Greg Hill was a Boston radio legend long before he stepped foot inside the WEEI studio. After spending 28 years leading the Hill Man Morning Show on WAAF though, Hill was presented with the chance to try something new. Just over a year later, he is firmly entrenched as part of the city’s sports radio landscape.
“I worked at a station for 28 years that I loved, but I also think that the older you get, the rarer it is to get an opportunity for a new challenge. Initially, when I was thinking about it, my thought was we all want to find things that challenge us and need to find things that challenge us,” Hill told me by phone. “To me, that was the most interesting part about it. How do you try to keep some listeners from your old show and make listeners happy on the new station?”
WEEI’s morning show has always created a lot of noise in the market. John Dennis and Gerry Callahan established the timeslot as one that delivered strong ratings, but trafficked in controversy. Kirk Minihane added confrontation to the formula. Both Dennis and Minihane were long gone by the time Hill showed up. Hill replaced Gerry Callahan and Mike Mutnansky. Callahan is no longer with the station, Mutnansky now hosts during the evening hours.
The reputation of past morning shows, and the status WEEI has enjoyed as the heritage sports radio brand in the market, as well as the bitter ratings battle with crosstown rival, 98.5 the Sports Hub, meant nothing would come easy for Hill. Entering the sports landscape in Boston means everything you do is picked over with a fine-toothed comb.
“There’s actually media members who only interview other media members,” Hill says of the attention paid to sports radio in Boston. “I would bet that doesn’t go on much in other markets.”
Hill first cracked the mic in morning drive on WEEI on July 29, 2019. There was no fear, and why should there have been? Sure, there were a few new cast members around him, but Hill had his long-time co-host Danielle Murr by his side. He also had plenty of history behind him to assure himself or anyone else that he knew what he was doing regardless of what station or format he was a part of.
Over time he would develop chemistry and trust with the newest people in his orbit. Names like Jermaine Wiggins, Ken Laird, and Chris Curtis were all familiar to WEEI listeners. Hill knew them too, but knowing someone and working with them every morning are two very different things.
“I didn’t know anything about those guys prior to this other than seeing them around the hallways and talking to them about the stuff that didn’t relate to doing a morning show,” he says of producers Laird and Curtis.
Program director Joe Zarbano says he actually watched the new team build a relationship very quickly. That is why listeners have responded.
“They trust one another and enjoy working together,” said Zarbano. “There’s a genuine camaraderie within this group and it’s been rewarding to see it grow over the past year.”
Chemistry comes with reps of course. Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady didn’t have the same bond the first day Gronkowski showed up to Foxboro that they have now in Tampa. Hill knew how to entertain an audience though. He knew that meant the show could be successful.
“I did a talk show on a rock station for 28 years. To me, it is all about content. It is always about the person in the morning hoping when they tune into your show that you’re going to make them laugh or get them fired up about something that’s happening in sports, politics or down the street from them.”
That rock station Hill mentioned was WAAF. It was a legendary brand in Boston. Despite ownership changes and lineup changes, WAAF remained a constant for rock music fans in Boston for 50 years. That all changed in February of this year though when the Educational Media Foundation closed on a sale of the 107.3 FM frequency and WAAF went away in favor of the nationally syndicated Christian music network K-Love.
Hill was focused on the sports news of the day and finding his groove with his new crew on WEEI. But come on! Greg Hill was part of WAAF for 28 years! Of course he had strong feelings about the station’s demise.
“It was sad to me because I grew up being a listener to that station and to BCN, one of the most legendary rock stations ever,” Hill said. “It made me sad for rock n’ roll in general. Cyclically the different genre of music have up periods and down periods. To have a station that was on the air for 50 years in the same format in one city? It’s depressing to lose that.”
Understanding rock radio listeners helped Hill understand sports radio listeners. It’s Boston. Passion is one of the city’s hallmark traits, and Hill says that whether his listeners have passion for Godsmack, a band WAAF broke 20 years ago, or the Red Sox, a team that has called WEEI its flagship broadcast partner since 1995, it’s his job to capitalize on that passion.
“From my perspective, whatever that person that is listening to the show in the morning, whatever is on their mind, that’s what I want to be talking about,” he said.
One thing that may feel familiar at WEEI from his days at WAAF is Toucher & Rich. Hill competed with the duo when they were the morning show at rock station WBCN. When it transitioned to the Sports Hub, they were kept on as the morning show.
A year ago, Hill came back into their lives as competition. It’s not something he focuses on, but Hill says the common rock-to-sports path won’t be ignored by some.
The real testament to Toucher & Rich, according to Hill, is their staying power in the market. They arrived from Atlanta in 2006. A fourteen year career in Boston isn’t something outsiders typically enjoy.
“There’s no denying that those guys do a great show. They’ve been here for a long time now. Sometimes it takes Boston a while to accept people, whether it’s in media or your neighbor, but those guys have an amazing track record and do a great show,” he says.
Right now, WEEI finds itself trailing the Sports Hub in Boston’s radio ratings by a wide margin among Men 25-54. The good news is that Hill’s show delivered an impressive 7.3 share in the spring book. That was the best performance of WEEI’s weekday shows for the quarter. The bad news, the show still trails Toucher & Rich by 5 share points.
Listeners and industry publications have noticed the divide, but Hill isn’t hitting the panic button.
“My answer might not be what others would say, but I think if a ratings book ends on a Friday and it is a really good ratings book, then the next month ends and the ratings are totally different, I don’t think you did that much different on the following Wednesday than you did on that Friday,” Hill says. “So, I think in a ratings period where 40% of the audience isn’t undertaking their daily routine of the morning commute and turning their radio on, I don’t think you would want to tweak. I personally just want to try and do a better radio show everyday.”
In fact, he says Joe Zarbano took a similar approach when Hill’s new show launched on WEEI. That is how the two developed a relationship.
“He’s the kind of program director that kind of leaves you alone and lets you do your show and basically says ‘hey, how can I help?’. From my perspective he’s been a guy that has been like ‘let’s figure out how to do a great show and then you guys go do it.'”
What does the future hold for The Greg Hill Show? When I asked him what he hopes we’d be talking about if we had this chat again next year, he doesn’t talk about growing the number in a ratings book. He talks about listeners being more invested in the show and understanding the relationships and lives of the personalities involved.
He jokingly adds that he’d love to have Tom Brady back every Monday. The only man that means more to New England than John Adams has migrated South and will be making radio appearances on Tampa Bay-area stations in 2020.
Being a North Carolinian, I told Hill about the fun that he and his listeners could be in for should Cam Newton win the Patriots’ starting job. He agrees. He also acknowledges that Brady is a huge name and his celebrity may be hard to replicate, but Patriots fans are more interested in the team than one former player.
“There’s a considerable amount of us that have bid Tom Brady adeiu and we want the Patriots to win,” he says. “Whoever the starter is, I think there will be as much interest in hearing from whoever the starter is as there was in Tom Brady.”
Zarbano is excited for where the show is after one year on WEEI. As for the future, he has high hopes but admits that future goals are a little hard to set right now.
“Just one year in, we’re thrilled to be up over 30% in mornings year-over-year,” he said. “It’s so hard to predict the future in the middle of a pandemic, but we’re focused on continuing to build on the momentum and positive progress to date.”
Hill says one year from now will be whatever it will be. His only focus will be on the people that rely on his voice every morning to accompany them on their commute or in their homes as they work.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.