morning, wrapping up the third week of preseason NFL games, the first series win of the Red Sox versus the Blue Jays in Toronto and the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. This will be a good test, I think. Lots of material, lots of local and national and worldwide sports to dive right into. And it seems like a day for the regular hosts so I decide I will listen all day, today, August 25, 2008. Here’s how it went.
Sports flash is wrapped and the commercials start. Mortgage brokers, office supplies, car dealerships. All seem to be the official (fill-in the blank) of the New England Patriots. Hmm.
Still in commercials.
Show bumpers start, finally. Deep-voiced annoying announcer informs me it’s a “Patriots Monday!” This is the same guy who does the announce for all the shows and has since I was listening years ago. Between his stilted reads and Blur’s “Song #2” there are self congratulatory clips of Tom Brady saying, “You guys are the best at what you do.” And Curt Schilling complimenting Meterparel.
John Dennis and Gerry Callahan take to the mics. And commence complaining about the shortness of their vacations.
I turn off the radio. I accept failure. They have beaten me. I can’t do it. No way am I listening to this all morning.
I give it another shot. They are bickering about the Pats three preseason losses. Gerry says it’s no big deal. Actually he shouts, “THESE GAMES DON’T COUNT!” John and Jon are skeptical. Dennis actually concedes that maybe this is all silly pabulum like “When Pedro showed up for Spring Training late because of his father’s birthday and we would spend a day and half complaining about it but later in the season we would ask why were we so concerned?” Yeah, it’s just like that. Guy left four years and they’re still obsessed with him and casting him as a villain. This sucks the salt off my nuts. Radio off. Plus, I’m home. Now this is the kind of moment that should frighten Entercom shareholders- I decide to turn the radio back on but I realize a problem- I don’t have a radio in my house. I have a satellite hook up through my computer. I have mp3 players and one has an FM radio but I don’t have any regular setup to listen to AM radio. I check to see if they stream. They do but you have to register as a “Clubhouse Member!” and somethings I will just not do to get the story. Finally, I find an old walkman that works right next to a replacement coil cord for a phone and pile of stamps that you need to lick to affix.
Radio back on. I convince myself that I’m not blowing my assignment, that I actually might be consuming this media like most do, at irregular intervals. I suddenly feel better about myself. Of course it helps that the only thing on the radio at this moment is commercial after commercial after commercial.
The featured interview of Patriots Monday starts as D&C welcome Patriot quarterback Tom Brady. It wasn’t exactly scintillating material. Brady manages these two like they were The Buffalo Bills secondary. Its easy picking and they get nothing- NOTHING of substance from him. Maybe it does the fans good to hear last year’s MVP reassert his commitment to football but it seems like a stupid dance. Yeah, Coach is gonna yell at us today…Yeah, I never thought Favre was retiring…Yeah, I mean what? I got a car for sale? A truck? Do I need somebody to look into this? Brady also said he would be ready for the season opener.
Did anyone really expect him to say differently? It isn’t that Brady can’t be interesting; it’s just that he knows the dance steps by rote. And these two, D&C, are the worst regular show interviewers on the whole station.
Did you think they would forget about the Olympics? And when you talk of the Olympics how could you not talk about how The Gasol guys on Team Spain looked mangy like those scumbag delegates in Denver, with stuff in their beards…AND THE COMMIES. Gerry seems almost a bit more bilious towards the ChiCom Symps- Bob Costas and NBC.
Back to Team Spain for a minute- in a stunning moment of the eternal lack of self-awareness, the cornerstone of WEEI broadcasting, Gerry Callahan wonders at the stupidity of the WHOLE BASKETBALL team getting talked into making the racially insensitive gesture of slanty eyes in a Spanish newspaper. “Didn’t they have someone to stop them?”
Maybe they should go to sensitivity training. Did that help you and your partner, Ger, when you compared black kids trying to get a better start in life to an escaped gorilla? What about the next two times you had to go? Or was it three times after that?
Gerry went on to observe that trampoline shouldn’t be an Olympic sport like swimming is. They should award a different tiered medal for the frilly sports. At least this clears up any doubt that D&C have someone writing material for them. This bland, overworked premise had the punch line of Gerry stating, “Who knows, I could be the best trampoliner in the world!”
These guys are not good broadcasters. Gerry isn’t a spectacular writer; at least he hasn’t been in over a decade. They are both poor analysts, too wrapped up in some larger argument, some larger yowl against their imagined oppressors, to offer anything but couched, predicated, leading questions and observations that do nothing but score useless style points on never ending debates.
The politics aren’t the issue. Any dummy can grab a platform and scream about COMMIES. Who cares. The issue is really that the whole thing is boringly predictable. The end result of this is zero entertainment. So they are miserable performers as well. What they are really good at, it appears, is keeping their jobs. You guys have a top rated radio show on the only viable sports station in a region that is experiencing an unprecedented time of local sports wealth. I’m sure it all has to do with your stunning brand of no-holds barred, rough and tumble, personality driven guy talk and not Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Adam Vinatieri, Tedy Bruschi, Manny Ramirez, Perdo Martinez, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz, Mike Timlin, Tim Wakefield, Josh Beckett, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and a fan base that has placed sports as the highest form of local entertainment. Those guys have nothing to do with sports talk trouncing a decidedly local and dying media platform.
I tune back in for Headlines! Long enough to hear that Madonna looks like a heroin skank. Say, did she do something to pique their interests? Of course and this is all, again, so pathetically predictable.
At the nine o’clock hour they replay the Tom Brady interview again.
Jon Meterparel talks about Jason Kidd is giving away his gold medal to the wife of casino owner Steve Winn.
Gerry- “I just want review the Jimmyfund telethon…”Backslapping and self-aggrandizement.
John- “I am calling out my golfing friends to donate to the Jimmyfund. Dino has his own golf tournament!” This mutt just referred to himself in the third person. I wish I was listening to an autopsy.
Crossover to Dale and Holley involves more backslapping. Dale informs us that Michael Felger, newly hired away from his writing gig at the Herald and his afternoon show on AM890 to write for the new WEEI web site and fill in on air when needed will be in for Michael Holley.
After nearly seventeen minutes of commercials with one sports flash, Dale Arnold and Michael Felger take to the air. Their talk is all about the big Red Sox win the night before.
Dale Arnold says “ass” on the radio. Is this guy fired up or what??
It's Manny Ramirez time. Dale tells us it was almost criminal what this guy did on this team this year. We hardly know all the stories. Really? Does Dale tell us any of these extra stories? Nope. We just gotta take his word for it. Good to see Dale’s new part time gig in the Red Sox broadcast booth is paying off with unsubstantiated rumors passed on to the listeners during his radio show.
My guess is that before this segment someone in management sent Felger and Dale a little note saying, “Hey, you two numb nuts want to make with a bit of the Patriot talk on Patriot Monday! And maybe mention our new web site, you know, the one that we hired Michael for?” In these 18 minutes Felger’s latest post on WEEI.com four times during their discussion of the Pats and their winless preseason. Felger says there are real questions about this team. Okay. Dale says things will get better when #12 suits up. Okay. These don’t seem to be diametrically opposed ideas so why are these grown men shouting at each other? If this were an actual discussion it might be “interesting,” as opposed to what it is- “barely tolerable.”
Back with Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi in studio. Harrison can be a compelling interview, he is definitely an athlete that embraces the use of motivation from all comers. Dale steps into this accidentally when approaching the subject of the winless preseason. “Should we be concerned?” Dale asks.
“We who?” Rodney curtly replies.
“We-” I actually think Dale didn’t know which we he was talking about, “The fans.”
Rodney snickers, knowing he got him and then jumps into the athlete answer.
The interview is basically over. Dale throws one last question to Rodney, asking if he’ll have any special words with David Tyree. I’m sure you know who Tyree is and why Rodney would have a word or two with him. The moment of deadly silence is the first compelling moment of the morning. Felger jumps in and asks if Rodney was going to write the intro to Tyree’s book. Rodney starts barking at him not to believe everything he reads. It dispels the tension. I bet Dale had to stop himself from apologizing to the audience for accidentally entertaining us.
They take the first phone caller. He wants to talk Pats. He wonders at the team taking a QB with the third round pick in the last draft as opposed to shoring up the O-line or even the secondary. Not a bad question. Then the guy goes on to complain that he doesn’t like seeing the players “yukking it up on the sidelines while getting beat” like they were during the last preseason game.
Oy vey. Keep this nonsense to yourself callers. You sound like boobs.
MATT CASSELL, KELLY HOLCOMB
More Backup QB talk. Dale makes a snide remark about Felger’s former radio employer. I see him high-fiving himself after this and promising to reward his lightning wit with a stop at DQ on the ride home. Don’t tell Susan and the kids!
Felger defends his baseball assertions. I question many poor, poor decisions in my life that have led me to actually making note of this.
Felger is clearly developing his next article/post for the web site. The phrase, “Flipping a switch” is sure to be featured prominently.
Dale signs off telling us to stay tuned as Pete Sheppard and the boys will be along on The Big Show- the boys being Fred Smerlas and Steve DeOssie. When my wife was in labor for our second child one contraction hit her particularly hard. She sat up in bed and said she had to go. “To the bathroom?” I asked. “No. It hurts too much. I gotta go, leave, GET OUT OF HERE NOW!”
I finally know what that moment of panic was all about as I just had it.
After four minutes on the air Fred Smerlas makes a “joke” about Pete in a thong. As this is the same joke Fred made eight years ago, I should feel young again. Instead I feel sad. What place in any broadcast universe does this pass as humor the first time? It lacks any element of originality or surprise…EIGHT YEARS AGO. It hasn’t changed with age. But what was I expecting? Did I think multiple championships would change anything with these people? I mean, I know it changed a lot of my feelings and attitudes towards sports and the local teams. It was truly naïve to believe any of that would translate for these “analysts.”
2:34 and 25 seconds PM-
Red Sox talk.
2:35 PM Exactly
They get to their first caller. “I want to talk about the psychology of the Patriot fans.” I want to throw myself into a wood chipper. The hosts have led the way to a startling level of self-involvement and sadly a portion of the fan base has followed suit like dim lemmings. Why talk about the team when you can talk about the people watching the team!
Pete blows up a caller.
Fred comes within an inch of declaring this year’s Patriot secondary an improvement over last years’. Why would he do such a thing? I don’t really know but more importantly, I don’t really care. Even the biggest home town fan can see through this as nonsense.
A quickly turned around recorded bit about Felger being a douche bag with clips from today. What it lacks in creativity in never comes close to making up for with wit.
A non-Pat fan caller asks why New England fans are nuts, like callers who wanted Francona fired after the 2007 World Series…THAT HE WON. Pete says that is just one fan in 3,000. Fred agrees and points to the number of anti-Belichick media there are which is a solid point….for a totally different argument.
Back from seventeen minutes of commercials and a sports flash. I’ve survived two hours of this show. I’ll never see these two hours again. I’m two hours closer to death but I’m still drawing breath. I can’t tell you how happy this makes my previous WEEI-free years seem.
Actual NFL line talk on nose guard play and how he makes his reads off the center guard and fullback. This is interesting and a place where Fred and Steve’s experience could be entertaining. Of course it lasts all of 23 seconds. The notion that Fred and Steve aren’t allowed to break out of the guy talk shtick to relay pro-level insight is nonsense. At this point it is clear they either can’t remember or don’t care to.
Some caller tries breaking Pete’s balls over tennis. Steve later says he knows the guy and he was goofing around. It is ponderous and alienating. I am convinced you can do anything in radio, it is an elastic medium but without the fundamentals of context nothing will make sense. How many broadcast hours has this crew of three logged and they still refuse to master the concept that just because it is funny to one other person in the room does not mean it translates to a full third of the listening audience?
And then Fred jokes about beating kids.
Intro…James Brown howl…same announcer guy…same tired jokes…and no Coach Belichick yet.
Pete throws it to break with all the dexterity of a moist sock.
Pete says the coach is running late. I am getting the shakes.
Belichick checks in and I immediately feel like someone competent is there, just in case a fire breaks out or someone plays too rough with a choking hazard. At least an adult is present.
I turn off the radio.
So after all that, what does it mean? Can they continue their high level of on air content to the digital world?
One thing that is certain when it comes to radio and the management that runs the station groups- they are cheap and not usually very forward thinking. The move by WEEI to further solidify its place in the sports media distribution marketplace of New England by re-launching its website with a full staff and some local journalist personalities is half a decade too late. So while they may seem flashy- and they are putting on quite the self-congratulatory show hiring Michael Felger, Rob Bradford and the disgraced Ron Borges, they are going to fail with their aim to be THE sports information distribution center of New England. The problem is they don’t do “journalism,” they yell at callers and make snide comments that someone, somewhere seems to be fooled into thinking is humor. They feast on the star athletes that don’t play with them. Facts, the theoretical cornerstone of journalism, aren’t a part of the WEEI vocabulary. They happily sneer at the idea of fact-based radio. Jason Wolfe has said it just doesn’t work. But apparently he thinks Jon Meterparel does.
There is no return for the money pit that is the new website. It cannot generate enough new revenue to survive. I would fully expect this whole thing to end with less original content and more fill-in spots for Felger and Borges on air. They don’t have the drive to push through the undiscovered country of the new media. They are lazy and they are dinosaurs. So when the management and talent chuckle at the downward spiral of the Globe and pick at the corpse of the Herald, they should instead be shaking in their boots. If the digital age can wipe out the recording industry and newspapers what chance does commercial radio stand? The film industry is fighting hard but that is a multi-billion dollar business. They have the money to fight for their market share of the entertainment dollar.
Consider the issue this way- the last major move this brand made was a fake radio stunt hiring Mike Adams. That’s the forward thinking leadership they have. Fake radio stunts? They may as well have hired a phalanx of diarrhea sufferers to roam the streets of the Boston area, taking smelly, messy dumps on all the cars that have Red Sox and Patriots bumper stickers on them. That’s basically the same thing as hiring Mike Adams and doing it with a fake I’m-locking-myself-in-the-studio stunt. Can you imagine anything more insulting to the sports fan’s intelligence? Maybe it would be this proclamation that Ron Borges is on board and ready to kick butt. Is he? He certainly is rested after being disgraced by a plagiarizing scandal. And whose butt is he going to kick? Could it be the head coach of the local football team? The guy who won three championships here? Yeah, he didn’t deliver the perfect season and Ron is filled with bile so Belichick needs a butt kicking.
These people hate the people they cover. The hate the people who call into their shows. The hate the people who listen. They hate you. Now, hate can get you places in this world but navigating the rocking shoals of an industry in turmoil is not the place for the shiftless masses leading the way in the New Balance building. They are not long for the new shift in media and their fall will be as inglorious as a fading superstar shooting his way out of town and getting kicked in the ass by everyone who grew to loathe him.
Posted by Gina at 26.8.08