At the end of July it was announced that Tim Benz would be leaving the midday show which he co-hosted with Lou Merloni and Christian Fauria at WEEI. He was returning to Pittsburgh from whence he came.
For many listeners, it was good riddance. Benz took over for Mike Mutnansky just over a year ago. The show has seen a bit of a spike in ratings, but still lags behind its competitors over at 98.5 The Sports Hub.
WEEI made a mistake in 2013 replacing longtime radio personality Glenn Ordway in the afternoons with Mike Salk. Salk was perceived as an outsider and was never accepted by listeners. Benz suffered the same fate. Despite his roots being in Boston, Benz was considered a Pittsburgh blowhard. The few who did enjoy Benz enjoyed him for his objectivity.
It is always interesting when WEEI has to make a personnel move. A certain buzz permeates through the Boston sports media. While WEEI may have lost some of its sashay, they are still WEEI. They are the ESPN of the Boston radio world. So when there is an opening, there is always no shortage of notable candidates.
Of course, there is always the possibility that WEEI will do nothing. Merloni and Fauria have already joked that they can continue the show by themselves and name it the MF’ers. The show was known as the MFB show with Benz. Maybe not the most politically correct title, but it would be edgy.
Merloni has proven to be surprisingly skilled in whatever challenge he has accepted. Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising. His whole baseball career revolved around being a utility player. In the media sense, he has succeeded on radio as well as television. He has been proficient as an analyst and as a host. His knowledge is not limited to just baseball, the sport he played, but he has also done his homework on all the other major sports. Could he pull off being in the “big chair” of the midday show? Of course he could.
The question would be if Fauria can be the number two guy. Fauria is a goofball. His sophomoric humor plays well with some of his listening audience. He likes to pull pranks and is always thinking of some off-the-wall stunt to pull. The former NFL tight end uses his humor to offset his limited knowledge of anything non-NFL related. Even his thoughts on the NFL will have you questioning his knowledge there.
Going with a two-man studio show would go against what WEEI has done the last few years. There was a time when WEEI thought the two-man show was the way to go. There was Dennis & Callahan, Mutt & Merloni, and Ordway & Holley. Now there is Dennis & Callahan featuring Minihane, Dale & Holley with Thornton, and there was the MFB show.
So odds are WEEI will bring in somebody. John Dennis half-joked one morning that he would be willing to go to middays. He suggested Ordway should be brought back for the morning show (where he has filled in from time to time in recent months). Plugging Ordway right in to the midday show seems to be a popular sentiment. WEEI corrected a perceived previous mistake by giving veteran media personality Dale Arnold his show back. Might they do the same with Ordway?
Two other front runners for the position would seem to be Gary Tanguay and Greg Dickerson. Tanguay has been heard a lot on WEEI airwaves recently. He is loud, precocious, bombastic, and unpredictable. He likes to wear the contrarian hat. He is also not very bright. Tanguay was fired from 98.5 The Sports Hub in 2010 due to poor ratings. What makes WEEI think things would be any different with a change of scenery? There is a reason people don’t like him.
Greg Dickerson is an amicable gent. People will remember him as the longtime Comcast Celtics sideline reporter. Dickerson has also been doing a lot of fill in work recently at WEEI and has openly lobbied for the midday job. While it would be hard to find anyone who speaks ill of Dickerson, he just doesn’t bring anything to the table. He is simply background noise.
Bringing back Mike Mutnansky would be an interesting thought. Mutnansky has grown and evolved while being relegated to having to work with Mikey Adams at night on WEEI as well as dealing with drunk Red Sox fans following games on the Red Sox postgame shows. He has gotten edgier. The demotion has taken Mutnansky to a darker place and he has had more than a few notable outbursts in recent months. Criticisms of Red Sox management and Roger Goodell come to mind. WEEI could do much worse than reuniting the Mut Man with Merloni.
Danny Picard could be another avenue the station could pursue. Picard is an acquired taste. Many loyal WEEI weekend listeners are familiar with Picard’s South Boston accent and his passion for sports. He has no shortage of high-octane opinions. His deep roots in the Boston area plays well. It would be a gamble rolling the dice on the young Picard to head the midday ship, but his juvenile repartee may play well with Merloni and, especially, Fauria.
Chris Villani has always lurked in the shadows of WEEI. He started as Dale & Holley’s “flash boy” when they still had their midday show and back in the day when WEEI still had “flash boys.” If there is such a thing as being “too smart” for sports radio, it would be Villani. Villani has taken turns hosting sports radio shows in Vermont and at the Boston Herald, and he can still be heard at night on WEEI tagging along with Mikey Adams. It seems, however, that Villani is transitioning to the news side of things as he has seen his role as Boston Herald columnist expanded.
It will be interesting to see how the jockeying for position plays out in the coming weeks and if a dark horse emerges.