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Sports Media

New station shows promise, needs polish

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / August 14, 2009

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The comedy of the coincidence did not elude Michael Felger.

No more than 15 minutes into the maiden broadcast of live local programming on WBZ-FM’s ‘‘98.5 The Sports Hub,’’ Felger, who is joined from 2-6 p.m. daily by co-host Tony Massarotti, went to the phones to take the first call from a listener.

One who happened to have a familiar first name.

‘‘Interestingly enough, let’s go to ... Glenn in the car,’’ laughed Felger. ‘‘Wouldn’t you know it?’’

Alas, the voice was not as well-known as the name, and the far-fetched notion that it might be Glenn Ordway on the line to chat with his one-time co-hosts turned legitimate competition was proven as false as logic suggested it should be.

But it was an indirect acknowledgment of what The Sports Hub is up against, given WEEI’s strong signal and established presence as the sports-radio superpower in the Boston market. During his opening comments yesterday — which sounded like a mission statement — Felger threw a few more jabs at WEEI.

‘‘Success has changed [the media],’’ Felger said. ‘‘There are fewer media people who will go after teams. There are more media people who have relationships with coaches and general managers and teams. That has changed the media coverage here. And if there’s one thing about this show that I would say ... it’s that we won’t have those relationships that pretty much anywhere else you’re going to hear around this town.’’

If Felger hadn’t already cost himself a spot in Fred Smerlas’s Patriots tailgate tent, he certainly has now.

A few other observations from The Sports Hub’s debut:

  • There was curiously little self-promotion as the station approached its debut, which informally arrived at 3 a.m. when it began airing 10 hours of rebroadcasts of the Patriots’ three Super Bowl victories. The station’s lineup, which will include a program co-hosted by former Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Trupiano on weekends, was not announced until 4 p.m. Wednesday, and the station’s website was not up and running until 7 p.m. It also was a bit of a head-scratcher to go against a live Red Sox game on WEEI on Day 1. And the live streaming on its website was spotty for the first half-hour of the show. Talk about a soft launch.

  • Jon Wallach, a refugee from WEEI, provided the scores and news updates every 20 minutes during the afternoon, while Damon ‘‘D.A.’’ Amendola, who will host the nighttime program that goes up against WEEI’s sophomoric ‘‘Planet Mikey,’’ made his voice familiar to listeners by providing live reports from Fenway Park.

  • The station’s jingle — an ’80s-rock, rapid-fire yowl of ‘‘98.5, the Sports Hub!’’ — is relentless and annoying, which is probably the desired effect. You’re guaranteed to have it stuck in your ear all day should you hear it just once. But at least we know what the lead singer from Night Ranger is up to these days. The classic Boston sports highlights during commercial breaks on the live stream are a brilliant idea, however.

  • Felger landed a couple of A-list guests, including Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, a nemesis from Felger’s days on the Bruins beat at the Herald. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein called in for a brief interview, which was more informal but less informative than his chat on WEEI’s ‘‘Dale and Holley Show’’ earlier in the day.

  • Felger and Massarotti, who worked at the Herald together for more than a decade, had an easy chemistry but also demonstrated that there will be no lack of disagreements, such as when they debated the value of Jason Varitek. It was an honest disagreement, not the contrived contrarian nonsense that typically pollutes sports radio.

  • All in all, an encouraging if hardly flawless debut, an assessment Felger seemed to confirm.

    ‘‘Day 1 is in the books,’’ he said. ‘‘No blood in the water. I’ll give it a 4.5, which for me is good. I’ll take the 4.5.’’

    Exhibition of strength

    If you require further evidence that the NFL has surpassed baseball as the national pastime — at least among television viewers — consider the following:

    ESPN was quick to trumpet its 3.5 rating from last Sunday night’s Red Sox-Yankees game (4.7 million viewers) as the most-viewed MLB game on the network in more than two seasons.

    Impressive numbers, in the context of the sport. But not so impressive when compared with the most-watched sporting event of the week: the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, which aired Sunday on NBC. That matchup between the Bills and Titans drew 7.9 million viewers and a 4.9 rating.

    Did we mention it was an exhibition game?

    Tiant’s tale

    The lives and times of some ex-Red Sox players have made for compelling television recently, from HBO’s unyielding look at Ted Williams to, on a smaller scale, NESN’s engaging half-hour Jim Rice retrospective. But the best of the bunch is ‘‘The Lost Son of Havana,’’ a tear-jerker of a documentary on Luis Tiant’s return to Cuba — and his reconciliation with the friends and relatives he left behind — in 2007, after 46 years in the United States. The film, which debuted at the 2009 Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival, premiered in English on ESPN Aug. 10. Keep your DVR on alert ...The Red Sox will have a hard time providing a goose-bump moment this season that surpasses the one Wednesday night, when beloved analyst Jerry Remy visited the NESN booth for the first time since taking a leave of absence May 6. The standing ovation from the 35,000-plus in attendance was the greatest confirmation yet of his standing as an icon among New England baseball fans. There’s no date for his full-time return, but it is expected to be announced on his website, remy.trufan.com, in the next several days ...Considerably shorter commercial breaks, timely starts to segments, and even the occasional traffic report? What has gotten into WEEI lately? If you didn’t know better, you’d think they were concerned about some competition.

    Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com.