Thursday, February 14, 2013

Endlessness Killed the Radio Star

Radio personalities have roughly the same job average tenure as baseball managers. Glenn Ordway lasted quite a long time before he lost his gig due to an inescapable dilemma built into its very nature. Many days there's really not that much to say about sports and he had to say it anyway.

I used to experience that dilemma at the Herald sometimes, albeit at a less intense level. It's ever so much easier to fake 800 words than it is to fill four hours of radio time, no matter how many commercials and co-hosts you cram into the space. So although Ordway never much cared for my work in the sports commentary racket nor I for his, and although I'm sure Glenn's entrepreneurial spirit will provide him a comfortable landing, his fall strikes me as a classical mini-tragedy, the hero laid low by what took him to the heights in the first place.

Ordway was very good at sports talk radio. You could even say he contributed to the aesthetic growth of that medium (or should I say fungus-like growth?). But for those who practice it, sports talk radio always, always contains the seeds of self-destruction, and they grow, too.

It can't be helped. On any given weekday, there are only so many sports topics that even the most devoted fan has thought about for a nanosecond. There are only X number of games and X divided by a big number of athletes, coaches, owners and administrators who've made asses of themselves. How much new stuff, really, has happened to the Bruins in the last week? And baseball (the sport that's got the most space on the calendar), is even worse. Any fan has experienced going on summer vacation out of daily touch with their home team and returning to find it just as much the same as their home. No wonder  Glenn made himself scarce every summer.

This means fans, and perforce talk show hosts, go over the same issues again and again. Why human beings are willing to be placed on hold for hours to be the 17,487th caller in a week to offer an opinion on Rajon Rondo I do not know. I don't want to know those people, either. What I do know is those folks pay Entercom and CBS's dividends. A host can mock them or dismiss them. Ordway did both. He can't ignore 'em, and he has to talk about what they've talked about.

Repetition breeds boredom. Boredom for the listeners, which is very bad. Boredom for the talk show host, which is worse. Boredom breeds bad habits, habits that turned bored listeners into aggravated ones.

Self-plagarization and self-parody are every columnist's nightmare and an occupational disease few of us miss entirely. For sports talk hosts, they are virulent plagues. It takes next to no time for repetition to turn the host's approach to sports into Schtick, and less time than that for Schtick to become Self-Parody on the grand scale. Actors walk away from long-running TV series because they fear becoming their characters. Talk show hosts always DO become their characters. And since "controversy" is radio's Holy Grail, sooner or later the character is always named Provocateur, a French word meaning Jackass.

People don't like jackasses. But what they really don't like is hearing the same old shit every day on the radio. They seek options. 98.5 came along and gave people options to Ordway. My guess that Felger and Mazz, who knocked Ordway off, won't last a third as long as he did. My two former colleagues have reached a state of perfect jackassery combined with perfect predictability in what, three years?

If I had to predict, I'd say the national sports talk entities of CBS, ESPN and Fox will triumph even here in notoriously provincial Boston sports. Those shows get the big name guests, and said guests are all that break up the awful monotony of caller-driven radio. My God, even Tim Brando's SEC-centric talk show is less painful to the ears and brain than the local alternatives.

The bitter phrase cops back in the '90s had for what seemed to be the endless murders of the drug trade was "the self-cleaning oven." When I think of Glenn Ordway, that's the phrase that comes to mind right now. That; and the suspicion that whatever replaces him will be worse. Talk radio's circle of life always seems to spiral in a southerly direction.


At 9:04 AM, Blogger Bad Hair said... really nailed it. Great read.

At 9:05 AM, Blogger Bad Hair said... really nailed it. Great read.

At 7:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why didnt you write like this at the herald? Honest,a little brutally honest, but truth hurts.History repeats---Pete Sheppard went first,then Ordway. Mazz will be thrown overboard in about 18 months,then Felger.


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