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Radio scene is raucous

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / February 2, 2012
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INDIANAPOLIS - Madness is the norm on Radio Row, where 108 sports radio stations vie for guests and turbo-charged hosts howl opinions inside the massive maze of a ballroom on the third floor of the JW Marriott hotel.

Over one cramped patch of real estate late yesterday morning, hosts from 102.5 The Game in Nashville could be heard debating Peyton Manning’s future. A few feet away, 104.3 The Fan in Denver featured a debate, presumably not for the first time, regarding Tim Tebow’s long-term prospects.

Shouting distance away, the ubiquitous Rich Gannon and his SiriusXM co-host, Adam Schein, provide evidence that hyperbole is as abundant as discarded Pepsi cans on Radio Row, as they introduce “ESPN’s star signature analyst . . . Herm Edwards.’’

It’s an aural assault, as if every sports radio program you ever listened to collided into one overwhelming show.

“We were here early this morning,’’ said Rich Shertenlieb, co-host with Fred Toettcher of 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich.’’ “It was just us and the WEEI guys and another station or two. And then all of a sudden, I hear just this roar. ‘I’m telling you, the Giants are going to be able to do this and the Patriots can’t stop that and blah-blah-blah.’

“It was the Fox Sports guys. They were so insanely loud, I was overwhelmed for a minute.’’

The natural reaction is to become overwhelmed upon stepping through the doorway to the ballroom, and not just because of the noise arriving from all directions. It’s hard to decide where to look first, especially in the afternoon when the traffic picks up.

To the left, WFAN’s Mike Francesa wears a look suggesting he’s not going to suffer this particular caller much longer, while just a few stations away, his former on-air partner, Chris “Mad Dog’’ Russo, draws a crowd for his SiriusXM show.

At the very back of the room, the Jim Rome show’s garish blue dais and dim lighting looks more like a VIP room at a nightclub than a radio set. There are roughly a dozen ESPN affiliates scattered in various corners, including ESPN Deportes. And the 98.5 The Sports Hub and WEEI setups are within striking distance of each other along the left side.

Fans who lined the outside of the maze saw an eclectic mix of current and former athletes run the Radio Row gauntlet, though the major celebrities and entertainers typically don’t arrive until the end of the week.

Adam Vinatieri, who knows a thing or two about Super Bowls, having played in six, charmed his way through a few interviews. And then there was Lynn Swann, who in a series of radio hits managed to predict Vince Wilfork as the MVP, trade Super Bowl stories with Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin, endorse Mitt Romney, and push Burger King french fries at every single one.

It was Swann who got to the core of why Radio Row is one spectacle that actually has value.

“It’s a mutually beneficial situation,’’ said Swann. “The radio shows get a parade of good guests, the guests get to make a few dollars in endorsements, and the fans listening get an entertaining show. It works for everyone.’’

Occasional moments of genuine poignancy could be found, people looking for redemption, another shot at something lost along the way. Sean Salisbury, who lost a high-profile gig at ESPN a few years ago, said he was there to be seen and to get “my name back out there.’’

Jeff George, 44 years old and 10 seasons removed from his last NFL pass, roamed the maze, sitting with any show that would have him for a few moments. His cause was the Wounded Warriors project. But it was also himself.

“You look at the state of quarterback play in the NFL these days,’’ said George, “and you have to figure someone could use me as a backup.’’

But while George and Salisbury might have been looking for something lost along the way, the general attitude of the hosts and guests was that the whole wild scene was a good time.

While the constant shuttling of guests might seem to be a logistical nightmare, Stephen Ciaccio, producer of WEEI’s “Dennis and Callahan,’’ said the process and atmosphere really are enjoyable once you realize how to play the game.

“If Joe Montana is pitching Oreos,’’ said Ciaccio, “well, ‘Come on over here, Joe, and come on the show, because I love Oreos.’ ’’

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.

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