How WBZ’s Toucher & Rich Made It Big
In our December 21 issue of Radio Ink we feature the amazing rise to success of WBZ The Sports Hub in Boston. Market Manager Mark Hannon and Program Director Mike Thomas had to blow up long-time rocker WBCN to find a signal to launch the station. That meant a trip to see Dan Mason and company to get the corporate ok. Mason says that there were several forces at work that made it a perfect storm. “First and foremost, Mark’s passion and excitement for the format, coupled with the company’s success and track record around the country.” We also had a terrific morning show with Toucher and Rich that we all felt 100 percent confident would easily fit into the sports format.
Typically when a manager blows up a format the talent get the pink slip. A new format usually means new people that fit that new format, not the old format. In this case, Toucher and Rich were exactly what Hannon and Thomas were looking for. Toucher and Rich are not just sports. It’s very much a holistic approach to topics and things that are in touch with the lifestyles of their listeners. You get your sports fill in the morning, and there is some element of X’s and O’s and interviews and following up games, topics like that. But you also have just great, funny content that they create, the different things they do with their features that are hysterically funny and make them very unique. They never take themselves too seriously. It’s a show that is highly entertaining, and you pretty much laugh from 6 to 10 every day.”
Toucher and Rich are out-of-towners, and that rubs some people the wrong way in sports-crazed Boston, where everybody loves their hometown sports teams. They came to Boston from 99X in Atlanta, where Rich was working for the morning show and Toucher was doing nights. They were the youngest people at the station and thought they shared a pretty good sense of humor. They soon developed a friendship.
And Rich says his friend did radio completely wrong. “He would make fun of the bands he was interviewing to their faces, if they deserved it. He flat-out refused to play Limp Bizkit in the heyday of Limp Bizkit because he hated that band, which I thought was fantastic. He just sounded like nobody else that the market had. He’s probably one of the only guys who played music that became must-hear radio. You didn’t want to hear the music. You just wished that they would stop playing music and he would just speak. I was a big fan.”
When Howard Stern moved to satellite radio, Rich says the duo seized the opportunity: “Fred and I knew that a bunch of different shows were going to open up. We knew that was our window to start a show. We made friends with some people at CBS. They flew us out to Phoenix to do a couple of overnight shows together. After we made that demo, we got a call a couple of weeks later saying, ‘How would you like to work in Boston?’”
They started in afternoons at WBCN, and after the crash and burn of David Lee Roth, who followed Stern, and a short run from Opie & Anthony, they were moved to mornings in 2007. Two years later, Mark Hannon hatched his plan to flip to sports and to keep Toucher & Rich in mornings, where they are very successful doing a rock/sports morning show on an all-sports station.
RI: Coming over from the rock station, how knowledgeable were you about sports?
Toucher: We were sports fans. The fandom here is intense. It took a while to realize there’s a lot more to this than we thought.
Rich: I hated it. When they told me that we were going to go to sports talk, I almost wanted to quit. I hated it. I don’t think there was a format in radio I hated more than sports talk radio.
Rich: Because everything I had heard was like the station across the street, where everyone was pissed off, angry. The Red Sox would win the World Series and the next day they’re pissed off they didn’t score more runs and there would be all these false conspiracy theories that people would come up with. It was just angry radio, and you had to be an angry person to listen to it. And I was not an angry person. I didn’t ever want to do that kind of radio, where I came in and screamed for hours.
It was kind of cool, because we told Mark Hannon, our GM, that, and he said, “Well, that’s why I want to keep you guys, because I think you guys would do a show unlike anything else out there. We want you to do your type of show.” That had a lot to do with our early success and why we took off so fast, because we didn’t sound like anybody — how dare we make jokes and find humor and enjoy things like sports? It’s supposed to be held in this reverence. We found this niche, and it created itself almost on accident, just from our pure disdain of the sports talk format.
RI: Now you’re doing sports, coming from rock. How did you prepare for that?
Toucher: It took a month to find a balance. We worked with Mike Thomas on finding a balance, because we don’t do a traditional sports show. We don’t do topics. We don’t take a lot of calls. We do different content from break to break, different content every quarter hour. We don’t generally let things linger on.
It was finding a balance of how much would be sports and how much would be other stuff. It took us a while to figure out, because we do a lot of things that revolve around sports, but aren’t breaking down matchups and games. We’ll find audio of someone and have fun with it or play games on the air involving things that are going on in sports, like making fun of broadcasters and stuff like that.
Rich: It was a weird time for us, because you have to understand sports talk radio, and the radio wars, in Boston are a big deal. The Globe writes about it. The Herald writes about it. Every article that came out said our show was a placeholder “until they get a real sports show.” Everyone was expecting us to be gone in six months.
As a matter of fact, that even went on in our own hallways. We would walk into our PD’s office and there would be stacks of letters starting with, “When you finally get rid of the morning show….” It was just a given that we were going to fail. It was the best possible inspiration, because Fred and I knew that if we were going to fail, we were going to fail on our own terms, doing it the way that we want to do a sports talk show. It was the ultimate motivator. It really put a fire under all of our asses.
To be honest, we didn’t know if it was working at first, because people didn’t know what to think. We did this bit — there are these people around here called “pink hats.” People who became Red Sox fans just because it was the fun place to go, but they know nothing about the game. So we had [show member] Adolfo go out and ask simple questions about baseball. They didn’t know any of the answers. It became a hit. That was on our first day. We asked the higher-ups here, “What did you think of the bit?” They said, “It was a bit.” They didn’t really know what to think at the time. The disrespect, I think, was a great motivator for Fred and I.
Toucher: The animosity toward our show locally, and with the media, is that all these guys grew up wanting to do this. They wanted to talk sports in Boston, and we didn’t. So, who are we —out-of-towners, shock jocks, assholes — who are we to come in and get this job? It turned out to be an advantage for us, because we are outsiders, and the media here is very incestuous. I think it was, “You didn’t pay your dues,” and, “Who do you guys think you are?” We weren’t getting that from the audience. We were getting that from guys in sports media.
RI: What is the right balance between sports and other topics?
Rich: The key is to talk about sports topics when they’re worth talking about, and don’t make up false controversies. The perfect example of that was the Tom Brady situation and Deflategate. Other shows in town were talking about it for four hours straight, for months at a time. Fred and I made a decision that we were only going to talk about it when news breaks and when one of us has an opinion on it. Then we are going to talk about something else we are passionate about, whether it’s sports, movies, or something bugging us.
We are obviously sports fans, but we are also human beings who know that in most people’s lives, there are other things to talk about that are way more interesting than what happens to be going on in any given day in the sports world.
Toucher: Or there’s an angle on sports, not necessarily X’s and O’s or a controversy. Athletes are always doing something ridiculous, people in the media are always doing something ridiculous. Satirizing that is a lot of fun. Technically, we’re doing stuff revolving around sports, we are not debating it. It’s a comedy bit about sports.
We’ll have more details about the team of Toucher and Rich morning team at WBZ in Boston in our December 21 issue. To subscribe to Radio Ink Magazine in time to receive the issue which includes top 30 local sports talkers in America, go HERE
Do you have talent at your radio station we need to write about? Please contact Ed Ryan at [email protected]