Because news nowadays is apparently never official until announced with an awkwardly constructed press release or verified with a thank-you-one-and-all post on Facebook, consider this the requisite acknowledgment of a sports media transaction formally confirmed on Thursday, three weeks after it was reported here:
WEEI has added Jerry Thornton as the third voice on the afternoon drive “Dale and Holley” program. Thornton will also contribute columns and other content to WEEI.com.
A part-time standup comedian and now-former Barstool Sports writer who specialized in Patriots analysis and posts about female schoolteachers seducing male students, Thornton has been prominent among a revolving cast of third hosts on the program.
His persona — the wise-cracking voice of the unabashed fan — has brought him an audience faithful and broad enough that opportunities such as this have been presented to him; his Facebook post about his new role brought more than 350 likes.
It remains to be seen whether there’s enough depth to his shtick for Thornton to avoid redundancy now that he’s on the air for 20 hours per week.
In its press release confirming his addition — which included a reference to him as a “prolific sports journalist,’’ as if the line were borrowed from Michael Holley’s or Gerry Callahan’s bio — Thornton was mentioned as the “permanent” third host.
It’s an interesting word choice, permanent, for a couple of reasons.
Virtually nothing in sports radio is permanent.
And the buzz for months is that another shakeup in WEEI’s 2-6 p.m. window could happen once Holley’s contract expires in February.
(Dale Arnold, who was reunited with his former midday partner in March when the disastrous Mike Salk returned to Seattle, has been working without a contract.)
Thornton is an interesting, if unorthodox, addition to the program. But permanent? If so, he’d be the first in the genre, save for perhaps the great Mike Francesa, to be able to claim such a designation.
So as Thornton begins his new permanent-for-now role in the exciting, temporary world of sports radio, it’s not his hiring, but what comes next, that is particularly interesting.
Would WEEI try to hire someone from the competition? This summer, there was belief within the industry that WEEI was setting up to make a run at Michael Felger, the driving force of the ratings-dominant “Felger and Massarotti” show on 98.5 The Sports Hub. But Felger signed a long-term deal to remain at the station a couple of months ago before his contract was set to expire.
WEEI executives — those who remain from the station’s days as the market’s sports-radio monopoly, anyway — must wonder how circumstances might be different had it recognized what it had in Felger when he was the chief fill-in before he departed for the afternoon-drive role with The Sports Hub in August 2009.
Among other candidates, WEEI has given serious consideration to bringing Marc Bertrand — the third voice of the “Felger and Massarotti” show — over in the afternoon drive slot. Bertrand’s contract is believed to expire at the end of the year. But as of now, that potential move doesn’t appear to be in the works.
Would WEEI seek a return to past glory? At least one station executive met over dinner with Glenn Ordway recently. Ordway, who currently hosts “Big Show Unfiltered” online and on satellite radio, has always had his staunch supporters at WEEI, even after he was fired in February 2013.
In his heyday, Ordway was what Felger is now: the rare voice who leaves fans speculating about what he will have to say about the game. But the reasons why a reunion are improbable are obvious.
Though the decision to replace him with Salk was beyond regrettable, the reason he was dismissed was justifiable. He couldn’t stay with the competition in the ratings. It’s hard to believe they’d be any better should he return, at least after an initial burst of nostalgia.
The most intriguing possibility for afternoon drive is an in-house option, but it also presents a dilemma. Kirk Minihane has emerged as a compelling and controversial personality since joining the “Dennis and Callahan” program as its third voice in February 2013. Among current hosts in the market, only Felger draws more authentic and consistent reaction from listeners in that did-you-hear-what-he-said-today sense.
If WEEI wants a bold personality to go head to head with the Felger/Mazz/Bertrand ratings juggernaut, it almost has no choice but to move Minihane to afternoon drive. But the catch is obvious: He has had a significant impact on the “Dennis and Callahan” program, which was the top-rated morning sports program in the market over the summer and has continued to give The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich” a battle in the fall.
It would be daring — and perhaps counterproductive — of WEEI to take a key personality on its most successful program and move him elsewhere. But it has considered doing it, and in the opinion here it is what it should do.
Finding the right partner for Minihane could be daunting, but that’s WEEI’s problem, and putting Minihane in afternoon drive would be a bold first step in regaining some of the audience lost in afternoon drive over the last five years.
Felger and Massarotti have won the three-month ratings periods nine straight times. That considered, boldness seems the only long-term choice for WEEI. What else is there to lose?
For the moment, the most likely scenario in afternoon drive is the current scenario: status quo. It’s not the ideal option, but it’s far from the worst. Arnold and Holley are easy listening, knowledgeable, and affable hosts who offer a counter to Felger and Massarotti’s deliberate, if often entertaining, aggravation of their listeners.
They do fine in the ratings, finishing fourth in the time slot over the summer with a 5.6, trailing Felger and Massarotti’s first-place 8.8. That gap has widened in the fall, however, and even with the addition of Thornton it’s hard to figure that doing just fine will be acceptable for much longer in an industry where even the excellent don’t stay forever.Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.