Mike Salk has spent the past four years honing his skills as a sports radio host roughly 3,000 miles west of Brighton. But as the Sudbury native prepares for his mid-March debut as Michael Holley’s cohost and Glenn Ordway’s replacement on WEEI’s stunningly revamped afternoon drive program, he quickly makes it clear that his awareness of the Boston sports culture hasn’t diminished despite his time in Seattle, where chronic rain rarely clouds the fans’ sunny outlook.
“Boston and Seattle are very different,’’ said Salk, who worked as a reporter and host at the now-defunct ESPN 890 in Boston from 2005-09. “I missed . . . I missed the irritation that fans show because they love their team. Does that make sense?
“People in Seattle don’t like to get mad at their team. They love their team. They have a passionate fan base, don’t get me wrong, especially for the Seahawks. But they don’t get mad at the team in the same way.
“They’re generally more of a positive group. I kept trying to explain to people, look, it’s OK to be mad at your team, because you’re frustrated and you want them to care about winning as much as you care about winning. That’s where the Boston sports fan comes from.”
Salk has stayed up on Boston sports by watching Comcast SportsNet New England and NESN on DirecTV and listening to WEEI streaming online, making it easy for him to maintain his knowledge, not to mention that New England edge.
“I think I was the most cynical person anyone out [in Seattle] ever met,’’ he said. “And I don’t think I’m cynical compared to the general Boston sports fan. But compared to the general Seattle sports fan, maybe I was. It took a little time. Definitely took some time to adjust.”
Salk, paired with former NFL quarterback Brock Huard, found ratings success and a loyal following as the midday cohosts on Seattle’s ESPN 710. Listen to his show for a while and his appeal to WEEI becomes apparent: He’s opinionated, energetic, and self-deprecating, not unlike his former 890 co-worker who is now his competition, Michael Felger, who cohosts The Sports Hub’s afternoon drive powerhouse with Tony Massarotti.
It’s apparent Salk, 34, genuinely enjoys sports, which hasn’t always been the case with some past and present WEEI hosts.
It is fair to wonder whether there will be an adjustment period when Salk returns. The listener response to Ordway’s departure was impressive, a reminder of his immense popularity at one time as well as his impact on the station’s success. The “Big Show’’ format may have grown stale long before it was altered, but its relevance isn’t exaggerated.
Salk is familiar with his predecessor’s place in Boston sports radio history, and not just as someone who grew up listening to the station and called it a “no-brainer” to return. He has seen it from a competitive standpoint, having spent those years at 890, one of the weak-signaled stations that couldn’t dent WEEI’s ratings dominance.
He said his approach will be to focus on doing his own thing rather than consciously trying to make listeners forget about Ordway.
“It’s not about replacing Glenn Ordway,’’ Salk said. “He’s a legend, he accomplished something enormously important for sports radio, especially for Boston sports radio. But it’s not about replacing him. It’s about working hard with Michael and developing a new show that I think will be incredibly successful as well.’’
Still, it will be natural for listeners to compare the new guy with Ordway, especially since the cohost remains the same. Salk was asked how he can render the comparisons obsolete.
“I guess because the show will sound very, very different,’’ said Salk. “My style is different from Glenn’s. It’s going to sound so different that . . . I don’t think people will think of it that way.
“I look toward the future as opposed to the past, and I think this show will provide listeners with a show that they really, really want to listen to every day.
“And [when] the comparisons come, the comparisons come. But I don’t worry about that. I just think about the future of this show.’’
More on WEEI
A couple of other quick thoughts on WEEI’s recent roster moves:
■ While Salk will be the focus once he arrives, the pressure on Holley should be acknowledged. Salk refers to him as “a star,” and this will be the first time a show will be built around him. WEEI changed a lot to move him into afternoon drive two years ago, and it has changed more to put him into a position to succeed. He has the talent and personality, but it’s up to him to do it.
■ WEEI has yet to announce it, but Kirk Minihane’s addition to “Dennis and Callahan’’ as a third host is a step in the right direction. Like cohost Gerry Callahan, he can be acerbic, but he comes at it from a different direction and that should bolster the program. That is, if he’s permitted to speak as an equal.