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Options for Neumeier

Timing is perfect for a big payday

Talk is cheap . . . or is it?

Three years ago, when WEEI (850) was conducting its nationwide search for a successor to Eddie Andelman as Dale Arnold's "A Team" partner at midday, the whole process was a sham. Bob Neumeier, who was signed up for the job from the start, was cooling his heels in Florida while a succession of guest hosts "auditioned" for the spot.

It was great promotional fodder for the station as hosts speculated on the quality of various candidates, kidded their own co-hosts who had "auditioned," and talked about who would be on the air with Arnold in coming days.

Fast-forward to today. Neumeier's contract is up as of Feb. 10, four days after Super Bowl XXXIX.

It's not a bad time to be a free agent, with your show No. 1 in the ratings for its period of the day and bringing in bigger revenues at midday than the morning and afternoon drive-time shows generate at many other stations.

With WEEI promoting itself as having achieved unprecedented ratings levels, it would seem to be a logical time for a host to cash in. The station is No. 1 among all adults ages 25-54, not just among its target demo of males in that age group.

In recent years, morning co-host Gerry Callahan and afternoon drive host Glenn Ordway, a key player in building the station's success since it went all sports in 1991, have landed big-time contracts, reportedly in the mid-six-figure neighborhood.

Neumeier would like to take up residence in that neighborhood, with a substantial deal that reflects his show's midday success. Such a contract would break new ground in radio, where the tradition has been that the drive-time shows make the big dollars. But Neumeier figures he deserves his share.

The questions his bosses at Entercom have to answer is how much to feed the ratings monster they've created. At many newspapers or TV stations, the decision would be that the individual isn't worth the big paycheck because the format is the vehicle driving the ratings. But talk radio seems different, with a station's personalities becoming increasingly important as shapers of opinion.

However, Entercom knows that if it's Neumy looking for a big bump today, someone else will be in the future.

It's not that Neumeier doesn't have options. He's at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., this weekend to work with Tom Durkin and Donna Brothers on NBC's "Sunshine Millions" (tomorrow, Channel 7, 4-6 p.m.), an afternoon program of eight races, four at Gulfstream and four at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif. Tom Hammond, Charlsie Cantey, Mike Battaglia, and Kenny Rice work the West Coast races.

Neumeier's thoroughbred racing work at NBC led to an invitation to work as a reporter/analyst on the network's Olympic rowing and wrestling coverage in Athens. But before Neumeier could start studying up on those sports, his assignment was upgraded to track and field.

"He's a terrific talent, and the nice thing about that talent is that it's ubiquitous," said Ken Schanzer, NBC Sports president. "He's familiar with a wide range of sports and has the ability to work on all of them."

Boston viewers have seen that as Neumeier helped hold together Channel 4's Patriots' postgame "5th Quarter" for the past six weeks in the absence and return of host Bob Lobel.

Schanzer knows what it is like to bring talent to the network. "Bob Costas was working a regional football game for us and balked at coming in to work the studio," he said. "I told him, `You go to the full network, and life will never be the same. You walk down the sidewalk next week and you won't believe the number of people who recognize you.' It's a bigger pond."

That bigger pond awaits Neumeier. "He's driven himself to be excellent, and he's been a hit wherever he's been," said Schanzer. "It will be interesting to see how far he can go and how long it is before he becomes a national star. It's not an uncommon phenomenon for me to see someone like Bob take it to the next level. We're always looking for people whose personality lights up the screen."

See it live and later

Live coverage vs. taped? For track fans, the delayed coverage of tomorrow's Boston Indoor Games at the Reggie Lewis Center means they can catch the 10th annual event in person, then watch it Sunday on ESPN from 5-6:30 p.m. with Larry Rawson, Dwight Stones, and Leslie Maxie working the broadcast . . . NBC Sports and the United States Golf Association have extended their deal for the network to air the US Open, US Women's Open, US Senior Open, plus US Amateur tournaments through 2014 . . . When ESPN puts its energy into taking an undervalued property and helping to maximize its potential (see NCAA basketball tournaments, NASCAR, America's Cup in Australia), the results can be terrific. The latest has been Australian Open coverage, which wraps up with a live telecast of the women's final tonight at 9:30 and delayed presentation of the men's final Sunday at noon. Add Winter X Games to that list. ABC (Channel 5) has that action tomorrow at 2 p.m., with two-hour shows nightly on ESPN tomorrow through Tuesday . . . Another thing ESPN does superbly is appropriate and adapt other ideas. Thus comes the announcement of "Voice of the Fan" on ESPN.com, where fans can create their own animated character and add rants and raves about the Super Bowl. Sounds a lot like WEEI's "Whiner Line" with a twist: Not only can visitors to ESPN.com see the submitted work, but they can e-mail it all over the world . . . Why are we sports fans? Nova's new "ScienceNow" show (Channel 44 tonight at 8) examines the phenomenon of "mirror neurons," a mechanism through which we identify with performers of all sorts . . . Dick Vitale, a fixture at ESPN since 1979, has extended his deal with ESPN and ABC through the 2011-2012 college basketball season, when he'll be 72. In true Vitale style, he said, "This is essentially a lifetime contract that allows me to do what I love into my 70s."

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is griffith@globe.com 

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