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This media war is one-sided

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  March 1, 2013 10:16 AM

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To be frank, when I first heard “Toucher and Rich” on the local airwaves, I was dubious at best.

I had just gotten a new car, and was separated from my precious Sirius radio for a spell, condemned to the AM/FM dial. Yes, there was the comfort of the now-late WFNX, but for some reason, the shell of what had become WBCN compelled me every afternoon, an appointment I hadn’t made since Nik Carter destroyed any credibility the station still had in the late-90’s. Who were these two jamokes? And why was there so much talk about Detroit?

On the sports end, there was only Glenn Ordway and a cast of buffoons (hello, Smerlas) screaming for attention over on WEEI. So, I kept finding myself coming back to these guys on the other side, making fun of some fat kid. It was completely juvenile, in a way I didn’t want to listen to radio. Yet, I did. And I kept listening.

And kept listening.

Among the rash of great moves the Sports Hub has made in taking down behemoth WEEI in the ratings, it can’t be argued that none was more important that implementing Fred Toucher and Rich Shertenlieb as hosts for the morning drive. Surely, it was a curious move, pitting two “shock jocks” up against the established “Dennis and Callahan” on the AM side, but whatever executive saw the rationale in the move knew then what we know now: Fred and Rich resonate with a radio audience like nobody we have ever known before.

It’s not only the interaction with their audience that matters so much, but there is clearly a general respect for their listeners and callers, something that lacks elsewhere, with dismissive hosts berating and denigrating the people who provide their livelihood. When Shertenlieb and his wife found out that she had a rare form of leukemia last month, the insane outpouring of prayers and thoughts were beyond overwhelming to the morning host, a support group that is, to be honest, almost unimaginable in a community of people who have not even met.

Which brings us to Thursday.

Late Wednesday night, Gerry Callahan teased on Twitter that his morning co-host, John Dennis had something to get off his chest. Turns out, the prepared rant was over some comments Toucher had made on Comcast Sports Net the previous evening about Tom Brady and his new, “saintly” deal. You can see the specifics here, if you haven’t already. In turn, Dennis decided to spend the bulk of his re-tooled morning show, getting trounced in the ratings, trashing the competition over benign comments made about his e-mail pal. Desperate much?

This is not a political thing, as many of you have already subscribed it might be. My beliefs and views are worn close to my vest, and will never be exposed for the annoyance of retaliation. But Dennis and Callahan are an abomination.

Shertenlieb, who had been absent for two weeks, returned to 98.5 Thursday after finding out good news about his wife. Listeners were waiting. No coincidence there, John?

God forbid anybody criticize Brady, a matter we know all too well in this space. But that’s beside the point. Dennis’s four-hour rant reeked of such desperation that it began to make no sense. First, he claimed that none of his contacts or views were due to his station being partners with the Red Sox or Celtics, then later preached that Toucher should be kissing up to Brady since he’s part of the flagship station of the Patriots. Which is it, dude?

Drowning in the ratings to people “who don’t know sports,” WEEI recently added Kirk Minihane into the morning mix, a few days after firing Ordway, who helped build and mold the station into what it has become, for better or worse. Ordway wasn’t the problem. He and Michael Holley had a likeable and general chemistry that was missing from the schizophrenic afternoon show of old. I’ll take “Mut and Lou” any day. The evening on WEEI is…well, the evening on WEEI.

The morning is a disgrace.

I feel for Minihane, who is a talented guy having to deal with a pair of close-minded, arrogant partners. Again, this is not political, but it’s clearly their way or the highway, and any differing opinions will be left with vile and bile. Dennis and Callahan breed disgust, and they receive it in return.

Even when being personally trashed by the duo, never did I ever feel the need to express revulsion. Thursday’s desperate ratings grab, to attempt and steal listeners from a compelling story that an audience felt they were some small part of, love and life, and everything that’s important, well, that’s on the left side of evil.

Dennis had to know what he was doing. After all, he was to blame in the first place for sharing Brady’s precious email, a matter he swept under the rug as if it were a popcorn kernel. But laying blame elsewhere has been the mantra of that show. Deny. Accuse. Defend. Mornings at 6.

Meanwhile, thousands of commuters Friday morning got teary-eyed as Rich’s wife, Mary, called into the station, cancer-free, to thank the listeners for their outpouring of support. The people on the other side will probably equate that to a tug-at-the-heart ratings grab as well.

No. It’s human. And it’s authentic, two aspects that have been missing and long gone from mornings on WEEI.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.

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