The Media Column: Greg Hill opens up about his arrival to WEEI and new lot in life as sports talk radio host

Alex Reimer
August 01, 2019 - 3:23 pm

It’s been a summer of change at WEEI. For the first time in 20 years, Gerry Callahan is no longer waking up New England with rants about late baseball start times and the evils of the Clinton Crime Family ™. Greg Hill is now manning mornings on our humble sports station, taking him away from the confines of rock radio for the first time in his nearly three decades on the microphone. 

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“The Greg Hill Show” launched Monday with co-hosts Danielle Murr and Nick “Fitzy" Stevens, who will be one of the third voices on the program, provided I don’t remove his vocal cords in a dastardly ploy for airtime. Hill captained the “Hill-Man Morning Show” on WAAF for 28 years, where he talked about the issues of the day with an assorted cast of characters, and in his words, just tried to make people laugh during their miserable morning commutes. 

Unlike other rock radio DJs, Hill didn’t play any music on his program, so the format switch isn’t all that daunting. He also talked sports, either with co-host –– and former Bruin –– Lyndon Byers or several regular guests, such as Julian Edelman and Cam Neely. 

But still, moving stations after 28 years is an adjustment, especially considering the relative abrupt nature of the switch. I recently spoke with Hill in his first floor office –– the rest of us EEI guys are stored in the basement –– about his feelings on the change, what’s in store for the program going forward, and whether he wants to rip the text line out of the studio after the first week. Some exchanges have been edited for clarity.

Alex Reimer: I was listening to the interview you did with Kirk (Minihane) on his podcast about a year-and-a-half ago, and he said on April Fool’s Day you could host his show, and he could host yours. Do you feel like you’re in an April Fools' kind of situation?

Greg Hill: What I really wanted to do was switch with Magic 106.7 and walk in and do their show, and have them do ours for a little while. But listen: Rome was not built in a day. I think our show will be where we want it to be –– we’ve never worked with Ken (Laird) and (Chris) Curtis before. We’ve never worked with Fitzy before. I think they would’ve told me if it was April Fools' by now, but I think we’ll get to where we need to be.

AR: Do you think you’re settling in a little bit –– three days in –– compared to the first day?

GH: Yeah. I mean, you’re talking about –– and this is all inside radio stuff –– there’s all new clocks, two new producers who I’ve never worked with before. We literally had one week to get the show ready. So I’m settling in. What I’m really excited about is, there’s a great audience for this radio station. I did a beneficiary fundraiser for my foundation on Tuesday, and we raised $13,000 during Tuesday’s show. So I’m settling in, and I like it.

AR: You and Danielle have worked together for how long?

GH: 14 years.

AR: So how different is the show you’ve done over the last three days in comparison to the old ‘Hill-Man Morning Show?’ I know Ken and Curtis are new producers, Fitzy is new, but it’s still you and Danielle. It’s not a straight sports show, obviously.

GH: It’s not that different, honestly. It’s us talking about what we want to talk about and what we think the listener wants to talk about. Honestly, how different is any radio show? A radio show, by definition, is a host and a couple of wacky sidekicks talking. And in the morning, we talk about what we think everyone is talking about. 

AR: What was your first reaction when you heard about this move –– and when did you find out, by the way?

GH: I don’t think it was that long ago. Look, I love WAAF. I was there for 28 years, so it was hard for me to think about not doing that show. But I also like a challenge, and the only way you grow is put yourself in a different situation. For me, it’s a different show, different station, and a whole lot of new stuff I have to learn. That’s how I grow.

AR: What is some of that ‘new stuff?’

GH: I have to learn how to work with two new producers. Mike Hsu was our producer and news guy for a long time. We knew each other like the back of our own hand. I have to work with new co-hosts –– whether it’s Nick, Wiggy, Alex Reimer –– I think you have to work really hard on chemistry and finding out whether it’s there or not.

AR: Are you ready to rip the text line out of the studio?

GH: No. I like reading text messages from people. I get it: a lot of people have really liked a lot of morning shows at this radio station. If you’re somebody who really loved the show and were passionate about it, then I get you’re pissed about it.

AR: But do you ever want to say, like, ‘F— you, I didn’t make this decision?’

GH: Oh no, but everyone is going to think I made the decision. Everyone is going to think I could’ve said ‘no’ to the decision. I think people sometimes forget those of us who are lucky enough to work in radio have the same issues with paying for kids’ college educations and paying our bills like everybody else has. But it’s the same thing with people who listen to AAF, and were like, ‘I can’t believe you’re going to leave this station.’ So I get it, and I like reading it.

AR: So to get back to some of the new stuff –– you had a couple callers today wanting more sports talk. ‘They want the spahts!’ Obviously, you’re a sports fan, but when you say ‘learning new stuff,’ is becoming more of a sports talk guy part of that, or no?

GH: No, because I’m not a sports talk guy. How much time did the previous show spend on sports?

AR: Not that much at all –– way more with Mut and Gerry, but Kirk and Gerry did very little, especially at the end. But those same people were unhappy then, too, with the lack of sports talk.

GH: I mean, I think the goal would be to talk about what you, as a listener, want to talk about on any given day. People are probably sitting around today going, ‘Let me know at 4:00 p.m. if the Red Sox get a closer, because the bullpen has sucked this year.’ I can say that just as well as any sports fan can say it. But to me, X’s and O’s, pitch counts. That’s not exciting radio to me.

AR: Do you buy into the notion that a morning show is different than the other day parts?

GH: Oh, 100 percent. In the mornings, I think people wake up, and they’re miserable. The only thing they really want to do is, ‘Can this guy, or woman, find a way to make me laugh somehow.’ I think you would like to know the world didn’t implode while you were asleep, and I think you want to get the widest possible variety of content, so when it comes to sports, it’s a part of that, but it’s not the only thing. It might be the only thing that’s on a certain percentage of the population’s mind when they wake up, but I think when you wake up, you’re like half-dead, and want to know what’s going on.

AR: One thing I have noticed from listening to your show over the last few days is, with Gerry and Kirk, we would get entrenched on certain topics. If we’re arguing and going at it, they would sometimes go an hour on a topic. I notice you jump around a lot more. What’s your philosophy behind that?

GH: I think you can get information from so many different sources. I like to present a wider variety of content. What would you guys do an hour on?

AR: With me, Trump stuff was usually good –– Megan Rapinoe is a good recent example, from a few weeks ago. 

GH: So there’s an hour’s worth on Megan Rapinoe without getting repetitive?

AR: It certainly gets repetitive, but you can joke around, take calls, go off on different tangents and things. If you have these really passionate and visceral debates … 

GH: I’m also just looking for what’s going to really cut through and what’s really going to stick, and sometimes you have to talk about 10 different things over the space of four hours in order to find two or three that are really going to cut through with people.

AR: How about your interviewing style? Tom Brady is the big one –– sponsored, obviously. We’ve had some issues with Brady in recent years, which I know nothing about, but what’s your strategy with him? It’s hard to pick at Tom Brady, but there are questions that come up –– like Alex Guerrero. What’s your approach?

GH: There are some interviewers who have a set list of questions, and then they don’t even listen to the guest, or what the answer is. I like to try to listen and base my next question off what the guest is saying. I think the ‘gotcha’ questions, the tough questions, if you ask them in the right way, I don’t think the guest decides to hang up and disappear.

AR: So you ask a tough question, you get a ‘no comment.’ When do you follow up, and when do you cut bait?

GH: I’ll give you an example. Wyc Grousbeck was on the show yesterday and I asked him what everyone wanted to know: was Kyrie a jerk? I phrased it in that way. That’s the second follow up question to Marcus Smart talking about the organization being dysfunctional. So Wyc goes on to say he and Kyrie have made up and they’re texting, but he also ends up saying this particular team is the team he would least like to watch. So to me, it’s been answered. I guess there’s one style where you go four or five times at Wyc, and go, ‘Wait a minute, was Kyrie a douche?’ But I think the jerk part covers it.

AR: You spent 28 years at WAAF. Do you feel like moving into a new station, you’re back to being the overnight guy who gets the call to do the sports one morning? Do you feel a little bit of that, or not really?

GH: I always want to work hard. I don’t feel maybe the pressure that I might feel if it was my first morning show ever, but I want this radio station to do well. I want this radio station, on the revenue side of things, to make money. On the ratings side of things, I want the ratings to be where they should be for a great radio station. 

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Red Sox take business risk with inactive deadline: Red Sox president Sam Kennedy and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski have both stressed the team didn’t want to sacrifice its long-term viability for a short-term bullpen boost at the trade deadline. Their claims are slightly dubious, considering quality relievers such as Shane Greene, Daniel Hudson and Sergio Romo did not go for astronomical prices, but the philosophy is understandable. It is seldom good baseball business to perpetually surrender promising prospects, and their years of cost control, for perceived deadline fixes.

But there is a cost to standing pat, and for the Red Sox, it will manifest itself in both late-inning situations –– where they remain woefully undermanned –– and fan interest. NESN ratings for Red Sox games were already down 14 percent through the first half of the season. That number could decline as we head into August, especially if the Sox fall further out of contention. 

The fervor surrounding Patriots training camp shows how anxious we are to look ahead to football. Though Fenway Park will likely continue to be sold out for most of the Sox’ remaining home dates, the Red Sox must give fans a reason to invest in the club for the stretch run. That’s much harder to do when you don’t even invest in yourself.

John Tomase describes scene around sad A-Rod birthday cake: The saddest rendition of “Happy Birthday” was broadcast on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” this week, when Jennifer Lopez presented beau Alex Rodriguez with a generic store-bought cake that nobody ate. It was a perfect metaphor for the painfully awkward SBN telecast, which is in the midst of its second interminable season.

Like many baseball scribes, dessert aficionado John Tomase was looking forward to diving into the A-Rod birthday cake after he had filed his stories for the evening. But much to his dismay, it was all gone when he arrived to the scene. “By time I got a look at it, too many grubby hands had already laid waste to it,” he told WEEI.com in a text message.

Twitter loses a legend: Much to the chagrin of angry old white guys, John Dennis has been banned from Twitter. The volatile “@JohnDennisWEEI” account, which largely spent the last two years hate-tweeting me and Elizabeth Warren, no longer exists. 

It is unclear what led to Dino’s banishment. His last recorded tweet was about Megan Rapinoe, and shockingly, he was not very kind: “Rapinoe, the self-absorbed ‘next shiny object’ 4 the Left & the Hands-out Palms Up crowd has in her drunken, mindless me-first manner, unwillingly created the mantra, the slogan, the bumper sticker and worst of all, perhaps a new world ‘mindset’ battle cry,” he wrote. “An infection if you will.”

Civilization cannot go on without this sort of insight. Perhaps we’ll all have to head down to Florida for some steaks on the grill and "Designated Survivor" reruns. 

Related: Kacie McDonnell is leaving NESN