The closest thing to an objective perspective on the status of the various daytime sports programs in the Boston market will be revealed next week when the Nielsen Audio ratings for the spring period become available. The subjective perspective? Well, that happens to be available right now.
Here’s a quick, overdue, and wholly opinionated take on the eight daily programs on the two prominent and dominant sports stations:
■ Toucher and Rich, The Sports Hub, morning drive: Perhaps their brand of humor isn’t for everyone — Fred Toucher’s recently unveiled Larry Flynt imitation is rather random — but those who don’t get the joke are missing out on the most consistently enjoyable (and least antagonistic) program in the market. Toucher and co-host Rich Shertenlieb are distinctly talented, but the sum of their collaboration greatly exceeds their individual abilities.
■ Dennis and Callahan (featuring Kirk Minihane), WEEI, morning drive: The John Dennis/Gerry Callahan pairing was a ratings behemoth for years before falling behind Toucher and Rich not long after the Sports Hub’s launch in August 2009. The addition of the relentlessly blunt Minihane in February 2013 added a welcome and necessary new voice, and ratings are strong. Love him or loathe him, he has listeners tuning in. However, his knack for finding controversy and recent mixed messages regarding management’s level of support for him make one wonder how long he will stick around.
■ Zolak and Bertrand, The Sports Hub, middays: It’s rare for a program that had consistent ratings success to change co-hosts without a dramatic reason for doing so, but CBS Radio did just that when it slid Felger and Mazz third wheel Marc Bertrand over in February to replace Andy Gresh, whose contract was up. Turns out it was the correct thing to do, too. Ratings have remained strong, and Bertrand, who is opinionated but does not come close to Gresh’s level of bombast, has meshed well with the frenetic Scott Zolak.
■ Middays with MFB, WEEI, middays: There must be entertaining ways for a host who roots for a team in another market to carve out a niche. In his year-plus at WEEI, Steelers fan Tim Benz has yet to find it, and with informed conjecture I do wonder whether this is the spot where Glenn Ordway makes his triumphant comeback someday. Lou Merloni is a capable co-host, but he’s even better as a color analyst on Red Sox radio broadcasts. Christian Fauria is engaging enough, but he’s ill-informed on the sports he did not play professionally, and I’m not sure why it’s taken as an insult to suggest he is only on the radio because he played for the Patriots.
■ Felger and Massarotti, The Sports Hub, afternoon drive: I’ve written about this phenomenon here before, but it bears repeating. Whenever something notable or controversial happens in Boston sports, I receive at least a few messages, often more, from fans sharing their opinion — and then sharing what they presume Michael Felger will say about it the next day. When a host is in listeners’ heads to the point they’re predicting his opinions, that’s when you know he’s driving the conversation in the city. As for Tony Massarotti, right now I can hear him caterwauling that “[Fill-in-the-blank player/team] stinks, Mike!” — and my radio isn’t even turned on at the moment. Is that bad? I think that’s bad.
■ Dale and Holley (with Jerry Thornton), WEEI, afternoon drive: A perfectly pleasant program, and a dependable flip-the-station alternative on the days when Felger and Mazz achieve peak insufferableness. There’s something I like better about the Michael Holley/Dale Arnold pairing in afternoon drive than I did in middays, but I can’t quite put my finger on it; perhaps it’s the production, with segments such as Four at Four? Thornton (more on him in a few paragraphs) adds a fan’s voice and provides genuine insight on the Patriots, but his jokes can be repetitive from show to show.
■ Planet Mikey Show, WEEI, evenings: If clever-if-corny one-liners, ’70s Red Sox references, familiar imitations, LeBron James hate, and perpetual aggravation with Red Sox left fielders named Ramirez are your things, this is the show for you. Mike Adams’s easy affability sometimes overcomes the predictability of the program, and as someone he long ago pegged as Hack Finn, I must admit he is legitimately witty. He’s grown on me, and WEEI could do much worse in the thankless evening time slot.
■ Adam Jones Show, The Sports Hub, 7-midnight: Adam Jones, a former Felger intern during the latter’s ESPN 890 days, too often comes off as a junior varsity version of his apparent mentor, all contrarian hot takes and with none of the nuance. On the positive side, Jones and sidekick Rich Keefe (who deserves greater prominence) are more tuned in to the NBA than any other program in the market.
Leave it on the bar
When WEEI and its parent company Entercom hired Thornton in November as the third voice on the Dale and Holley program and a featured writer on the station’s website, a significant reason for doing so was the demographic appeal of his previous association. Thornton made his name writing for Barstool Sports, and Entercom was banking on Thornton bringing some of that frat-bro-targeted site’s massive traffic to WEEI.com. Thornton has maintained a sizeable following, but the reminder came Wednesday that not everything that fit Barstool’s content ideals belongs on WEEI.com. Thornton wrote a post under the heading Grading The Latest Sex Scandal Teacher, a description that ought to provide enough context about the content. Thornton wrote numerous columns under that headline at Barstool, and they were widely read. But at WEEI, a site that features excellent writers such as Christopher Price who have worked hard to establish legitimate journalistic chops, tongue-in-cheek columns about statutory rape shouldn’t fly. To WEEI’s credit, the column was removed from the site Thursday. No more female teachers embroiled in sex scandals with their students will be graded on WEEI.com in the future.