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Fred Toucher Is Making His Own Path

“I didn’t go to Syracuse and work at the school newspaper in the sports department. There’s different paths to get into the industry. You don’t have to follow the same path as everyone else.”

Brian Noe

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98.5 The Sports Hub

Not all paths are the same. And not many paths resemble Fred Toucher’s journey in radio. The Detroit native openly roots for the New York Jets, bashes New England Patriots crybaby fans, and hosts a successful morning show in Boston. How in the holy hell does that add up?

Unconventional works if you’re authentic, which certainly sums up Toucher. Along with his radio partner, Rich Shertenlieb, Toucher & Rich has been a fixture on 98.5 The Sports Hub since 2009.

Toucher was a rock radio host for over a decade. He teamed up with Rich in 2006 at rock station WBCN in Boston. They eventually migrated to sports radio a few years later where they still thrive today. As Tom Brady tweeted when Ben Roethlisberger retired — there’s more than one way to bake a cake — the same is true in radio. Toucher is proof of it.

We chat about his uncommon path, admitting you’re an outsider, his hatred for the Patriots, and Toucher’s actual last name. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: How did you end up in Boston when you’re originally from Detroit?

Fred Toettcher: I was in Atlanta for eight years. I was at 99X in Atlanta when Cumulus bought 99X. I didn’t like the Dickey brothers and they were local, which was going to be a big pain in the ass. I asked if I could get out of my contract and they didn’t put up much of a fight.

I had known Rich from working at 99X when he worked there. A consultant, Randy Lane, helped us get together and we auditioned for CBS in Phoenix. Then CBS put us in Boston doing afternoons at BCN. That’s it. Eight years in Atlanta, then started here in 2006.

BN: What led you to going from Detroit to Atlanta initially?

FT: I went to college in Florida. I got out of college and I was interning for The Mitch Albom Show in Detroit. My best friend moved to Atlanta, so I just moved to Atlanta and worked there. It was CBS’s decision to move us to Boston. It wasn’t my intent to live in Boston, it was CBS’s thought. I guess my personality is suited for the Northeast is what everyone said. Sort of more caustic, probably better than the South.

BN: What did you think at the time when it was down to Phoenix versus Boston and how it shook out?

FT: Oh, I was glad that we ended up in Boston. I’m not a big fan of Phoenix. It was weird because this actually happened; they were like all right, we really liked your audition, but we’re not going to put you in Phoenix. They were like, we’re not going to tell you where we want you; we’re going to tell you where we want you on this date.

This guy, who did the show with us when we first started, and I went to this bar in Atlanta and waited around. It was like the draft. We waited around for a phone call from my agent to tell us where we would be moving to. That was pretty strange how they did it. Then we had five days to find a place to live and everything. It probably could’ve been handled better.

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BN: [Laughs] That’s a wild story. In what ways has the show changed from initially being on a rock station to now being on a sports station?

FT: Things were still pretty wild in rock radio when we got to Boston. There were so many things that we couldn’t do now and probably wouldn’t want to do now. The sports format gave us much more structure. Knowing that you had to devote a lot of time to sports on the show definitely helped in terms of focus and everything. I’m glad that we were on rock radio when we were on it, but we probably wouldn’t have lasted in one market if we were in rock radio.

I think it also gave older people permission to listen to our show. A lot of people would be like, I don’t listen to BCN anymore, I’m too old. People in their 30s were like, I’m too old for BCN. So when we went to the sports format, it’s like people felt, well, this is a format that I can listen to. Our older audience got much bigger almost immediately.

Those are the two big things is that it gave people permission and also forced us to structure the show. It wasn’t easy. We had to meet with the programmer, Mike Thomas, every day for a year after the show to hash out how the show was going to be. I’m sure that wasn’t his idea of fun. That was a pain in the ass, but it ended up obviously working out.

BN: Were those times hard or undesirable?

FT: Yeah, there was also the belief — I knew it wasn’t true — but the belief that they were just keeping us around until our contracts were up. People were like, well, they’re just going to get fired. They’re not going to be here when their contract is up. The audience was like, who the fuck are you guys? You guys don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You’re not sports guys.

Yeah, it was very difficult for the first year. It was no fun. Rich didn’t want to do sports. He tried really hard, but he didn’t really want to be doing it so that was difficult as well. The first six months were miserable.

Then the station started succeeding and every show succeeded on the same path. That’s all you’re doing at that point; you don’t want the other shows to outperform you if you’re us. We were performing as well as the other shows. Everyone started performing well about six months after we started. We weren’t number one or anything, but we were getting pretty good ratings. The pressure was starting to dwindle a little bit after six months, but the first year was not fun.

BN: If I would’ve told you back in ’09 that you’d be sitting here in 2022 enjoying the success that you have, would you have believed it?

FT: No, no, no. No one would’ve. No one would’ve thought the station would be this successful. Certainly no one would’ve thought our show would’ve been successful. I didn’t think that our show was successful. I didn’t know why they kept us. It was a big gamble for them to keep us from BCN. No one else thought they should have. No, there was no way I thought I’d still be in Boston.

I thought when BCN ended I had a pretty good inclination like a year before, I thought we were going to get fired. Then they told us they were keeping us six months before BCN went off the air. I thought I was going to get fired then and I certainly thought I was going to get fired after our first contract was up. No, I didn’t think there was any chance this was going to happen.

BN: What does it take for an outsider to be accepted as a host in Boston?

FT: To admit you’re an outsider. To not try to front like you’re not. Everything around here is impossible. The town names are impossible to pronounce. Everything is pronounced wrong. Everything is weird. If you come in and have flashcards trying to learn everything about the town, it’s going to come off very phony. My advice would be, just admit that you’re not from here. Admit if you weren’t on a sports station. Admit that you’re not a sports reporter. Just lay it out and if people accept you, they accept you. If they don’t, they don’t. But they will. I think the region values honesty.

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BN: What’s your role during the BSM Summit?

FT: I don’t know. [Laughs]

BN: You just said yeah, I’ll be a part of it.

FT: Yeah, 11:30 in the morning I think I’m supposed to do something. I’m on with Felger and Carton. I’m not sure, though. [Laughs] I’m not positive. I know I’m not giving a speech. I know that. I think it’s probably a group of us. I’m hoping. I’ve prepared nothing, so I don’t know. [Laughs]

BN: Are you looking forward to it?

FT: Yeah, I haven’t been at an industry thing in a really long time. Like decades. I’ve only met my agent once, so she’ll be there. I’m sure I’ll see people I haven’t seen in a really long time. I like that stuff. I never have the opportunity to go do that kind of stuff. I’m never invited to anything.

BN: [Laughs] What are you hoping to gain by being there, or to provide by being there?

FT: Really, I’m going for fun and maybe to connect with some people that I haven’t seen. We’re syndicated now and always looking to pick up affiliates. If I’m out there and there’s someone from a small enough market that would take our show, I’d welcome that. Like everyone else, to go out and meet the people.

I hope that I have some insight. I don’t know if people go to these things to learn something. If there are people coming that want to get into sports radio, hopefully I can deliver some insight. I think my story is very odd and if I can do it, that should lead people to be inspired that they can do it.

I didn’t go to Syracuse and work at the school newspaper in the sports department. There’s different paths to get into the industry. You don’t have to follow the same path as everyone else. I think that’s probably a good message. I probably have one of the odder origin stories of anyone there. That I can offer.

BN: Is there anything from rock radio that you miss?

FT: Yeah, some days I don’t want to talk about sports at all. It’s like anything else; if you do it for a living, you get sick of it. We don’t talk about sports every break, but we have to talk about sports. There are days that I just don’t want to. Rock radio, you can do whatever you want. You don’t talk about rock music all the time.

In the long run, it’s not as good because you don’t have anything to fall back on. But there are days where I’m like, aww, I really don’t want to fuckin’ talk about sports. I don’t care. Especially if something contrived is happening that I find annoying. Like a lot of Patriots shit, I know what it’s going to be like going in the next day. I really don’t want to talk about this and hear the same thing. You’ll see stuff on Twitter and everyone’s saying the same thing and you’re like, ugh, I have to get in tomorrow and hear all of this again.

BN: What are some of the things you do today that you wouldn’t typically hear on a sports radio show?

FT: We do a lot of stuff. When I first moved to Boston, there’s this town called Brookline that’s like this really academic, annoying town. It was hell living there. Everyone’s yelling at you. There was one guy that had a megaphone on his front porch and if you stepped on his lawn he would be able to yell at you from his couch. We take the real 911 calls from Brookline and play them and make fun of them. So we do everybody’s angry in Brookline.

We do recaps where we have a kid on our show go out and talk to people, like weirdos after games. It started off being a drunken recap, but that got old. We met so many strange characters with him just being on the streets of Boston at night, just a bunch of weirdos and stuff. So we do that. We don’t have a lot of regular bits. We don’t have anything that we do on Wednesday at 8 o’clock or anything.

BN: I noticed on your email that your last name is spelled differently [Toettcher]. You don’t have a stage name, but is it a stage spelling of your last name?

FT: Yes, my regular spelling, no one would know my name is Toucher. It’s T-O-E-T-T; it’s very full-on German. No one would know what the hell it was. When I was at 99X, Sean Demery was like you have a cool last name, you should go by Toucher. It wasn’t even Fred Toucher, he was like you should go by Toucher. I’m like okay, so I did nights as Toucher. But I thought in print, no one’s going to know what the fuck this name is. So yeah, it’s phonetically spelled. Much to the delight of everyone at the doctor’s office when they ask for your email.

BN: [Laughs] What ideally would you want your future to be in radio or beyond?

FT: I would like it if the syndication grew. You always want a new challenge. I’m always interested in opportunities outside of radio. Not to exchange my career, but in addition to doing the radio show. Right now, in terms of radio, just to keep growing.

We’re syndicated in four other markets now, so it’s not really a big deal. But it’s all set up now. I can tell you it’s very lucrative. [Laughs] No money is exchanged, but we’ve paid for everything. It’s all set up. To continue to do that and to continue to grow that would be exciting. Obviously keep doing well in Boston, but to try to grow the brand just for the challenge would be a lot of fun.

BN: What’s the most fun that you’ve had during your career?

FT: I know for sure what it is. We got to be on the duck boat when the Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup. That was really, really, really cool. That was by far the best moment, the moment that I’ll always remember. It’s my I’ve-been-on-the-moon story. It’s my trump-card story. I have it in my phone, all the videos of it. There were a million and a half people in the city.

When a team here wins, they’re called duck boats. There are these things that tourists take. They are cars and they also can float. We got to be on one of them. It was us and the Bruins. There weren’t many other people that weren’t on the Bruins. That was awesome. We had only been on The Sports Hub for like two years. That was fun. That was the best.

BN: How did that come about?

FT: I don’t know. The station picked us, I think, because we’re not reporters. Probably the other shows thought it would look bad because they’re supposed to be above that. Also I was a big proponent of hockey, which helped us a lot very early. The Bruins really helped us. I developed a relationship with them at BCN. I’m a big hockey fan. No one was talking about the Bruins, so I develop this relationship with them. It was great, great timing; when they started The Sports Hub, the Bruins started to get really, really good.

I think the combination of my relationship and my pom-pom waving for them, which has stopped now, but my pom-pom waving for them and the idea that we’re not journalists I think was why the station let us go. The station could’ve put themselves on it, my management could’ve put themselves on it, but they picked us, which was very nice of them.

BN: Is there anything that you hate talking about in that area?

FT: I hate the Patriots. I don’t mind talking about them, especially now. But Deflategate was the worst. Deflategate was the worst. I hated it. We actually stopped talking about it during the height of it because I couldn’t take it anymore. Listeners going over legal documents and science data and stuff. It was so boring. The victim mentality of the Patriots fans is so annoying. I hated Deflategate. Rich would tell you the same thing. I really didn’t like it.

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You have to understand people talked about it all day, every day here. All day, every day. The Patriots fans are so whiny and entitled because for 20 years, they’ve been so good. If you’re in your 30s, you don’t know anything other than the Patriots winning, which is funny because they think this is just going to continue now. They don’t know what it’s like to root for anyone else.

Any other team, there’s peaks and valleys. I’m a Jets fan, so I’ve hated the Patriots my whole life. [Laughs] And now I really hate the Patriots. But they’ve helped make me a comfortable living, so I’ve got that going for me.

BN: I’ll tell you, man, you have an amazing story. Being from Detroit, Jets fan, doing a morning show on a sports station in Boston, dude. That’s crazy.

FT: Yeah, I admit that I’m a Jets fan too, which everyone uses against me. Oh, he’s just making excuses; he’s a Jets fan. But I was very honest about that. I guarantee you a consultant wouldn’t tell you to come on Boston sports talk and say you’re a Jets fan. I can assure you. Or call their fans crybabies and losers. But it’s worked out. A consultant would tell you not to do that, so don’t always listen to consultants. They just give you the easiest road.

BN: I’d imagine that you’re selling a different product than pretty much anybody else in that market. When you come out and say I’m a Jets fan, I don’t know how to pronounce these town names, do you think there’s something about being different and authentic that helps you be successful?

FT: I think it was necessary for us. We would never have succeeded if we hadn’t done it. I mean if you think about it, I’ve always thought about it like this: If you were out to dinner with five people and you didn’t know three of them, say you’re a big Yankee fan and you were at a table and someone says, oh hey, did you see the Yankee game? And you’re like no, I’m a Red Sox fan. They’re not going to get up from the table and leave. It’s not something that you’re going to judge a person’s character by.

I think in our case, I talk a lot about my personal life. I don’t know why. It just happens for better or for worse, sometimes worse. I think just being authentic because we didn’t have the sports credibility. So yeah, you’re kind of selling yourself to people and you’re just going, this is the authentic person that I am within reason.

You probably wouldn’t talk for four hours if given your druthers, but here’s the authentic person I am talking into a microphone, so you can judge me. We’re not like Felger & Mazz who immediately had this sports credibility. They only talk about sports. They have the cred to do that. I think we were forced to kind of sell ourselves. I think just being authentic was necessary for us.

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