February 16, 2005
BY: John Molori
- Dale's Dilemma
Anatomy of a deal gone bad at WEEI
Money, they say, is the root of all evil. It is also the root of on-air changes in big time sports radio. Bob Neumeier’s departure from Sports Radio 850 AM and 103.7 FM WEEI is a case study in high stakes negotiation.
Calls to Neumeier have gone unanswered since the midday cohost left WEEI last week, but several other players in this game are talking.
Midday host Dale Arnold was first paired with Eddie Andelman. He had been alongside Neumeier since February of 2002. It seems that the partner is always the last to know. “I just found out last week that he was going to leave,” says Arnold. “I’m very sorry to see him go and I loved working with him.”
A source close to the situation told Media Blitz that Arnold felt that Neumeier was not giving full effort on the program for the past few months. Arnold denies this saying that Neumeier was always “engaged and interested,”
Faced with the prospect of his third partner in a bit more than three years, Arnold is in favor of the current list of potential replacements. He states, “Michael Holley is very intelligent, talented and articulate.” Arnold also cites Jackie MacMullan as someone he would enjoy as a partner. Arnold is a proven talent with the unique ability to thrive alongside anyone. His main goal is to keep the midday show’s ratings on a high.
“My show was number one before Neumy,” says Arnold, who has been with WEEI for 14 years. “With Neumy, we took it to another level. It would be silly for us to bring someone in to take it 180 degrees in another direction. Why would we all of a sudden want a screamer?”
A source told Media Blitz that Ed Kleven, Neumeier’s former agent, was close to getting a deal done with WEEI. The source, a Boston media insider, describes Kleven as “a good solid agent, not the star type.” This same source says that he has “less than no respect” for Neumeier’s new agent, Brad Blank.
Blank, a successful NFL players agent who is fast carving a niche for himself in media representation, joined afternoon host Glenn Ordway midway through his negotiations with WEEI in 2003. Blank is recognized a hard line negotiator.
“Ed Kleven is great,” says Blank. “But Neumy felt that Ed was trying to convince him to take WEEI’s offer. He needed a revolutionary labor guy.”
According to the source, Blank told WEEI that Neumeier, not Arnold, was the reason for the midday show’s success and that he wanted “drive time” money for his client, i.e.-money comparable to that of morning host Gerry Callahan and Ordway.
Blank says that WEEI told him that it was not fair to compare Neumeier to a drive time host. His retort was based on ratings and percentages. Blank states, “The midday show’s ratings are a decent percentage of Callahan and Ordway’s ratings, so Neumy’s salary should be a healthy percentage of what those guys make.
“With all due respect to Dale, the show has gotten better in the last three years and was taking in more revenue with Neumy. WEEI feels that Neumy is easily replaceable. They used Neumy to draw the line on salaries and they are sending a message to all their other talent.
“Michael Holley would make the most sense as a replacement what with Dennis and Callahan’s racially insensitive comments awhile back.” Blank is referring to the racially insensitive comments made by the morning hosts back in 2003.
WEEI made several offers to Blank, but never received a counteroffer. “They were not even in the ballpark,” says Blank. “They never made an offer within the realm of possibility.”
While not revealing any hard numbers, Blank explains the salary gap stating, “Let’s say that on the salary scale, Gerry Callahan is a ten and Glenn Ordway is a nine. I wanted Neumy to be a six, and they were offering a three.
“With Glenn’s negotiation, they came up a bit, then I counter-offered. I was looking for more than 50 percent, but less than 70 percent of Glenn’s salary. WEEI offered about 28 percent of Glenn’s salary.”
According to Blank, Neumeier is on vacation until May 1. He has spoken to NBC about an expanded role for Neumeier and has also chatted similarly with WBZ-TV. He does not rule out a return to the Boston radio waves on 96.9 FM or WBZ Radio
Blank maintains that he holds no ill will toward WEEI and strangely leaves the door open for a return to negotiations stating, “I told them that if they change their minds, call me and if Neumy has second thoughts, we’ll call them.”
According to that same source, when Blank asked for drive time money for Neumeier, WEEI general manager Julie Kahn angrily called Neumeier, told him that he made a big mistake and revealed that WEEI already had his replacement.
Kahn paints a much calmer view of the negotiations. “It was not acrimonious at all. We just had two different points of view.” When asked about Blank’s arrival in the negotiations, Kahn sighed and stated, “Oh yeah, Brad is a hard line guy. It wasn’t long after Brad took over that there was no life to the deal. It’s a shame and I am very disappointed.”
Kahn and WEEI programming chief Jason Wolfe stress that they badly wanted to re-sign Neumeier. “We tried for months, but never got an offer,” says Wolfe. “We were making progress before he changed agents. The effort and desire to sign Bob was there. It’s a shame that they would not engage in discussion.”
Kahn adds, “We made two or three good offers and never heard back. There is no replacing Bob, but we have had targeted conversations with several candidates over the past two or three weeks.”
Kahn confirms that she has spoken to Michael Holley and Jackie MacMullan about the position. She states that a decision could be made in as quickly as a week. Arnold says that he will act as a consultant in choosing a new partner.
Kahn states, “Out of respect to Dale, he’ll be kept in the loop, but we like to keep the on-air talent out of such decisions. We have sought Dale’s council as well as that of Gerry Callahan and Glenn Ordway.”
Both Kahn and Wolfe say that there will not be a parade of audtions as there was after Eddie Andelman left the midday show in 2002. “The Dale Arnold Lollapalooza Tour is now accepting demo tapes,” jokes Wolfe. “You may be surprised at whom we hire.”
Wolfe also says that the station does not feel any pressure to hire a current WEEI full time employee or regular guest, fueling speculation that Holley is their man. One of those full-timers, Pete Sheppard, is up for contract renewal on February 21. Kahn says that the station is in discussions to re-sign Sheppard.
As the Bob Neumeier era ends at WEEI, the station, coming off another record-setting ratings book, looks ahead. Ordway’s wildly popular and philanthropic Third Annual Whiney Awards will be held on Thursday in Boston and Wolfe says that a new Providence studio will be built for WEEI 103.7 FM by year’s end.
Kahn is looking to bring live, Providence-specific programming to the FM station and develop Providence talent by the fall. The Score’s Andy Gresh is a possible candidate. “Anyone who is a name in the Providence market will be entertained in conversation,” says Kahn.
Wolfe adds, “Andy works for another station, but anything is possible. We just had a killer ratings book in Providence, so we can be selective as to who we put on the air.”
John Molori’s Media Blitz column is published in The Providence Journal, The Boston Metro, The Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, The Salem Evening News, The Newburyport Daily News, The Gloucester Times, The Lowell Sun, Patriots Football Weekly, PatsFans.com, BostonPressBox.com, BostonSportsMedia.com, RedSoxNation.net and MethuenOnline.com. Email John at JOMOL3@aol.com.
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