The voice, so familiar to Boston sports fans more than three decades, will be instantly recognizable.
So too will the program’s name, thought it now includes a slightly edgy tweak befitting the freewheeling format.
But the venue for Glenn Ordway’s pending return to the Boston sports talk scene is an entirely new frontier for the longtime host and ringleader of WEEI’s “The Big Show.”
Ordway, aka the Big O, who was fired by WEEI’s parent company Entercom in February 2013, is launching his own online radio venture, which will debut March 17.
The website will be named sportstalkboston.com, and it will serve as the host for Ordway’s three-hour daily online radio show, titled Big Show Unfiltered. It will air from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and feature some familiar personalities and segments from his former afternoon drive program on WEEI, including a version of the popular “Whiner Line.” The site will have a smartphone app and be optimized for mobile usage.
Ordway, who hosts his own weekend show on SiriusXM and fills in on the national Dan Patrick Show on occasion, acknowledges that he has been itching for some time to get back into the game locally.
“I love doing the national thing,” he said. “It’s fun, it’s different, the preparation is much different. But this is my town. I love talking about David Ortiz and whether they should re-sign him now and topics that matter around here. That’s what I’m about.”
Rumors were rampant that a return to WEEI was possible, and while both sides gave it legitimate consideration, it’s not happening. Ordway said he is committed to this project, one he has been working on for the better part of a year — “I’ve had a lot of time to think about it,” he deadpans. He’s gathered advice from Patrick and his people, among others, on how to make it work, and he says there is much more to it than merely making his own return.
Ordway said he’s on the constant quest for new ideas and talent, with the idea of expanding sportstalkboston.com’s lineup to more shows within the calendar year and perhaps as soon as the next 3-4 months.
“The idea is that we’re going to use this company as a farm league,” said Ordway during a wide-ranging interview Wednesday. “We’re going to go out and seek other people. Some of the old people, old characters who were involved in show, we expect are going to come back and want to do it.
“We’re going to be able to experiment with it. We’re going to take the old concept of 2, 3, 4 people sitting around talking about sports, sitting around the bar, and be able to inject new ideas and people and personalities that were part of the old show.”
One of those new ideas involves the way advertising will be presented. Rather than having the conventional prolonged commercial breaks a few times per hour, the longest break will run four minutes, with brief commercials embedded into the program.
“We might mention three sponsors in that half-hour, but you know we’re not going anywhere,” Ordway said. “We’re going to reach out and try to grab 12 partners. These are the places you go and do business with because they’re our partners, and we will mention them within in the flow of the program.”
Ordway has done his homework in regard to what it takes to thrive in an online radio environment. He’s armed with data that shows the immense progress made by online entities such as Pandora, Spotify, and IHeartRadio in terms of gaining and maintaining a listening audience.
And it has not escaped his notice that some of the conventional programs on the radio in this market are making a dent in the Arbitron/Nielsen ratings with livestreams. The Sports Hub’s midday Gresh and Zo program is at the forefront, having earned more than a 2.0 share on its livestream alone recently.
“I know we’re not going to compete with 98.5 [in that 3-6 window],” Ordway said. “I think we might make some inroads with WEEI, but we’re not going to beat them either. You have to look at where you are and how far you have to go. We can’t do it now, but what is this landscape going to look like a year from now, a couple of years from now. Everything is going over to digital.
“Why do you think all of these conventional radio stations are emphasizing streaming audio? Why do you think digital was very important? Because they knew this was coming. But you really have to have good content above all else. You can be on any format you want, it won’t make a big difference.”
Even though his voice has essentially been out of earshot in this market since last February, there’s no doubt Ordway still has an enormous base of listeners. WEEI was unprepared for the significant backlash from fans and advertisers when he was fired, and questions about his next move still frequently arrive in the inbox at this email address.
Ordway knows he faces a daunting task, and acknowledges with a laugh that his holdover core of listeners from WEEI might need some coaching to fully understand the new format.
“The biggest problem I’m going to have is that my listeners – my older listeners – who are still fiddling around with their smart phone and can’t figure out how to do this stuff,” he said.
But Ordway, who didn’t survive more than 30 years in the cutthroat world of Boston radio by accident, remains as savvy as ever, and he’d be high on the list of any local names you’d bet on to make this new business model work. Given the Dan Patrick model of success that is serving as part of his blueprint, it would not be surprising to see him expand the site into terrestrial radio at some point, but with a strictly Boston bent.
“It’s the wild, wild west. We’re the little guy now,” Ordway said. “But not only does it allow me to continue to do what I love doing, talking sports in my own hometown, but it also gives me an opportunity — I’m not going to do this forever — to do other things in this business, develop other shows, stuff for other people. At this time in my life, I want to try this out, take some risk. I’m really looking forward to getting going.”