By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Assessing the sports-talk competition

Bruce Allen has been paying far more attention to the sports-talk competition between WEEI (AM 850) and upstart WBZ-FM (98.5) than I have, and he’s got some interesting things to say. His bottom line: ‘BZ may not be firing on all cylinders yet, but ‘EEI finally has some competition on its hands.

I would love to see ‘EEI taken down a few notches, but here’s my problem. The Red Sox and the Celtics are on ‘EEI. The Patriots and the Bruins are on ‘BZ. I love baseball, prefer basketball to football, and actively dislike hockey. So I may wind up choosing WEEI more often than WBZ for reasons other than quality. (Via Universal Hub.)

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  1. Al

    I’ve started listening to it, and like it so far. It’s grown up sports radio, without childish histrionics or conservative politics thrown in. I can actually listen to more than 5 minutes at a time without changing the station as with the ‘EEI lineup.

  2. CAvard

    I’ve been out of Boston for a while, so I apologize in advance with this question.

    What ever happened to 1520 “The Zone?” The sports talk radio station with all the Globe sports reporters and Eddie Andleman? Is that gone now? Just wondering. Thanks.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Cavard: It was 1510 The Zone, and now it’s liberal talk from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., sports at night. See:

    The problem was that the signal’s no good. WBZ-FM on the other hand, has a much stronger signal than WEEI.

    The great Eddie Andelman has revived “Sports Huddle” on WTKK (96.9 FM) on Sundays from 7 to 10 p.m. If you’re a fan, you can listen live online.

  4. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    There seem to be a few issues which, more than personalities, will determine the future of this enterprise.

    First, is it true that the Red Sox can opt out of its Entercom contract due to a late payment? Putting those rights in play years ahead of schedule would have enormous impact.

    Second, can WEEI afford to continue developing its Web site in light of the inevitable revenue challenges that come from no longer being the only viable sports station in town?

    Third, what will happen when the inevitable franchise swap of the Red Sox for the Dodgers happens? Wouldn’t Frank McCourt be happier in Boston and Werner and Henry be happier in Hollywood? Aren’t revenues pretty close and easily offset by retaining ownership of some Sox-owned real estate near Fenway for a piece of the pie for the limited partners in the resulting McCourt-led redevelopment of the Fenway area? The combination of the radio rights being in play and a franchise swap may be a king-maker for sports talk radio.

  5. Dan, 1510’s biggest problem isn’t just the signal…which, indeed, is not terribly good.

    The problem is the lease for the land the towers are on. The specifics, I believe, have never been released (and there’s no reason they should be) but there’s been plenty of rumors by people in the know who put the rent north of $20,000 PER MONTH.

    That may or may not still be true…the numbers I heard were back when the Zone first started and that was during the boom years. The reason for the outrageous high rent was that the land was owned by a developer and it sits in the middle of an office complex…and the rent was roughly equivalent to what a developer could get if he/she leased the land to offices. Given the downturn in the economy, that equation may be out of whack but tower leases are usually done in 10 or 20 year increments so the downturn may be irrelevant.

    Now toss in the inherent costs of running a directional AM station (a lot of electrical power gets wasted in the process, and AM stations in the high end of the band need more watts to compensate for higher frequencies…so the power bills are steep) and the relatively poor overall coverage thanks to that directional pattern, and the upshot is that the costs of operating 1510 are (comparatively) very, very high to begin with.

  6. LFNeilson

    1510 – What ever happened to Woo Woo Ginsberg? The signal was so bad, but WMEX was the only station playing rock. Transistor radios were junk and old tube radios had a bad hum. On AM, there was EEI, NAC, HDH, BZ and MEX. BZ always had the superior signal, 50,000 watts. As for FM, there was WGBH and not much else. Nobody had an FM radio. My brother hooked up an FM converter to my grandfather’s TV, and I hated it, because listening to FM meant no TV. The Sox were on HDH with Curt Gowdy and Bill Crowley, later Ned Martin. My grandfather and I would sit in the shade next to the garage on hot summer afternoons, listening to the Sox. Weekends were special, with the Sox on TV. B&W, and only two or three camera angles.

  7. mike_b1

    WEEI’s signal is absolutely lousy, even at night when AM should come through more clearly. It’s as if someone decided listening to a Red Sox game is supposed to be torture even when the team is successful.

  8. O'Rion

    The above nonsense about the radio rights being “in play” and the LAD and Red Sox being involved in a “swap” is the product of an overactive imagination.
    Entercom has RS rights through 2116.

    WBZ-FM has a very nice signal and their content may improve with the start of the FB season. But they have a long way to go to approach the ‘EEI network success.

    • Dan Kennedy

      O’Rion: The folks at WEEI woke up on third base and decided they must have hit a triple. They’re a success because people in Boston love to talk about sports and are willing to overlook how wretched much of the station’s programming is. WBZ-FM doesn’t just have “a very nice signal” — it has a far better signal than ‘EEI. I wonder if Entercom might respond by finally putting WRKO out of its misery and moving sports down the dial, where the signal is much better.

      Does Entercom’s agreement with the Red Sox really have another 107 years to go? I’m sure that if you’re John Henry, there are days when it feels like it.

  9. ben

    I’m not sure why the Red Sox broadcasts which Entercom puts on 680 (except for Wed on 850) would have an impact on which sports radio station you choose to listen.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Ben: It has an impact on what they choose to talk about. Just anecdotally, I’ve noticed more football talk on WBZ-FM, more baseball talk on WEEI. The talkers want to promote the games.

  10. Al

    in a nutshell, here’s how the stations contrast while listening for a bit just before 7 PM. DA is discussing the Red Sox rotation and whether or not Beckett might need a bit more rest. Mikey is talking about how he hopes CC Sabathia strains his ass and then posits that he thinks his ass weighs 80 lbs. Brilliant sports talk.

    DA is the best new sports radio host in this area in a long time.

    • Dan Kennedy

      I have to confess that I find Mike Adams pretty entertaining. But it’s safe to say that WEEI encourages his worst tendencies.

  11. Al

    exactly… and the thing is Mike knows his stuff about baseball. But they want the clown act.

  12. mike from norwell

    When discussing the supposed signal advantage of WBZ-FM over WEEI, seem to be overlooking their FM presence over most of New England. I’m down in Duxbury, and by the time I clear Norwell I have a choice of clear signals either via the Cape (96.3) or Westerly RI (103.7). WBZ-FM’s signal isn’t quite the slam dunk advantage over NE.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Mike: Up on the North Shore, we get to listen to the Red Sox on WBOQ (104.9 FM), although, fortunately, the station has its own programming the rest of the time.

  13. mike from norwell

    One other thought that comes to mind is exactly how valuable radio rights are to the Patriots in the first place. Think baseball is really the only sport that you can essentially picture the game in your mind over the air, given the set position of players on the field. Realistically, are you going to go out in your car to listen to the Pats or watch them in High Def? I know which one I’d choose. Of course, now that my son for the first 8 weeks will be playing football on Sunday afternoons, will probably be listening a little more than usual to the Pats. That plus the shear number of games (162 v. 16) tilts the advantage to the Red Sox rights.

    One thing that is of interest is how long WEEI’s Patriots Monday contract runs for. Assume that Kraft will be upping the ante on that renewal when the time comes.

  14. O'Rion

    Well, EEI wanted to do something –short of going FM in Boston–so they got the RS back on the station (from Entercom’s WRKO).
    So much for losing the rights for “late payment.” 2016 (corrected!) looks like a long run to me.

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