Sports radio world according to Glenn Ordway

Kyle DaLuz
August 10, 2018 - 9:16 am


This story was actually planned to run a couple months ago, after spending some time chatting with longtime WEEI radio host Glenn Ordway about his career in radio and how things have changed over the years. That was until Ordway, and his co-hosts Lou Merloni and Christian Fauria, were named the new afternoon drive program on WEEI, moving from middays to 2 p.m.-6 p.m. starting next Monday, August 13. Then, of course, more questions had to be asked.

Ordway has been a dominant voice in the Boston sports scene since his days on Celtics broadcasts in the 1980s. For the better part of nearly four decades, and for better or worse (depending on who you ask), we’ve been unable to rid ourselves of the Big O. Ordway has witnessed firsthand many changes behind the mic throughout the course of his career.

Where has sports talk radio been? Where is it going? How has it changed?

With the most years of service at either sports station in Boston - earning 15 ratings on 850 AM with "The Big Show” and revitalizing middays on WEEI, with "Ordway, Merloni and Fauria" earning the No. 1 spot in middays last spring for the first time since "Dale & Holley" were in the time slot - the Big O has the most perspective to answer some of these questions. He spent some time discussing the evolution of his current show, what a makes a good radio show, how WEEI has changed from its origins and more:

How different was your show with Michael Holley compared to the original “Big Show”?

“It was totally different. All of a sudden you’re doing a two-man show compared to a three or even four-man show. We had Pete Sheppard as well, and he was like the fourth guy in every day. The focus of it kind of changed. I think they looked at the success that ‘Felger & Mazz’ were having and they suddenly said, ‘oooh, the math works. Let’s do a two-man show.’ It’s like anything else – it’s not necessarily whether it’s two, three, four, eight, whatever. It’s all about the chemistry and whatever. Michael and I, chemistry-wise, it took us a year before we were able to get to any type of chemistry connection. By that time, it was probably too late, you know? We did finally get to it, but we both had different approaches to doing this.”

After so many years of being with WEEI, what did it feel like to be let go in 2013? Were you blindsided by the move?

“I think you’re always blindsided when they fire you, especially when you know they still have to pay you for a while. You figure, ‘eh, they’re never going to do that,’ and then they do it. But it was what was going on in the business. Most of it was money-related. They figured, ‘well, we’ll go get someone from out of town, save a lot of money and maybe it’ll work.’

"Listen, I think we’re all replaceable, and I think that if they found the right guy to replace me they probably would’ve done just fine. But they made a mistake and went outside the market, which I think is the wrong thing to do here in Boston – it just doesn’t work. We’re really parochial and we don’t like outsiders, and they got the wrong guy. If they thought I was having any chemistry problems with Michael, which by the end of it we were good chemistry-wise, then I think the guy they brought in was, jeez, far worse. They just screwed up, but I mean we’re all replaceable and if they had found the right guy, they probably would have been fine.”

Did you ever listen to “Salk & Holley” while you were gone?

“Of course I did. I could give you the Dino (Dennis) answer and say no I never listened and I never pay attention. Of course I listened. Anybody that tells you they don’t listen to other stuff is lying to you. Of course I listened, and I kind of chuckled. Probably two minutes after Kirk (Minihane) made the proclamation that after 15 minutes of listening that the show was going to fail, I probably came to the same conclusion about five or 10 minutes later, so I’ll give him credit for being first.”

Take me through the process of returning to WEEI in 2015.

“‘Big Show Unfiltered’ was not paying a lot of the bills and that was a real problem. We were doing pretty well as far as audience when you look at the numbers and as you know, you can really quantify exactly what the audience is like and when they leave and when they come. The whole radio and digital world was going through a transition there. Do you do it as a podcast or do you do it as a radio show? Do you do it every day or do you do it as individual episodes? That wasn’t the worst part about it – that was all a content issue that eventually sort of worked out. We just couldn’t monetize it. The way the digital world works now, they take the audience and if you go through a company that will go out and sell, you get paid pennies on every thousand people you have that are listening. There’s no money to be made. The advertising world, and I don’t think the advertising world has done it now, they still haven’t realized how many people listen to it and how valuable it is for an advertisement. They still look at traditional radio as a different vehicle even though you have a really captivating audience in digital. You can’t run a lot of commercials in digital. We also tried to transition and put it on the radio as well. We should have left it completely unfiltered – that was a screw up. We just couldn’t monetize it.

"They had been trying to get me back at EEI, probably nine months after I had been out of there. That was Phil (Zachary). Phil and I knew each other from another life where we had worked together. He called me after he got to town and we got dinner and we talked about stuff but I just wasn’t ready and it didn’t make sense. But after a while, I realized the unfiltered just didn’t work and we couldn’t monetize it. Then I did what I do best which is go back to radio. I love the business. That’s part of the disease that I have. I can’t get it out of my system. We had talked for a long time and then finally agreed to do something and to get to work with these two guys was kind of interesting. I thought there was some potential with that show and I thought I could help them realize it.”

Did WEEI pitch you on any other shows than OMF in middays, or were there discussions about different hosts and day parts?

“We talked about a bunch of stuff. There was a bunch of stuff, including, as Kirk has mentioned on the air now, we had numerous meetings about doing a show with Kirk and I in the afternoons. There were a bunch of different shows and stuff. It seemed like every time we had a meeting it was a different show. It was like ‘Jesus, let’s just figure this out, please.’ They were going through a rough period and everything was kind of topsy-turvy. The morning was topsy-turvy with John (Dennis) still in the mix and Kirk making an impact and it was like, ‘what do we do here?’ It was kind of messy, but then eventually that’s what we came to.”

What did you like about the idea of working with two former athletes rather than natural hosts?

“We dealt with a lot of former athletes (on ‘The Big Show’). Our list is extensive. Dennis Eckersley was one of our guys at one point. Lyndon Byers was one of our guys, Steve Lyons who’s on TV now. I never got scared away by working with athletes because I do like it. It’s interesting. There’s a lot of stuff that you can get out of them, and if you can get it out of them, they know first hand a lot more about some of this stuff that we just don’t know.

"I had worked with Lou before because he was part of the old Big Show. I vaguely knew Christian other than interviewing him maybe once or twice as a player but I liked what I heard. Matter fact, I was hoping he’d talk more football and he eventually did. I liked both of those guys. That’s what we finally decided on. It just came down to that.”

Do you feel like you guys have maximized all of your strengths on OMF or do you feel like there’s still more room to grow?

“I hope we haven’t. You never want to sit there and say, ‘OK, that’s it. We’ve finally reached our peak. What do we do now?’ I hope we haven’t. I don’t think we have. I think there’s still a long ways to go. Our chemistry is really good. That’s the biggest thing you have to have in these shows.”

How has the show changed from its start in 2015 to today?

“I think we developed (chemistry) much quicker than most shows do. Part of that was because Lou and I had worked together before so I kind of think he understood me and maybe he spent some time talking to Christian about my pluses and my minuses, so maybe we were able to get around that. I think we reached that chemistry pretty quickly. The key I think is, you have to have respect for each other but you have to bust balls so when you go to a break, you’re not sitting there screaming at each other for real. Instead, you’re sitting there laughing your ass off. You have to be able to do that. You can’t take yourself too seriously. You really can’t.

“I like working with these two guys. I go to work and its fun. We’ve found a balance. If you listen, what we’ve developed I think, is we’re kind of a mix between doing a sports show yet we’re doing some of the stuff that Kirk & Callahan do. We’re more like Kirk & Callahan than any other show on the station, but why wouldn’t you be? They’ve been so successful. I laugh when people come up to me and say, ‘you sound too much like Kirk & Callahan,’ and I’m saying, ‘wait a minute.’ They’ve been the most successful show on the station. Why wouldn’t we lean toward doing something that’s been successful? What am I supposed to do, something that’s failing? It makes no sense.

“We’ve kind of found a nice little balance here. We’re all over this [Kevin] McHale thing like those guys were. Then there are other days where those guys are on stuff which we probably wouldn’t do as much and we’ll do a little bit more sports. It’s working, we’re getting numbers. And that’s really where the bottom line is. You look at the numbers and you ask, ‘OK, is it working?’ And you say, ‘yeah, we’re getting really good numbers.’ Then we’re doing OK.”

How much are you looking forward to being back on afternoon drive?

“I know the traffic patterns, so I’ve got that down. I know exactly when I need to get to work right now and how long it’s going to take me to get home at night. From that standpoint I’m in pretty good shape.

“It should be fun. I like doing the show with those two guys. I think we’ve connected. Like anything, these things are not easy to put together and get it to work as well as this one’s working. I’m kind of exciting about now being exposed to a larger audience with what we’ve built with this show. I think it should be fun. We’re ready.”

What’s your take on the state of WEEI? How has the station changed from before when you were working here to now?

“Well, the morning show I think is a lot healthier now. They’ve really put that together which is a good thing. On the other hand, they’ve had their own issues with that which is what happens when you tread down that road. I think the station – I hope it is – better off now than it was when I came back because if it isn’t, then it makes me look bad. I certainly think there’s a lot of factors that played into it. Kirk with Gerry has been really good. You’re going through a period where you have a really competitive competing station. They have three of the sports teams. It’s much more difficult for us because of the signal. Their signal is much better than ours. I’m not trying to complain about it, I’m just giving you the facts about it. People don’t realize it and I know you’ve heard those guys in the morning and I’ve complained about it before too, the people that cover the business don’t really understand it. We’re not asking to get credit for Providence numbers. We’re just trying to get credit for the people that are in the Boston metro area that have to listen to 103.7 FM (WVEI, one of WEEI’s local affiliates).

“I can sit here and I can bitch all day – in the end, it really doesn’t make a bit of a difference. I think this market is – if you look around the country, you will not find another city that even comes close to having two sports radio stations that are dominating the entire market the way these two are. There’s not another city in America that you can say that about – not even close.

“One of our biggest problems in the old days was that we were on an AM station and at the time, anybody – forget about being under 30 – anybody under 40 had never listened or never would listen to an AM radio station. The other guys were smart with Mark Hannon. They came on the dial and went to FM and you see where it went and we were forced finally two years later to go (to FM).

“You go look at the numbers, I’m telling you, Chicago. Their two sports radio stations, one probably does a six share and the other one does a three share. Combined, they don’t even add up to one of our stations. It’s unbelievable. All across America you don’t see that. It’s amazing.”

What’s your take on the current state of FM radio right now?

“You’re probably a better one to answer this question because I don’t know where the millennials are going. I know they certainly absorb this stuff much differently than previous generations. I saw that when I was trying to put ‘Big Show Unfiltered’ together. It comes down to wherever you can find content. Barstool Sports is doing stuff with satellite radio. It remains to be seen how well they’re going to do with it. But you’ve got great content on both of these FM sports radio stations in Boston and that’s the reason that people listen. If suddenly this great content ends up going to the digital end of it, and podcasts become long form radio broadcasts, then where does the audience go? They may go there. I think one thing we have to figure out down the road in radio is how do you integrate the fact that you’re giving your product away for nothing to the listener. Your advertising is paying to broadcast this content. How do you match up with all of this podcast and digital stuff where they’re hardly running commercials? I think the answer is going to be very similar to what you see in some broadcasts right now. Even in soccer they’re integrating advertising into the game because there’s no stoppage of play. Maybe we’re going to get to the point where we’re going to have to sit there and drink a cup of Cumberland Farms coffee and start talking about us drinking it while we continue to talk about the topics and subjects that we’re talking about. Maybe there’s going to be advertising intertwined into the content itself.”

How do you feel you’ve changed as a host since you first started?

“It depends on who you’re in the studio with. Every show is different. I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘hey you’re going back to afternoon drive, it’s like the Big Show is back in afternoon drive.’ It’s not the Big Show. This is a much different show. The Big Show was me as the ring leader with different people every single day. This show is going to be three people who have opinions and I think we’ve developed really good chemistry. (OMF) is a much different show. I don’t if it’s me developing over the years, I think you have to be like a chameleon. I am who I am, I try and be as straight and natural and like I am in real life on the air. I think a lot of it has to do with who you’re in the studio with. People might be hearing something different now than they heard before, and I don’t want this show to be The Big Show all over again. This is a much different show. But I love what we’ve developed so far with this show. I think there’s a long way to go.”

At 67 years old, how long do you want to continue doing this for?

“I don’t know. That’s a good question. A few more years. I’ll give you the Brady line – as long as I like doing it and it doesn’t become too tedious on me. I obviously want to do some other things in life so I don’t know how much longer, I really don’t. As long as I like it, I’ll do it. I can’t see myself doing it too much longer, but I would do it for a while because I like it right now. I like this show and I like these guys, but I don’t know. I can’t give you a definitive answer.”