Red Sox’ Radio Makes a Galling Change; Play-by-Play Will Be Presented in a Talk-Show Format
Thursday, December 20, 2018
At first, I asked myself why would rightsholder WEEI break up an excellent duo. Neverett and Sox’ radio immortal Joe Castiglione combined to bring listeners cadenced, entertaining and informative broadcasts; chock-full of anecdotes. They were becoming the accepted voices of New England summers.
When I learned why he’s leaving, I bristled. As it turns out, WEEI plans to transition its coverage from a golden play-by-play standard to in-game talk; a decision that renders Neverett superfluous. He’s a play-by-play announcer, not a young Eddie Andelman.
These Einsteins of broadcasting believe that it’s time to tear down seventy years of tradition, fostered in Boston by Curt Gowdy in 1951 and perpetuated by folks like Jim Britt, Bob Murphy, Ned Martin, Jon Miller, Jim Woods and Castiglione. Neverett wanted nothing of the change and WEEI apparently wanted nothing of him. Neverett didn’t fit its silly new plan.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox are saying little. They’re playing the card of innocent bystander. The fact is that they’re too busy counting the cash they get from WEEI’s parent, Entercom. There’s a line on Wall Street, ‘You’re only as good as your stock price.’ So if the Sox view the stock tables, it’s not a pretty picture. Entercom’s stock price is down about 40% in the last year. In other words, this whole think stinks.
Entercom’s programmers apparently consider play-by-play an anathema. The heck with the game. It’s for old folks. As Phil Mushnick might say, Yikes!
Wake up, WEEI. Young people, the 18-34 demo, don’t listen to sports talk anyhow and they certainly won’t listen to something labeled baseball play-by-play but is no more than a mask for a talk show. But as long as WEEI pays the fiddler, it can apparently call the tunes. It’s a desperate experiment.
As such, I guess that henceforth the station’s instructions to the announcers, whoever they are, will be:
No more human-interest stories. Painting graphic pictures requires too many Twitter characters.
Shun fundamentals. The nomenclature and vocal cadence introduced by the likes of Red Barber and perfected by Vin Scully are for baby boomers and they’re beginning to die by the day.
Talk about the traffic in the Callahan Tunnel, the latest tattoos, Mark Zuckerberg’s battles in Congress, Warren against Trump or Robert Kraft’s personal life.
Knowledge of pop-culture is a must.
Don’t talk about dead people anymore as David Hill famously said when Fox bought the television rights and hired Joe Buck. Forget about baseball’s history. No one in Boston cares about Ted Williams or Carl Yastrzemski.
Don’t worry about giving the score. Fans can get it on their Smartphones.
Where is this going?
It is just the beginning. Wait for the next generation. Radio and television listeners will be treated to AI, the next major technological wave. AI will pilfer mics from announcers and the broadcast booths will turn into luxury boxes. AI will be broadcast’s version of driverless cars.
If it’s a talk show, will the announcers travel with the club? Heck, the station’s general manager can save money if they don’t. Will home games be done from the studio? This way the radio booth can be rented to sponsors if there are any left.
Will the station’s GM come up with another brilliant idea? “Hey, if this is becoming a talk show, why are we overpaying millions for the rights. We can just continue doing it from the studio at no cost. it’s the same thing.”
Will this be the beginning of the end of play-by-play on radio? We’re seeing it in hockey; the new Carolina Hurricanes simulcast silenced arguably the NHL’s best radio play-by-play voice, Chuck Kaiton. The Devils, Lightning, Kings and Islanders are off traditional radio and available only online and through apps.
NBA radio announcers need helicopters to get them to their nosebleed locations every night.
Who’s listening to basketball and hockey anyhow? The numbers are frighteningly low; in the hundreds not thousands.
Fewer local radio stations buy NFL rights for big money anymore. The declining economies of the medium dictate otherwise. Dollars aside, four teams have ex-players calling games. None is exceptional or even very good. How can they be? They were never trained. Where are the greats? Gil Santos, Merle Harmon, Marty Glickman and Bill King are deceased. Greg Papa was let go by the Raiders this season. He was as good as they come.
I occasionally dialed up the Boston radio duo online to immerse and enjoy. The storytelling, the warmth, the anecdotes always made for a great listen; and through it all the two never missed a pitch. They laughed, chuckled and thankfully never screeched. Through it all, the present tense play-by-play rudiments were untouchable and never compromised.
Castiglione and Neverett embraced the importance of consistently executing play-by-play essentials; spinning yearns, sharing tidbits without ever losing sight of what’s going on down on the field. It was right out of a textbook. Rhythmic elegance!
According to remarks from Tim, his relationship with the Sox was and is strong. But WEEI and Tim apparently realized that his traditional call won’t fit the misguided change that’s planned; whatever disruptive choppiness it brings. Joe Castiglione, 72, might as well be draped in the Red Sox logo. So he’s untouchable. But you have to wonder how he’ll deal with this monstrosity next year.
Somewhere up in the heavens, Jack Buck, Harry Caray, Bob Prince, Russ Hodges, Gowdy and others are asking for a drink and a couple Motrins.
But wait a minute. What made the young and old listen to Vin Scully when he was either 25 in Brooklyn or 85 in Los Angeles? It was his perfect delivery, masterful storytelling and graphic descriptions. It wasn’t having Jim Rome call a baseball game. Different skill set.
If you’re going to do it, do it right! Goodness!
This piece first appeared in Sports Broadcast Journal.