Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Not A Big Fan

Earlier today I said I'd talk more about WEEI being a horrible radio station. I've been meaning to do this for a while, but what a perfect time to do it this is. Not only because they spent much of today talking about basketball with a Red Sox-Yankees series about to start, but because tonight, NESN viewers got a taste of WFAN's Chris "Mad Dog" Russo.

Having grown up in the New York area, I'm very familiar with sports radio. It all started with WFAN in the late-80s, when I was a teenager. Mike & the Mad Dog started doing their show when I started high school, and are still on today. No matter what I was doing in the 90s, an afternoon drive always included at least a few minutes of "Fatso and Froot Loops," as Imus used to call them. And I spent many dateless (weren't they all?) overnights in high school listening to the then unknown Steve Sommers.

In the early days, our sports radio jokes usually involved imitating "Vinny from Queens" who'd call in to suggest that the Yankees trade Don Slaught for Ken Griffey, Jr. Brilliant. You still get calls like this today, though not as often. It might be from someone who insists on telling the host that he or she is a "first time/long time," which doesn't mean it's the first time in a long time that they've called, but that they're a first-time caller despite being a long-time listener.

We'd also make fun of the voices and quirks of Mike & the Mad Dog, but only because this was all we knew. There was only one "sports radio." We never had anything to compare it to. It wasn't until later in life, after hearing imitators in other cities, that I realized what a well-oiled machine the FAN is.

To make it very simple, here's a comparison.

WFAN: A quality sports-talk radio station.

Every other sports-talk station I've ever heard: A Simpsons-style parody of a radio station. (Or, the two morning hosts in Groundhog Day.)

The one station I've heard a lot of besides the FAN is WEEI in Boston. Now that I'm here, I'm hearing it even more. It's almost impossible for me. There are so many basic rules that exist on the FAN that these other stations don't even think of, apparently. Prime example: If a caller starts out by saying something absolutely ludicrous, immediately disconnect them and move on to someone who actually has something to say. EEI will let a caller talk, then respond, and then let them talk again! Fine if it's an intelligent person. Not fine if they're drunk! The screeners should take the blame, but the hosts seem to love to talk to these people, so they should share it. Sometimes EEI will cut someone off, after a painfully long time, but they'll do it with the "explosion" sound effect, normally reserved for lowest common denominator radio. But that makes sense because that's exactly what they are. It's a sound effects lollapalooza! Yee haw!

Here's another thing about EEI I can't take. Note: the first time I heard this, I figured it was a one-off gag, only to realize later it's basically the theme song of one of their shows. (The "Big Show," I think.) They have an announcer talking over music, telling you what's on the show, interspered with clips of people saying things. Unfunny things. Just little clips. For a long time. "The Red Sox are playing like a minor league team, they should be tried as minors." Ah, ha ha ha ha. Hilarious. I just came up with that on the spot, yet if I called in with it, it would be repeated at the top of every hour, which seems to be how often they play the theme. And after hearing about the "Weiner Whiner Line" for years, I finally heard it the other day. Just what I suspected: More unfunny one-liners from average people, whom I am certain do not have the job title "comedian." Even worse, the hosts sit there laughing their asses off at these completely unfunny rants.

Now, I know there are different shows with different attitudes. I guess what I'm describing is mainly this "Big" show. But I've also heard a lot of Dale and Holley. While they seem a little more down to earth, there's still this high school A/V club/public access show feel. It's like, "Oh, he's speaking clearly and concisely. This should be good. Nope. Stupid." And then they'll go on and on about the sound effects that they, too, can't seem to live without.

I'm singling out EEI because it's the second-most listened to sports station by me. Actually, I also caught a lot of New York's ESPN radio, which I also despised. They, and I'm sure all the other Fox and ESPN radio stations across the country, try to do the "we're young and hip and we let YOU be in control" thing. Which translates to: More stupid people and more sound effects. So, this isn't a Boston/New York thing. It's an FAN/everyone else thing.

And don't get me started on the travesty that is "Planet Mikey." Only way I can explain that one: somebody's blackmailing somebody. Mob most likely involved.

And that brings me to tonight. Tom and Eck were doing the pre-game, and all of a sudden they bring in, live on the phone, the Mad Dog. I've never been so happy to hear that man's voice. After a day of Dale and Holley and the Big-Show fart-noise-fest, I was treated to someone actually talking Red Sox vs. Yankees. Non-stop. Intelligently. No sound effects. They'd ask a question, he'd give a smooth, steady stream of facts and opinions. You'd think that'd be the norm for a professional journalist. Instead, it was a treat. (The fact that Doggy wants the Yanks to lose as much as we all do is always a bonus. That's another great thing about the FAN--besides Mad Dog's partner, most of their hosts are anti-Yankees.)

While the Dog barked, to the amusement of Tom and Eck, I sat there saying, Please say "terrible job"! You may have noticed I say the "TJ" phrase a lot--that's a Mad Dogism. He didn't say it, but he did call Mike Myers "terrible." And he threw in another one of his catch phrases, "spotty."

So, basically, I'm just putting in my vote for the FAN as the only listenable sports station I've ever come across. A few weeks ago, I heard some EEI hosts mocking Mike & the Mad Dog, doing imitations, etc. I was a little offended. I can make fun of their voices, because that's my home station, but these guys, whose entire careers are probably owed to those two men? Terrible job.

You should do another post on this topic after listening to Dennis and Callahan (when Callahan is actually there). You are going to absolutely lose your mind and want to rip your ears off of your head.

I'm with you on the Big Show. Not a fan. I am constantly amazed at how much the Whiner Line callers must listen and how much they know about the Boston Sports Media though.

I like Dale and Holley, I like Planet Mikey, and I like the weekend shows (the baseball show and Mustard & Johnson). I think you're giving WFAN too much credit - WEEI doesn't have any shows as bad as Pete Franklin was.
That's why they canned Pete Franklin 15 years ago. There have been some crappy hosts and shows on the FAN, but they just have the whole idea down, whereas lots of other stations saw sports radio as a way to insert the same old "FM morning show" tactics into a new format.

I've heard Planet Mikey a bunch of times. The guy seems to know little to nothing about sports. And he also has that problem of trying to have a discussion with some fool who calls in instead of moving on.

YOu know what else I don't like Coming out of Fenway, putting on EEI and getting some national show--Saturday nights I think.
i also live in the NYC area and am "forced" to listen to the FAN and ESPN. I must say i love Michael Kay's show in the afternoon, he really does a good job. He ACTUALLY talks about sports, where EEI usually is a lot of inside jokes and name dropping, stupidity and PATRIOTS!. I used the think the whiner line was funny, but now i cant stand it.
i like the fan overnight as well.
i have direct tv mlb and nesn and direct tv seems to screw up a LOT of games. THEY DIDNT SHOW THE MATSUZAKA GAME ON SAT! instead i saw devern hansack suck it up. it wasnt a fox game. it wasnt blacked out, so why why why couldnt i see it. so stupid
Michael Kay does talk about baseball--but he's still Michael Kay. (His show is on ESPN radio not the FAN, for people who don't know.)

I don't know why you only got one game Saturday--I'd bet the fact that one was a make-up game had something to do with it.
i love remy and orsillo but u do feel like im learning more about the ins and out of the game from kay (even though hes not an ex-player) but o'neill and the other color analysts contribute a LOT. where as you pretty much get laughter (which is awesome) from orsillo and remy.
jd drew sucks, i wish we still had nixon...
Steve Somers pretty much sucks too though. I think you might have liked Ted Sarandis - who didn't tolerate idiot callers, but wasn't exactly dynamic.

Seriously, you need to try to listen to an entire Dennis and Callahan, it'll be worth it for the blog entry that follows.
I've always loved Sommers. And again, people like him, being Yankee haters, makes it easier to like them.

That was Ted Nation, right? That guy, I actually did like. I think I used to hear him after games on the drive home to CT in the old days. And if it's the guy I'm thinking of, yes, he was pretty good.

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Location: Rhode Island, United States