WEEI Vs. WBZ: The War?

Jim ChandleyContributor IAugust 19, 2009

A few weeks ago, I heard the only mention of this new station on the airwaves of AM 850 WEEI.  They called it ‘the war’ because then WBCN morning hosts Toucher and Rich were taking shots at the hosts of the Big Show in WEEI’s 2-6PM slot.  They said it only a few times, each time it was met with genuine laughter from everyone on the air.

Many sports junkies in the area are watching with interest, wondering which station (if either) will dominate the other.  Some have a favorite, some don’t.  Personally, I could not care less.  Both stations have their strong points, both have irritating shortcomings.

But the fact is, WEEI is going to win this ‘war.’  It is so one-sided that I don’t expect it to take a full year.  Here are 10 reasons why.

10. The Whiner Line

It’s a small part of a day’s programming.  It is not very substantive, nor is it labor intensive for the station.  But let’s face it; the Whiner Line is the best 15 minutes of sports radio in the market every Monday through Friday.

WBZ doesn’t have it, WEEI does.  Quite simply, people will not give up the Whiner Line, even if they switch to WBZ for the other 11:45 a day.

9. Entrenched Relationships with Important People

WEEI has friends in high places.  Terry Francona does a weekly segment with Dale and Holley while his team is playing.  Bill Belichick does the same with the Big Show.  Various players, past and present, count themselves ‘friends of the station’ and will simply not interview with anyone from WBZ.

Some large members of the media such as Ken Rosenthal have connections to the station and will feel the same loyalty.  WEEI will continue to bring in the A-list guests while WBZ rounds up whatever is left.

8. Team Broadcast Contracts

The Red Sox and Celtics call WEEI home.  WBZ gets the Patriots and Bruins.  In any other sports town, you probably give the nod to WBZ because they have an NFL radio contract.  Even more importantly, they have the contract for a successful NFL team.

In any other town, you’d be right.

But this is Boston.  It has been a baseball-first town since 1967.  The Red Sox built WEEI.  Of course they didn’t literally build it, but they were the reason for it.  There is no one team in this country that has as many avid followers in one radio market as the Boston Red Sox.  Yes there are more Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Lakers fans than there are Boston Red Sox fans.  But the Sox fans can all be reached by one, two or maybe three radio frequencies.

If the Red Sox are the rock upon which WEEI built its church, they will stand as long as they have the Red Sox contract.

7. WEEI.com

So I did my homework on this piece.  Or at least, I tried to.  I still don’t know what WBZ 98.5’s homepage is.  There is a shoddy looking website where you can listen online.  There are a handful of online station reviews.  But there is nothing that even approaches what WEEI.com was two years ago.  That was before Rob Bradford was put in charge and asked to revamp the entire thing.

Now, WEEI.com is a juggernaut.

It will take WBZ years to build a comparable website that generates similar content.  Those are years that WBZ does not have.  This website needed to be built before the station.

6. Simple Lack of Competition

For what it’s worth, this is what Yankee fans used to say about the Red Sox and Yankees rivalry.  “It’s not a rivalry man, we don’t care about you.  We don’t hate you we feel sorry for you…”  WEEI makes less mention than this of its new competition.

I literally only heard three minutes of talk about WBZ on WEEI, as I mentioned previously in this column.  While WEEI goes about its business, WBZ has a quiet obsession with its immediate competition.  It’s only a war if both sides recognize it.

5. Established Incumbency Status

It holds true in politics, biology, sociology, the list goes on; if you get there first, you’re tough to knock off.

WEEI has built a following, woven itself into the culture and become a part of people’s routines.  WBZ isn’t just fighting another radio station.  It is fighting against the status quo, which is a very powerful force.

4. Exactly What ‘Choice’ are Listeners Being Offered?

WBZ continues to claim that ‘Boston Sports fans now have a choice.’  But do they?  There are at least three WEEI castaways on the WBZ staff.  The clocks and calendars are the same.  THE PHONE NUMBERS FOR GOD’S SAKE are almost identical (617-779-0850) vs. (617-779-0985).

Building a station to compete is one thing.  But building a carbon copy of the existing station and trying to compete with that station is not the best of strategies.

3. Worst vs. Worst

I was initially ecstatic when I heard there would be a new sports station in town because I would get to permanently dump Dennis and Callahan and never again listen to their politics (which are just to the right of Hamurabi) and their 24 talk (which is usually a spoiler for me because I catch up online often).

But a few days after I learned of the new station, I found out that the morning show would be Toucher and Rich of WBCN.  These are two shock jocks who feign some degree of sports knowledge.  For all of their unwillingness to talk about sports, at least Dennis and Callahan offer some legitimate points about sports when they get around to it.

Lining your worst up against their worst is not a good strategy for WBZ.  You should mix that up and try to win another matchup.  Like fans who want to shift the pitching rotation entering a given series to insure one win, you let Roy Halladay beat Brad Penny, then you throw Beckett against whoever they have next.

2. Best vs. Best

Same bad idea repeats itself immediately following the morning slot.  The ONLY show on the Boston airwaves that has any hint of intelligent discourse is the Dale and Holley program from 10-2 on WEEI.  They are  really very good together and offer some legitimate analysis.  They also have (in my opinion) the most important regular radio guest in the market in Terry Francona.

WBZ’s programming lineup is not all that bad.  They have Gary Tanguay and Scott Zolak on the list which is not a bad get.  The only problem is that they have matched them up with Dale and Holley in that midday time slot.  Again, insure yourself one win.  Put Tanguay and Zolak up against the Big Show or Dennis and Callahan and sweep the ratings by a 20% margin.

1. The Clocks Line-up

In ‘the business’ the clock is synonymous with the break schedule.  The clocks for the two stations are almost identical.  I only say this anecdotaly.  I have no access to their exact schedules and would not even know where to find them.  But when WEEI goes to break, I flip to 98.5 (or vice versa) and that station is going to break as well.

This can not help WBZ.

If listeners could listen to both, WBZ might cherry pick some people at different times during the day.  But if the listeners are faced with a choice, they are going to stick with the station they know, the hosts that have been on for almost ten years, and the callers they’ve been hearing for months.

So there you have it.  WEEI will win, and we will return to the single station sports market.


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