The meteoric rise of 98.5 The SportsHub and in particular, the afternoon drive show with Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti, can be credited to a topic that has gone mostly ignored by competitors: hockey.
Bruins fans have been ignored for years. Even when the Bruins were doing relatively well, the only time you would hear talk of the team might during a Dale Arnold-hosted program, and even that faded after Arnold was no longer the team's television broadcaster for NESN.
WEEI's Glenn Ordway-led "Big Show" has mocked hockey for years, occasionally trotting out a satirical segment called "Hockey talk" with quick-fire questions and answers accompanied by follies music. Part of the reason for this attitude towards the sport was a lack of knowledge about the game, and an inability to speak about the strategy and nuances of the game. (In an ironic twist, Ordway used to host the Bruins broadcasts at another station a lifetime ago, before he even became the Celtics color man alongside Johnny Most.)
Bruins fans have the reputation of being the most loyal and passionate of the four sports in town, a reputation garnered by their continued devotion to the team through the highs and (mostly) lows of the Jeremy Jacobs era. Ignoring this small but loyal following worked well for WEEI.
Courting that same audience has worked well for Felger and 98.5. His afternoon show with Tony Massarotti consists of basically two topics -- bashing the New England Patriots, and rousing Bruins fans.
An unabashed hockey fan, and an admitted fan of the Bruins, Felger speaks from that viewpoint, going with the highs and lows of the team as the season goes on, and courting the fans, giving them a forum to talk about the team and air their frustrations about how things have gone for this franchise over the years.
The fires have been stoked to a new intensity when the topic turns to the Bruins' rival, the Montreal Canadiens. Felger attacks the team and the people of Montreal with a fury that has reached the ears of the media and citizens of that city. He has been mentioned multiple times by Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette, including this week, when the Montreal writer tuned into the show and wrote on Thursday:
The intro to the segment promised “fact not fiction,” which told me that the guys at 98.5 The Sports Hub don’t understand the concept of sports talk radio. It’s all about opinion. If you don’t have people expressing opinions and debating the news of the day, it makes for boring radio.
Of course, all you have to do is listen to Felger, the village idiot of Boston sports radio, to know that he likes to play fast and loose with the facts.
Felger had Hickey on the program Thursday afternoon, and the segment was lively and entertaining as they went at each other in friendly fashion.
That kind of intense talk about the sport is something that has been sorely missing from the sports media scene here in Boston, and people are responding to it, as evidenced by the ratings, where they have been neck-and-neck with Ordway's Big Show the last few months.
The elimination of co-hosts on the newly redesigned Big Show left Sean McAdam among those looking to pick up airtime elsewhere. The longtime baseball writer, now working for CSNNE.com, found a regular slot with 98.5's Gresh and Zolak show, where he will be a regular contributor ... Sunday's column from Dan Shaughnessy in the Boston Globe was typically acerbic. While I find that the older I get the less interest I have in the NCAA basketaball tournament, I'm not ready to go to the point of calling it "one of the more fraudulent, overblown media creations of our time." There are plenty of other items worthy of that distinction ... Among those would be the media's obsession with Bill Belichick's presence (or lack thereof) at non-mandatory league functions ... The latest round of radio ratings came out this week, and an early look has WEEI coming out on top of 98.5 in the overall ratings, with a breakdown of demographic and time slots is sure to come soon.