WEEI’s decision to reunite longtime midday co-hosts Dale Arnold and Michael Holley in afternoon drive last March seemed to be welcomed by a significant consensus of listeners.
And the pair, who had worked together for six years before being split up in February 2011, provided stability in a crucial day part that had been left in chaos by the decision to bring in the woefully miscast Mike Salk as Holley’s partner in the 2-6 p.m. window in February 2013.
But there were no initial assurances from WEEI or parent company Entercom Communications management that the Arnold-Holley reunion would be permanent, or at least as permanent as anything can be in the tumultuous world of sports radio.
In the immediate weeks after Arnold and Holley were paired up again, Entercom Boston vice president and market manager Phil Zachary acknowledged he would continue to “evaluate and enhance” the program and needed to see progress in the Nielsen radio rating before committing to its (relative) permanence.
Approximately one year, two new contracts and the addition of a third co-host later, it’s now clear that the band isn’t just getting back together. It’s staying together.
Holley, whose contract expires this month, is on the verge of signing a multiyear deal to remain at WEEI. According to Zachary, the station has an agreement in principle with Holley and the contract should be formalized soon.
Holley’s new deal comes a little more than a month after Arnold — who had been working without a contract — signed a multiyear deal to remain with the station. They are joined by Jerry Thornton, who was hired in November.
“Our permanent afternoon show on WEEI-FM will be Michael, Dale and Jerry Thornton,’’ confirmed Zachary via e-mail.
The news comes a decade after Holley and Arnold, who has been at the station since 1991, were first paired in March 2005, when Holley took over for Bob Neumeier on the midday show. And it comes nearly four years to the day after Arnold and Holley were split up by a previous program director in February 2011.
Arnold was demoted to part-time and fill-in duty, while Holley moved to the more prominent spot in afternoon drive, where he was paired with Glenn Ordway. Ordway was fired in February 2013 and replaced by Salk, an ill fit in the market who is now back in Seattle.
It’s a nice bit of redemption for the hosts and the program, which has earned the strong ratings Zachary wanted to see despite continued dominance in the day part by 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Felger & Massarotti program.
In the fall Nielsen ratings, the Felger and Massarotti show was first for the 10th straight ratings period in the men 25-54 demographic with a 13.6 share. But Dale and Holley was second with an 8.0.
Third man in
When The Sports Hub promoted Marc Bertrand from the third voice on the Felger and Massarotti show to Scott Zolak’s co-host of the midday program this month, the station had no shortage of viable in-house candidates to replace him.
Instead, the Sports Hub and CBS Radio went outside of the market for the hire, albeit to bring back a voice that was already familiar.
Jim Murray fit seamlessly during this first week as the third voice on Felger and Mazz, and that’s no surprise. The Boston native’s sense of humor made him a standout during a two-year stint at the Sports Hub beginning in 2010.
He left to host his own nighttime sports program in Atlanta before moving to Star 99.9 in Connecticut in October 2013.
According to Mike Thomas, vice president of sports programming at CBS Radio, Murray never fell off the Sports Hub’s radar.
“Jim did a really good job at 98.5 The Sports Hub when we hired him in 2010 from WFNX,’’ said Thomas. “He left here after a couple of years and hosted his own late night show for our CBS Sports Station in Atlanta and did a really good job there too. We’ve stayed in touch . . . He was a natural.
“With his unique sense of humor, his strong opinions, his local background and his ability to produce very entertaining content for Felger & Mazz, he was a natural choice for this position.”
Sager suited for return
Hard to figure there was any better news in sports media this week than this: Craig Sager, the longtime TNT NBA reporter known for his vivid wardrobe choices and colorful banter with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in particular, will be back on the sideline March 5 when the network broadcasts a Bulls-Thunder matchup.
Sager, 63, had been absent from the broadcasts since last April when he began treatment for acute leukemia, but he did make a brief appearance during the recent All-Star Weekend to interview Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. His son, Craig Sager II, broke the news of his father’s return on Twitter this week.
It would have been fitting if he’d returned during a Spurs game given that Popovich, a comically gruff interview subject, proved a good friend to Sager during his ordeal, regularly checking in to see how he was doing.
Sager always has been a good sport when players tease him for his sartorial choices — Kevin Garnett once told him that he should burn his entire wardrobe. He will be a welcome sight back on the sidelines again no matter what garish get-up he’s wearing.
The role of digital host and in-game reporter for the Celtics has served as a stepping stone in recent years. Molly McGrath, now a co-host of Fox Sports 1’s America’s Pregame program, and Kristine Leahy, now with CBS and its Los Angeles affiliate, both began making their name in that role. Now Leahy’s successor, Emily Austen, is moving on — and more specifically, going home. The Tampa native is leaving to join Fox’s Sun Sports, Florida’s television home for Tampa Bay Rays broadcasts. She will serve as the in-game reporter as well as hosting other team-related programming. She makes her debut March 26 . . . WBZ (1030) named Adam Kaufman morning sports anchor. He replaces Walt Perkins, who was let go in November. Kaufman will continue to contribute to 98.5 the Sports Hub and Boston.com.