At long last, Kirk Minihane of Kirk and Callahan on WEEI finally got station midday host Glenn Ordway to come on his Enough About Me podcast for what will turn out to be two different podcasts, which make sense seeing Ordway’s career is pretty expansive.
Some credit Ordway for essentially creating effective sports talk radio, particularly in Boston which is much different from the chatter heard across other markets and stations. Even for someone like myself who isn’t even 20-years-old yet, I remember driving around with my Dad listening to the Big Show and the Whiner Line on Friday afternoons.
Much like Dennis and Callahan with John Dennis and Gerry Callahan were during the morning drive-time slot, the Big Show was appointment listening and was so engrained in the Boston sports culture at the time and even still today, even though the landscape and the way we listen has changed a bit. When thinking about the Red Sox, hovering around the second or third thing on that list has to be WEEI, particularly given how frequently live remotes were done at Fenway during the baseball season.
Along with the Michael Holley, Lou Merloni and Gerry Callahan episodes, the inside radio/inner-workings of WEEI EAM podcasts are always the best, and thus far this one proved no different. Here’s the highlights from episode one, and you can listen to the podcast here:
Glenn was fired back in 2013 after the revamped Big Show with Michael Holley apparently wasn’t cutting it for the WEEI management at the time shortly after the formation of 98.5 the Sports Hub and the ongoing competition with Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti in the afternoon drive-time slot. Glenn relayed how he was called into the then-program director Jason Wolfe’s office to talk after a show when Wolfe, with tears in his eyes, told Glenn the news that he was being fired. An interesting backstory to find out about now, Ordway was planning on staying on-the-air until Friday before announcing he and the station would no longer be working together, but information leaked to the Boston Globe, so word spread fairly quickly that he’d been canned. After Glenn and Holley beat Felger and Mazz during the 2013 spring ratings book, Ordway recalled then-Entercom Boston vice president Jeff Brown taking him out to dinner and congratulating him on the ratings but without Holley. Brown proceeded to get mad at Glenn and questioned his compete level after claiming that the ratings would swing back-and-forth between both stations when the flagship teams on each particular station were performing better.
Ordway was replaced by Mike Salk who was from Seattle. Everyone that ever listened to the Salk and Holley show knew that it wasn’t a great fit, and it sounded nothing like Boston sports talk radio. Glenn didn’t think he was a good host in this market but didn’t try and listen often, either.
“[You and I] talked a lot for two years,” Glenn said. “I thought the same thing [Salk wasn’t great] when I first heard him, but it wasn’t doing me any good to listen to him. I don’t think you can take someone from out of town and put them on-the-air full-time. Things change here in a five-year cycle and the fans have a really good feel for what’s going on. You hear these national shows and they lack emotion.”
The Big Show was not the same at its beginning as it was toward the end, and there was a slippage in quality from its peak.
“A lot of things happened,” Ordway said.”We did 18 years of show and for 15 years we were number one in key demographics. We peaked probably in the middle of it just like anything else.”
Glenn went on to explain the difficulties of his first gig in sports talk radio while he was still covering the Celtics. He had to do the show in a hotel at times because he was on the road with the team. The Celtics offered him a four-year deal in 1995 and he’d be able to do the show at the same time. He knew the inner-workings of the Celtics organization and knew they wanted to tank in order to get Tim Duncan in the draft and said essentially the same thing on the radio — Boston needed to get a lot worse before it could really become a championship team again. Glenn said he was then called in by former owner Paul Gaston and he told Ordway that you have to say ‘championship-driven’ when talking about the team. “I loved [covering the Celtics],” he said. “It’s still one of the highlights of my life but I couldn’t do it [given the circumstances.]”
The Big Show got its influence from WRKO, a news radio station under the Entercom ownership. Ordway was involved in programming with the station and noticed something he thought could stick. The infamous Big Show foundation was in place — something that Kirk and Gerry do now with their ‘Dino Casting Couch.’
“There was a show from WRKO where it was a three-man thing and they argued and debated,” Glenn said. “It’d be like if we were sitting around a bar talking and then there’s entertainment in it. Sean Grande was writing stuff for us and we had some really talented people at the beginning of it.”
Early on, the Big Show featured some real A-list guests that sat in with Glenn, including Gerry before he worked at WEEI full-time, Dan Shaughnessy, Bob Ryan, Ron Borges and others. By the time the show ended, that was not the case. Some of that was because the Globe banned its personnel from going on Glenn’s show after Borges read a comment from someone else calling New York Yankees pitcher Hideki Irabu a racial slur. That prevented any writers from Morrissey Boulevard from coming on WEEI.
“We had the Globe issue when they boycotted over the Borges thing,” Glenn said. “Borges is not that type of guy and he didn’t mean it and I also think it was an excuse for the Globe to get its people off of WEEI because we were moving up in credibility and they were feeling threatened. We were suddenly becoming a force. The Globe only cares about what happens between the walls of Morrissey Boulevard, but it was like the best thing that ever happened to us. People loved that we just said, ‘Screw it’ and we weren’t going to bow down to the Boston Globe.”
He added: “We lost a lot of the A-listers. People were making an awful lot of money on this show so they offered a pay cut to our entire crew of 50 percent. Down the road, Pete [Sheppard] replaced Sean Grande and then they replaced him when he started making too much. Pete was great for the show. They got to the point where they trimmed the budget and kept trimming it where we ended up with a lot of B and C-listers. It became difficult.”
Toward the end of the podcast, Glenn discussed what happened after he was fired and how he was prevented from starting something new right away because WEEI paid his salary for a year. If he wanted to start something else, he would lose what was essentially free money.
“I had no clue [what to do] because I was blindsided by it,” Ordway said. “I just laughed. I had no idea what to do. I could’ve retired if I wanted to live a really quiet life. I couldn’t do anything for a while. They were paying me for a year and when I tried to do something else they fought it. I had an opportunity to do a full-time gig like Mad Dog at Sirius XM but I would’ve lost all the money. I thought about it and I thought about my kids and it didn’t make sense. I would’ve had to do some stuff in New York but I built a studio in my house so I didn’t have to go all the time and I thought, ‘This is the greatest thing in the world.’”
Ordway launched Big Show Unfiltered in March of 2014, which was an online version of the old afternoon drive-time show on WEEI. This came after talks with Entercom and new VP Phil Zachary, which nearly saw Glenn and Minihane work the afternoons on WEEI.
“The [Big Show Unfiltered] audience wasn’t bad, but we couldn’t market it,” Glenn said. “We were still caught up with a lot of podcasts. I had an opportunity to come back to WEEI. After Zachary took over, he and I had lunch 7-8 weeks after that. He wanted me back and
we talked about a bunch of different time slots. We talked nights, afternoons. You know. You and I had dinners and they wanted to put you and I on afternoon drive and I would be able to move the chains. I think you’re terrific on-the-air. I think that’s why we kind of became friends out of the gate. We both had an affinity for radio.”
Obviously that never happened, and Big Show Unfiltered didn’t last long before Glenn returned to WEEI and became the midday host on the station with former Red Sox infielder Merloni and Patriots tight end Christian Fauria.
Kirk and Glenn opened the second part of the podcast reliving the Big Show, and the mistakes that WEEI has made in the past.
Minihane asked what pair of co-hosts Ordway would pick if he had to do one more Big Show in its peak.
“Depends on what was happening at the time,” Glenn said. “We had, I think, 117 co-hosts over the years on that show. It would be much better if you could get someone like Michael Felger and Sean McAdam on together, where there’s friction there, or Tony Mazz and [Steve] Buckley on the show where they’d go at it, it’s much better that way [instead of having chemistry.]”
The top mistake the station made previously was waiting to switch over FM radio after 98.5 had already been in that format for two years, according to Ordway. Glenn relayed a stat during the podcast which said that only 19 percent of the population had ever listened to AM radio at the time, and the Big Show was still doing tremendous numbers. A distant second was paying too much to maintain the rights of the Red Sox.
Before diving in to Kirk’s fight with Fauria, which takes up about 30 minutes of the podcast, Minihane and Glenn took one last trip down memory lane to discuss Ordway’s time with former legendary Celtics play-by-play guy Johnny Most.
Glenn teamed up with Most in 1982, the year after Boston won its first championship with Larry Bird, and things weren’t so friendly between the two right away.
“I went from WBZ to WRKO and then was hired by RKO,” Ordway said. “Most got sick so midway through that season they put me on the beat and they had me on the games with John. He was so insecure this young whippersnapper was going to take his gig. We went out to the bar one night to have it out and we had it out. I said, ‘I’m not trying to get your job. I’m trying to help extent your career.’”
“We did seven years together and then I did seven more years after he left. He was really sick and it was really sad [at the end.]”
“The perception was you stabbed [Most] in the back,” Kirk said.
“Health stabbed him in the back,” Ordway added. “I was pushing Johnny in a wheelchair. I felt bad for what was going on with him, but at the end Johnny would never study. He would show up at the Garden and there were nights where he wouldn’t realize who [the Celtics] were playing. But he had the formula laid out in his head. In his mind he would say, ‘I hate this guy, I hate that guy.’ He was a fascinating guy, but the most insecure guy you’d ever come across.”
Then the most anticipated subject came up, and Kirk and Glenn got right into it about Minihane’s confrontation with Christian.
“I thought you were doing what you had to do to protect your show,” Ordway said. “You like battles. You were creating battles between middays and morning drive. You’re finally admitting you’ve copied everything I’ve ever done in my career except get fat. Everybody’s career is picking up a little bit of something from other people.”
“If you guys did that to us, I wouldn’t be pissed off,” Kirk said. “I would go on the air and be pissed about it. You’d have to give me that.”
“I would give you some of that,” Glenn said. “Christian’s different when it comes to this stuff. He’s developed in radio but he wasn’t a radio professional. You have a different approach to it. He was a lot more sensitive to it.”
“Then you called and you tried to tell me how to do things,” Kirk added.
“You said to me, how do you think it was handled? I said I don’t blame Fauria for being pissed off,” Glenn said.
“You said I was going after Fauria to attack him,” Minihane said.
“I said to you I think first of all things could have been corrected and it wasn’t handled properly,” Ordway added. “I think he was playing a tough guy and I don’t think he was going to hit you. You thought I was taking sides but you were also wrong. I wasn’t taking his side and kissing ass with [the midday hosts]. The narrative works better for you if you say, ‘Ordway took the sides of those guys for business purposes.’ I get it. It was an emotional period of time.”
Glenn continued: “Kirk, you love this shit. It works for you. It works for your personality. The first thing Fauria did after the incident when he sat down in the studio was he apologized to us and said he was wrong. He apologized because he knew he made an incident where there shouldn’t have been one.”
Ordway then disputed that Kirk would not have been mad if someone secretly taped one of his conversations like midday producer Paul Chartier did to Christian, which set him off.
“If you have a conversation privately where you’re ripping Joey or Phil Zackary or Dino…if I did that to you, you’d be bullshit. You’re being disingenuous.”
“I think that was totally overblown,” Minihane said. “You guys were doing the same shit. Curtis and Sausage were in here and they were taped before hand and Joey played it for Lou, Fauria and [Tim] Benz and they were laughing at it. It’s always our fault with you guys. Why is it always our fault? Mike Giardi was our fault. [Gary] Tanguay was our fault.”
“You are a sensitive little bitch,” Glenn replied. “I’m not saying it was all your fault. You guys both had involvement in it. You wanted me to kiss your ass that night on the phone and tell you, ‘Kirkie, you did nothing wrong today.’ I told you you were both wrong. You didn’t want me to tell you that two people can be wrong when involved in a conflict. I know that management hates the internal stuff, but the audience loves it and they want to get it behind the curtain.”
After the dust settled, the two hosts discussed the recent merger between the parent companies of the two sports station, Entercom and CBS Radio.
“I’ve been through a lot of these over the years,” Ordway said. “We know what it is. CBS was disappointed in CBS Radio – the whole operation of 120-plus stations. What it does for us? We have no leverage. Zero. [Both stations] own 28 percent of men in the market place. You control billing right now. Right now, if you look at the ratings, we’re [WEEI] dominating the upper echelon of the demographic with the 35 and they’re doing the same with the 25.”
“I feel like the fight is kind of over now,” Kirk said of the battle between 98.5 and WEEI.
“I was worried about the Sports Hub when we came on the air,” Glenn said. “They were on an FM station and we were on AM and we knew they were the real deal. We knew the talent that was over there.”
Ordway is pleased with the new direction of the station since he came back in September of 2015.
“I think we’ve made a lot of strides,” he said. “Bringing Dale back and myself back and the guy that joined up with Gerry Callahan might have helped a little bit with the success of it. I think it’s a lot better. I think that whole experiment of bringing in outside guys and veteran broadcasters and just to throw them out there, I don’t think it works.”
“I thought the station was doomed at times, but we got a couple of breaks and got through it,” Minihane said, who often jokes that EEI was oh so close to becoming a country station when ratings were slipping a few years ago.
After being on the midday show for a year and a half, Ordway reflected on the development of the time slot and when the 66-year-old host thinks he might stop flapping his gums for good.
“I think we’ve made tremendous strides,” he said. “I like working with ex-jocks because you can play with them a little bit. I think Lou has a nasty side and that’s coming out right now. I like doing this. Everybody tries to push everybody out. If I can stay healthy and people still want me, I’ll stay. I will do other things in my life but I will never retire. Could you ever retire? What would you do everyday? What do you do? I know more people that retire and then they drop dead.”
“It’s hard to get away from it,” Kirk said.
Glenn said the show he wishes he had the chance to do the most during his absence was the Boston Marathon bombing, which occurred recently after he was fired.
“We went through 9/11 back then and we did for about two weeks,” Ordway said.
“John [Dennis] was great with that [hard-hitting] stuff,” Kirk said. “John would sell jokes for you and he had that really valuable quality. You do too. There would be times where we were laughing and joking on the air and having a great time and then the light would go off then that’s it. John had a good run though – a fucking great run.”
The final few minutes talked about how Glenn nearly teamed up with Kirk for the afternoon drive show, and was even in play to replace Dino if he couldn’t comeback after rehab. Ordway spent a month with Kirk and Gerry doing fill-in shows and enjoyed his time with the guys, but knew it wasn’t realistic full-time.
“I did [have fun], but I didn’t like the hours,” Ordway said. “I like doing middays because of the hours but the commute will take anywhere from an hour to an hour and 45 minutes.”
“I think it would be difficult to do a show with us and Gerry because were all dominant voices,” Minihane said. We’re all alpha males. We had fun though. We had fun that month.”