Rhode Island is injecting some sports flavor into its radio airwaves.
WPRO, the popular news talk radio station in the Ocean State, has added Andy Gresh to its programming lineup which hasn’t featured sports talk in nearly a decade.
Gresh, most notably known as the former midday host on 98.5 the Sports Hub with Scott Zolak before being replaced by Marc “the Beetle” Bertrand, will host “The Gresh Show” on WPRO from 6-9 p.m. beginning Monday, April 17th.
“I’m excited to come back to where it all started for me 20 years ago,” Gresh said in the press release. “It’s time to turn nights at WPRO on its ear and let Rhode Island take back its sports talk.”
“Andy will talk all things sports including Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, Bruins as well as college and high school,” the press release said. “He’ll entertain sports fans who have yearned for local sports in the market for nearly a decade.”
Gresh began his career at WPRO in 1997 and became the co-host of the morning show on 790 The Score. He’s since worked at WFAN, ESPN Radio, Sirius XM, the Sports Hub and most recently as the co-host of the afternoon drive show on WTIC-AM in Hartford, Connecticut.
“The combination of our heritage talk team and The Gresh Show with sports at night and his unique style will give Rhode Islanders that perfect mix of local talk and local sports,” WPRO Programming Director Tony Mascaro said in the release.
The move comes after the station has been attempting to fill the holes of its programming lineup for the better part of a year. Former afternoon drive host Vincent “Buddy” Cianci passed away abruptly after suffering from severe abdominal pain in January of 2016 and controversial conservative host John DePetro left his 9 a.m.-12 p.m. post back in December.
WPRO features NBC 10 anchorman Gene Valicenti (6-9 a.m.), Tara Granahan (9-noon), Matt Allen (12-3 p.m.), Dan Yorke (3-6 p.m.) and now Gresh in its weekday rotation.
WPRO has long been a success in Rhode Island, besting news competition WGBH, WHJJ, RI National Public Radio and WPRV, but the ratings have slipped with the loss of Cianci and DePetro to its programming lineup, dropping from a 5.0 to a 3.4 from December to January. That said, the numbers of the four other competitors combined still don’t equal that of WPRO’s numbers.
The acquisition of Gresh as its evening program host is an interesting one.
Sports talk titans WEEI and the Sports Hub have dominated the sports radio scene since its origins. WEEI has an affiliate in Rhode Island, 103.7 FM, which broadcasts all the usual weekday shows on the station along with its game coverage of Providence College men’s basketball during the winter months.
Is Gresh’s addition one that will make listeners tune their dials away from WEEI in Providence, and keep those around that regularly tune in for Rhode Island news talk on 630 AM and 99.7 FM? That will be the most important question as the show launches in the coming days.
This brings to light a recent argument between WEEI fill-in host and former co-host of the highly-rated “The Big Show” with Glenn Ordway, Pete Sheppard, and WPRI sports analyst Mark Dondero, who has a morning show on the Providence affiliate on weekend mornings. Programming interrupted Sheppard’s show with Barstool Sports’ Jerry Thornton in Providence, and Sheppard claimed that sales at EEI had multiple complaints from people in Southern New England who wanted to listen to the Boston lineup.
Do listeners in Rhode Island want more on the Rhody Rams and Friars or, like Sheppard claims, more of the Boston-dominant chatter heard on the 93.7 dial in Massachusetts?
“This is Providence’s show, and you’re going to be able to talk about URI and PC and things like that,” Gresh said in an interview that was featured on the station’s press release Friday.
It’s an interesting discussion. In Gresh’s evening slot, WEEI will air mainly Red Sox games or Mike Mutnansky’s “Mut at Night” when the Sox are off. The EEI affiliate in Providence features both of these programs, along with the Bruins playoff games after the Providence affiliate bought the rights to air the hockey games that are on both EEI and 98.5 in Rhode Island.
What WPRO fails to address in its release is that the market has not been without sports talk in the region. Having an affiliate in Providence strongly aides WEEI’s presence all across New England. Listeners are accustomed to tuning their dials to 103.7 FM throughout their weekdays, but with rampant game coverage consuming WEEI during Red Sox season, perhaps the suits at WPRO believe this is an opportunity to present a syndicated alternative.
Will it be effective in the coming months? Only time will truly tell.