Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Microphones Are Surprisingly Affordable These Days

WEEI on-air person Alex Reimer, showing a creative bent for self-destruction, insulted Tom Brady's daughter in a telephone conversation with none other than Brady himself. Brady immediately hung up and good for him. If in further response the Patriots quarterback and coach Bill Belichick were to end their paid appearances on the station for good, they could only be applauded.

Showing more magnanimity than many, including myself, would have, Brady said yesterday he hoped Reimer didn't get fired for his contemptible act. Of course, Brady also has a veteran's savvy, enough savvy to chalk off the incident as the inevitable result of the sports talk radio station ethos -- "We're big assholes and proud of it."

Not all sports talk hosts in this town are full-on exponents of the asshole ethos. But enough of 'em are to make it the prevailing tone. It comes in three subsets, hateful (see Reimer), sneering and smarmy. The underlying assumption about the sports and athletes it discusses is "there's something wrong with them." You, the listener driving to, being at, or driving home from the job you hate, are a better person with a better life. Your team is not living up to you.

This is a hard act to sell when as is currently the Boston situation, the local pro teams are all winners to various degrees and one is a dynastic champion. But somehow, the boys (they're all boys in drive time) find a way. It is amazing how commentators on the Sports Hub (your New England Patriots station) have adapted the theme that all other teams in the NFL suck. That this idea devalues the Pats' status as champions doesn't seem to penetrate either on-air personnel or callers.

All four Boston pro teams broadcast their games over one of the two talk radio stations. They are paid well for those rights, because without live game broadcasts, the sports talk radio business model is insupportable. This summer, tune in to poor Alex Jones doing five hours a night opposite the Red Sox on WEEI to see why.

My questions today are not for the talk radio genre, it's for the Red Sox, Pats, Bruins and Celtics. Do local radio broadcasts really make you that much money? Why do you put up with a business partner that spends hours giving voice to people who put you and your product down? There's an easy solution, one that's been in front of your eyes for over 30 years.

The Sox and Bruins are joint owners of NESN, the cable network that broadcasts their games on TV. Why couldn't the four teams own and operate two radio stations as well? They'd need two because of all the scheduling conflicts, but if much more expensive television is economically feasible for two franchises, why wouldn't radio be for four?

Games take up only so much time, and radio's on 24 hours a day. There would have to be lengthy pregame and postgame shows, but they already exist. There would have to be talk shows, but with the teams in control, the "we're big assholes" aesthetic could be dropped to everyone's benefit.

I hear the counterargument now. Those would be homer stations. It'd be propaganda for every bonehead move made by every front office. Fans want commentators who tell it like it is.

I have two responses. First, telling it as meanly as possible isn't always or even often telling it like it is. Second, in my experience, the last thing fans want is to hear it straight from the shoulder with attitude. They can do that for themselves when the home teams lose and have done so since the beginning of sports.

It is my belief that what fans want are broadcasters who're honest homers. They comment on the story from the home team's perspective, make no bones about doing so, but are also honest enough to admire skilled opponents and can criticize mistakes or even blunders by the home teams without making them sound like the result of character flaws. Most of all, they sound like they really love sports for their own sake.

Jack Edwards is a model honest homer. Who loves the Bruins more than he does? And yet, Jack is quick to praise opponents when warranted and express disappointment (not scorn) when he regards the Bruins' work as substandard.

There are plenty of Boston sports journalists with talk radio experience who could be and are candid without the sneer, who're knowledgeable, thoughtful, and who could work for a station owned by a team, do a good job, and never come close to compromising their integrity. Sean McAdam comes to mind, and so does my former Herald colleague Paul Perillo.

I submit that people become sports fans to enjoy themselves. A steady diet of scorn, smarm and suspicion is not enjoyable. Spend six months casting John Farrell as history's greatest monster, and what do you do when genuine evil such as Larry Nassar enters the world of games?

I don't expect any of Boston's pro teams to take up my suggestion. Selling broadcast rights is very easy money. But all four teams are owned by very successful businessmen, and they didn't get that way without an aggressive attitude towards growth. John Henry owns a newspaper and a cable station. Robert Kraft has a house multi-operation. Moving into radio wouldn't be that difficult.

Were I my former colleagues Gerry Callahan and Michael Felger, I might do a little research on that subject.


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