Ironies and coincidences are never difficult to find in sports radio, where gossip is currency and allegiances change more frequently than the ratings.
That was particularly true this week with the unsurprising departure of Mike Salk, who resigned from WEEI’s afternoon drive “Salk and Holley” Wednesday. The rumor mill had churned for a while that Salk was scouring for a new opportunity.
He found that opportunity in a familiar place — the irony being that it is not in the familiar place he was supposed to find it. A Sudbury native, Salk came back to Boston from Seattle, where he co-hosted a popular show with former NFL quarterback Brock Huard, to replace fired legend Glenn Ordway last March.
For a New England kid, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Instead, barely a year later, he’s headed back to Seattle as a program director and host at his former station, ESPN 710.
Salk is from here, but it never seemed that way on the air. One local host once referred to him as Diane Chambers, the pretentious outcast amid the barroom family on “Cheers.” Frasier Crane may be more fitting. This is his home, but his professional home is Seattle.
The other irony? Salk is leaving the same week the man he replaced is making his anticipated return to the scene. Ordway’s “Big Show Unfiltered” launches at SportsTalkBoston.com on March 17.
With WEEI’s 2-6 p.m slot in as much flux now as it was a year ago when Ordway was fired, it is imperative that parent company Entercom finds the right partner for holdover host Michael Holley this time.
But there is no obvious choice. Kirk Minihane would be terrific, but he’s tethered to the morning show. Dale Arnold, Holley’s partner on a well-rated and well-received midday show until a February 2011 shakeup, has been filling in, but the back-to-the-future approach probably isn’t what brand manager Kevin Graham (who, somewhat surprisingly, is said to be leading the search) is looking for. Tom Curran would be an interesting option but he’s loyal to Comcast SportsNet New England.
If WEEI is going to make a dent in rival 98.5 The Sports Hub’s dominance in afternoon drive with “Felger and Mazz,” it’s imperative that it makes the right hire, whomever it happens to be. On the plus side, replacing Salk is considerably less daunting than replacing Ordway.
End of an era
Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Brent Musburger expertly anchor CBS’s iconic “NFL Today” in the 1970s and ’80s. Maybe it’s because I admire his career-rebuilding resilience after CBS’s surprising decision to fire him the day before the championship game of the 1990 NCAA men’s basketball tournament. (He called the game, offering a gracious and understated farewell.) Or maybe it’s because he’s always good for a politically incorrect faux pas or two (hello, Katherine Webb) that keeps a media writer on his toes.
But even though he is armed with a new three-year contract, ESPN’s decision to move Musburger from its marquee “Saturday Night Football’’ telecast to the SEC Network feels like the end of an era. He has a knack for capturing the magnitude of a big event (“You’re looking live . . . ”), and so it’s disappointing his new assignment does not include calling any playoff games.
To his credit, Musburger, in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch, was typically practical about ESPN and ABC’s decision.
“It happens in corporate life all the time,’’ Musburger said. “So if this was a good time for them to take a different direction, they should go for it. I’m delighted to be offered a three-year deal when I am 75 years old [he turns 75 in May]. I love going to games, I love the excitement, and I want to continue. It is a heck of an opportunity for someone who does not want to play golf every day.”
Musburger’s replacement is deserving and more than capable. Chris Fowler, who has been at ESPN since 1986 (anyone remember “Scholastic Sports America”?), will take over the play-by-play responsibilities on the Saturday night game.
Fowler, who signed a nine-year contract extension, will continue to host the popular “College GameDay” on Saturday mornings. He will travel to the site of the prime-time game on the same day if necessary, something analyst Kirk Herbstreit has been doing for a while. Fowler and Herbstreit have worked together on “GameDay” since 1996, so their rapport in the booth should come easy.
Fowler, who has called ESPN’s Thursday night college football games from 2006-09, is a more than worthy successor to Musburger — even if we’re not quite sure a successor was necessary.
Count it as a bad idea
I suppose spring training is the time to experiment with goofy ideas. But the Red Sox’ decision to have the public address announcer at JetBlue Park say the count after each pitch during their game Tuesday against the Marlins is a ridiculous concept by any measure, one that should never find its way to Fenway. You don’t have to be a cynic to suspect it’s just another way to make a buck. (“Ball four by Webster, brought to you by The Fours.”) Nothing else makes sense. This idea is even worse than last year’s designated annoying spring training experiment: NESN’s decision to share broadcast teams with the opposition during a couple of games . . . During an interview with WEEI’s Mike Adams, Dennis Eckersley revealed he’s slated to fill in for Jerry Remy in the NESN booth on 10 or so Red Sox broadcasts this season. He’s also set to handle pre- and postgame duties for 50 to 60 Sox games, and said he will also continue his postseason role with TBS.