By David Scott
Boston Sports Media
With Patriots kick-off now mere hours away, Scott’s Shots will bring you a special Banner Day ‘05 edition instead of the regular Friday offering. As you will see below, things are heating up on the Boston sports media scene at a lot of levels. As good as it is to be an observer of The Games these days, it might be even more interesting to be an observer of The Games Media People Play. We know you’ll agree.
One other programming note: World Famous PodShots was preempted this week, but will return next week (look for a Wednesday morning post), and the inaugural “PodShots On The Road” feature will debut with a package looking at the pre-game tailgate sponsored by Shots in the Foxboro Terminal off Route One. We’re on the North Street side near the utility hut – just scream “Shots,” and we’ll come a runnin’.
• The “Pissing Match That Wouldn’t Die” took an all-too-predictable turn this week as Scott’s Shots has learned that Ryen Russillo will not be a part of the WBCN 104.1 FM Rock Radio Network post-game show as had previously been announced by the radio station.
WBCN field producer Marc Cappello told Shots on Wednesday that Russillo “. . .won’t be a part of the show now, or in the near future.” Producer Howie Sylvester uttered similar words on Tuesday.
Russillo, who had been touted in the original ‘BCN release announcing his hiring as one of the “bright young stars on the Boston media scene,” was reluctant to speak to Shots on both Tuesday and Wednesday, claiming we (Shots) had already decided to “back our guy, Dennis” and RR also took exception to Shots’ referral to Russillo as a “Frat Boy.”
(For the record, once again, I have met both Dennis and Russillo in person just once. I have spoken on the phone to both of them a handful of times combined. I have no “guy” in this, I simply have the facts I’ve been able to cull together.)
Russillo had yet to appear on the network during the pre-season and apparently the Rock Radio Network was uncomfortable having the Martha’s Vineyard native (and University of Vermont grad) as part of their extended family.
Russillo’s (side-job) loss likely stems from a juvenile tiff Russillo found himself embroiled in with WEEI 850 AM’s John Dennis, over an Old School-esque meeting Russillo had with Dennis’s 25-year-old daughter, Emilee, at a party of a mutual friend. Russillo, at the time the story broke in early August, claimed he was kidding with Emilee and goofing with some lines from the Will Farrell movie, “Anchorman.” But this Ron Burgundy didn’t get the girl in the end, and likely got more than he ever could have bargained for.
Russillo, soon after the incident, admitted to Shots his error in judgment in trying to confide in the often-ruthless Track Gals despite thinking he was “off the record.” His comments instead grabbed Boston Herald “Inside Track” headlines when he called Dennis a “schmuck” after Dennis left a threatening phone message for Russillo. ( See Scott’s Shots take from that week. )
That phone message, coincidentally, surfaced on Wednesday when local mudslingers/smut peddlers, Barstool Sports, posted the MP3 version of the message on its website. Russillo, it should be noted, had told Shots on August 5 that he erased the message, but also admitted to having played it for “some” people before trashing it. On Wednesday, Russillo denied giving the message to Barstool and told Shots he was trying to get them to “take it down.” (They hadn’t complied as of Wednesday night.)
(Barstool themselves, it should be noted, also crossed a line with its post-script to the story joking it would send in “fighter pilots” of its own to hit on her “all night long.” It also solicited readers to send in photos of Emilee. That’s crude, immature and exactly the type of actions that preclude the Barstoolies from ever being taken seriously in this market. A representative from Barstool (simply id’d as “Dave”) told Shots that “a reader” had submitted the MP3 file. “I have no clue how the reader got it,” Dave said in an email Wednesday night.)
In reacting to no longer being part of the WBCN team, Russillo said, “If that’s what ‘BCN told you, then that’s what it is.”
If all of this seems like too much “He said, they said,” for your palate, we’d tend to agree. But it does bring up the interesting question of just how powerful John Dennis is in this market? Would he have the “juice” to get Russillo kicked off a Patriots-affiliated broadcast? Or is this just another case of the Pats (and its tentacles) wanting to maintain their “family values” approach within the company? Shots contacted Patriots spokesman Stacey James, who said he was not even aware that Russillo wasn’t doing the broadcasts and admitted to actually having prepared a media credential for Russillo.
For his part, Dennis told Shots on Wednesday afternoon that the first he had heard of the Barstool audio OR of Russillo being taken off the ‘BCN roster was when Shots left a message requesting comment early Wednesday afternoon.
“I will say this,” said Dennis, who, after 4 p.m., had just finished (surprise!) a round of golf. “It’s old news. And I guess he thinks he’s going to embarrass me by having it put out there now.”
Russillo claims he didn’t circulate the message, but the fact remains he must have played it for someone who had recording capabilities (whether known or unknown to Russillo). And for that, he is ultimately responsible. Each man made their own bed on this one and each man is grown enough and mature enough to handle the matter and its consequences.
Dennis also said: “I don’t think there’s a father out there who wouldn’t react negatively to what (Russillo) said he wanted to do to my daughter,” he said. “Perhaps I was a bit more profane than I should have been, but that’s how I reacted.”
He also admitted that in retrospect, he probably shouldn’t have left the message and should have waited for a one-on-one talk with Russillo. Lastly, Dennis said no one from WEEI or Entercom had mentioned the voice mail to him and he didn’t expect they would.
The now month-long incident brings into question the “hire-ability” of Russillo, who at the time of the ‘BCN announcement told Shots he was thrilled and eager for the opportunity to work on the postgame. Talented, informed and connected (especially in NBA circles), Russillo seems to still have a little too much of that dreaded “Frat Boy” attitude to be taken seriously by local media executives. His omission from the line-up at ESPN Radio Boston is perhaps another example that he is not yet quite ready for prime time, or the big time.
(As a refresher, this is what Russillo had to say to the Track Gals during the first week of August when regrettably fanned the flames of a story involving his alleged night moves on Dennis’s daughter, Emilee. Russillo said to the TG’s: “I refused to apologize because he (John Dennis) wasn’t there and didn’t have all the facts,” RR told the Track. “We talked again and now we’re done with this. I have bigger things out there to think about right now and I don’t need the distraction. He’s a schmuck.”)
• Oddly enough, the Russillo flare-up makes the next story seem a little bit too touchy-feely-happy.
As reported here at BSMW and Scott’s Shots on Saturday evening (or, if you prefer, “rumored” and “rhetoricized”), Michael Felger, yesterday, was named the No. 1 Guy at new kid on the block, ESPN Radio Boston (ERB) 890 AM. (First suggested slogan: Got Erb?)
Felger, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin native will serve as the Chauffeur for the lamely named, “The Drive,” beginning this coming Monday, Sept. 12, with a 4-8 pm. stint (with 4-7 p.m. shows also in the mix, depending on night time programming at ERB).
For the time being, Felger said in a lengthy email exchange with Shots, it will be just Felger and sidekick/reporter/flash guy (“Slash”, if you will), Kevin Winter, a Bellingham, MA native and both a Mount St. Charles Academy (RI) and Hofstra University alum (Classes of ’95 and ’00). For now, Winter will be the main, lone, ‘Felgie Foil.’
“We plan to lean on the ESPN stable of talent,” wrote Felger, a 1992 Boston University graduate and the husband of WBZ, CBS4’s Sara Underwood. “We plan on having steady, rotating co-hosts – although not on a daily basis to start. The goal is to have Herald AND Globe personnel, as well as athletes. But all of this will be a work in progress, and the way it sounds in Week 1 won’t be the way it sounds in Week 5. I don’t know Kevin enough to call him a ‘foil,’ but hopefully we’ll be able to get something going.”
Sadly, even if it is ‘going,’ it won’t be ‘going out’ too strong with its current, weaker than weak, 25,000-watt signal. If Scott’s Shots drive up Route 1 on Tuesday was any indication, “The Drive” is going to be stalled immediately by an awful signal; on a drive from south to north we were only able to get a signal that was sporadic and staticky on 890 AM and virtually non-existent on sister station 1400 AM. Felger borrowed from his good buddy, Bill Belichick, when he surmised: “It is what it is. (On-line) streaming is in the cards, but I’m not sure when.”
What Felger is sure about is the fact that he’s being given a good opportunity with a great Brand – ESPN. “I wasn’t their first choice,” Felger admitted. “Why WOULD I be their first choice? It’s not like I’m a broadcast pro or anything. Just so I wasn’t 15th or something like that (which would be a bad sign for the station), who am I to care about such a thing?”
It’s believed that upper-level ESPN people first approached Bill Boston Sports Guy Simmons many months ago (when they were still in the running for the WRKO-landed Celtics rights package) and then went after the usual suspects, such as Michael Smith, Bob Neumeier and Greg Dickerson.
“They (program director, Doug Tribou) called me a few months back and we met, then I didn’t hear from them for a long while,” Felger said. “Then one day last month my agent (Brad Blank) called and said they were back in it. We went back and forth and came to a deal.”
Felger’s print background is impressive, to say the least, especially for a guy in his mid-30s: He’s been at the Herald since 1989 and worked his way up to the Bruins beat in 1997, then fortuitously began covering the Patriots in 2000. He also has a book under his belt, Tales From the Patriots Sideline (Foreword by Steve Grogan, Epilogue by Bill Belichick).
On the electronic side, he has been a regular on WEEI since 2000 as well and he said he takes many things with him form that five-year experience.
“I guess at ‘EEI I learned the importance of providing entertainment value. Knowledge and information are crucial, but if you can’t deliver them in a way people want to listen to, what good is it?” Felger said. “People want to laugh, you know. Not taking yourself too seriously is important, too. I think, with a few notable exceptions (hello, Mr. Baseball), that I was able to take the heat in a good-natured way at ‘EEI.
“I’m very excited but also very respectful of what a daunting task this is. If you ask me how it feels to go opposite the “Big Show” and ‘EEI, then ‘scared’ covers it. I think the key for me is putting on a good show. If I do that and it fails, then I have to believe the failure won’t be attached to me. If the show stinks, then I’m in trouble – no doubt about that. Anyone who thinks they can ‘take on’ WEEI should have their heads examined. Especially the “Big Show.” Glenn (Ordway) is about as good as it gets. Pete Sheppard, (behind-the-sceners) Brett and Andy are also extremely talented. I just think there is room for a second station. But I also understand that being good is A LOT harder than it looks.”
Although he refused to talk about contract specifics, Felger did say it is more than a one-year agreement and that he will continue his myriad other duties, first and foremost as the main guy on the patriots beat for the Herald. (He will also retain his FOX Sports Net New England fill-in duties, his Ch. 4 “Sports Final” spots as well as his Patriots pre and post game duties for WBZ TV.
“Sleep will be hard to come by,” Felger said. “Some days (for the Herald) I’ll be doing the beat. . . other days it will be columns/report card and the like. That part of it is evolving, but the bottom line is I’m still on the Pats and am committed to providing the same coverage. I’ll be traveling to all games. Given the timing of the show (compared to a 2 p.m. start for the Big Show), I’ll probably have MORE time to devote to the writing.
. . .Felger also said that a Ross Carey (no confirmation on the spelling discovered – sorry!), a former producer for both Sean McDonough’s ill-fated show at WWZN 1510 AM and WTKK’s Jay Severin show, will be the Drive’s inaugural producer. . . We had to ask what Sara’s advice on all this was and Felgie delivered this Go-Directly-To-The-Doghouse response: “Let’s just say that sports is not exactly Sara’s forte. If we ever need an update on Manolo Blahniks (the shoes) she’ll be the first person we call. I’m not sure if she really understands what I’m getting into, which means she thought I should do it.”. . .(Sara might enjoy this Manolo-themed blog we ran across as we confirmed Felgie’s impressively accurate spelling of the “Sex in the City” foot faves.). . . As for the Felger-Underwoods’ one-year-old daughter, Emma, DaddyFelgie said: “We’ll get her (on the show) when she starts talking. First word: ‘Favre.’”. . . Let’s not forget that PUP-lister, Tedy Bruschi is also a Brad Blank client and might make sense as one of the rotating guest-hosts to which Felger referred above. . .It is also worth mentioning at this point, the class and dignity Felger is carrying himself with is a sharp contrast to that of Our Favorite Frat Boy (OFFB), Russillo. A few more years of experience – not to mention a wife and a baby – tend to settle guys down a bit. OFFB just needs to hope his Sara and Emma arrive sooner, rather than later. . .As of now, there are no other opportunities for Felger to do work with another division of ESPN, i.e. the dot-com, the Magazine or on TV. Of course if he knocks it out of the park in Boston, the Bristol Bigwigs will be sure to notice. So he’s got that going for him. . .And lastly, let’s lock this one away in the vault somewhere. It was Felger’s response to this question from Shots: “Why does ESPN have chance after you’ve seen what WWZN 1510 AM The Zone has endured? Moreover, ESPN Radio in New York continues to trail 660 AM The Fan – getting doubled and tripled – why would a smaller market, with less national passion be a good fit for ESPN radio?”
Felger’s reply: “All legit questions. I think the original Zone (not to be confused with the programming they have now) had an opportunity to grab a slice of the audience, and their first ratings book showed there were people willing to turn over and check out another show. But, in the end, in my opinion, they didn’t deliver in terms of passion, entertainment and debate. Again, I’m not referring to what they’re doing now.
“The bottom line is that I have no delusions in terms of ‘competing’ with Glenn or WEEI. That’s not realistic right now. The name of the game is carving a niche, and then building on it over time. As for the national programs, I think there’s a place for them. We’ll just have to see how big of a place.”
• If you haven’t voted in the BlogPoll to the right, please do so. The results, although a small sampling, have proved revealing. Too bad, ERB didn’t try something like this beforehand, eh? Felger’s response to the poll?: “All those guys are terrific. I would like to see those guys with their own shows as well. Shows for everybody!”
• And John Dennis’s reaction to the in-earnest launch over at ESPN radio Boston?: “Well see what happens. We’re just going to continue to do what we do.”
• We’d like to kindly ask Shaughnasty to include all his repeated Rolling Stones references in the first half-dozen graphs before the jump page so it doesn’t become necessary to seek them out within the guts of the section. We lost count, but since the Stones played we’ve seen more Mick and the Boys references from Danny Boy than He Who Must Be Named drop-ins. That might be called progress by some wise-acres. . . Shaughnasty and Howard Steroid Bryant shared the “Sports Xtra” high chairs on Sunday night at NBC7 with Wendi Nix and were quite civil, even including a smiley moment when ‘The Cartel’ was joked about. To get a chuckle from those two is fine work indeed, Nixy. Fine work indeed.
• The Felger move just about ensures that the Herald will be looking for a full-time Pats beat guy. One Shots observer and long-time market follower suggested that perhaps Herald Deputy Dog Editor, Mark Murphy would reach out to his old pal, John Tomase of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune and Manny bashing fame. We wonder if perhaps it’s time for Tom Curran, to come back to Massachusetts from smaller-market Rhode Island?
• Good bit of useless trivia was provided by Newton-native and the above-mentioned ‘BCN field producer, 32-year-old Marc Cappello: He, along with Gil Santos and Gino CapelAwful are the only original members of the first-season Rock Radio Network team. This marks the trio’s 11th season together. And as Howie Sylvester said: “There’s a comfort level with Gino and Gil. If you were to hear a different pairing, it would be a jolt to the system.”
We held back from begging the 45-year-old Sylvester to “jolt away,” especially with the getting-even-worse Gino. There is a comfort level in knowing Gil’s pipes will be at it again.
• Despite the lean staff and competitive disadvantage sports editor Hank Herald and his desk are currently working with, they continue to distinguish themselves in other ways. The Sox Clubhouse Insider blog has been a tremendous addition and last Friday’s debut of Patrick Hanrahan’s regular “Fantasy Football” column was a huge step forward. As you know, Shots isn’t a Fantasy guy, but he appreciates sound business decisions just the same. The winning graphic by Herald staffer, Sarah Dubois, titled “Touchdowns & Turnovers” was a great piece of relief art and we’re guessing (maybe hoping?) that the bottom half of the page will soon be offered up to some of the fantasy tout services that populate the Internet. Throw two, quarter-page ads beneath Hanrahan’s ‘editorial content’ and the space would pay for itself within a month. There again, is another perfect example of how the editorial and business sides need to work together to ‘create’ ad blocks that are attractive to companies. It ain’t rocket science, people. It just ain’t.
• Someone smarter than me needs to explain what Boston Magazine was trying to accomplish with its Gossip story on the Red Sox player and the Northeastern co-ed. By leaving the player unidentified, they missed the whole point of the semi-sordid story. Of course with a quick Google of “Red Sox player Northeastern coed” you can confirm exactly what you thought if you read the entire piece. The story wound up frustrating more than it informed, never a good combination. . . The worst part though was when DocSox, Charles Steinberg claimed that because it was an Internet story it had no merit. AND that the pictures could have been doctored (they weren’t). Okay, Doc. Time to get back to your desk and continue writing with the quill pen, the blotter and the ink well.
• A tragic note appeared this week reporting that Adrian Karsten, the former ESPN sideline reporter who made his “Ask Adrian” segment quite famous and quite fun, was found dead at his home in Wisconsin. The wire story from AP said his body was discovered “just before he was scheduled to report to federal prison for tax evasion. He was 45.” Never met the man, but always liked that he pushed the envelope during game broadcasts. He was ahead of his time on the sideline gig.
• The Taunton Gazette has a nice little sports editor/writer job opening for anyone that might need one: Shots is thinking of getting in the running and if I’m successful (long shot, at best), I’d pitch the idea to ESPN Original Entertainment and they could film my (likely brief) tenure as, get this, “The Sports Editor.” It would just be wild, wacky stuff – the perfect lead-in to Knight School.”
• We caught some of the Jon Meterparel debut on BC football and Meter seemed to have things pretty well under control. Also interesting to note that Jayme Parker of NESN fame, is serving as the sideline reporter, a position Shots has been lobbying the ‘BCN Rock Radio Network to add to its broadcast. Parker, was as always, solid.
• How many damn wives do the sox have? Does the 25 woman roster expand in addition to the 25 man roster? In back to back innings last Friday night we got two sets of wives begging for two sums of money for two different causes. Funny how you never see Mrs. 61, isn’t it Boston Magaziners?
• Someone’s going to have to tell me how awful Jimmy Kimmel is at halftime of the Opener because that’s usually when I take my nap in section 226. Don’t bother TiVoing it, it won’t be TV Hall of Fame worthy, we assure you.
• A recent addition to Patriots Football Weekly is John MacKenna, who had previously been a contributor for Scout Media’s Patriots Insider. This is the kind of random stuff I like to throw in down around here just to see who’s payin’ attention.
• Enjoy the new banner, pay attention when Carlos strums the guitar and let’s all be careful out there. Opening Night is often amateur night for the young drunkards. Oye. Como. Vaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. . .
David Scott writes from a seaside shanty on the shores of Hull, Mass. and can be reached at shots@bostonsportsmediadotcom