Revolution Radio

Meet the two rock DJs who hated sports talk radio just enough to save it.

By Alan Siegel | Boston Magazine |

At the Celtics’ media day in 2010, for instance, Shertenlieb took the show’s irreverence to new, uncomfortable heights. At the time, the Internet was buzzing about an alleged affair between former Cleveland Cavalier Delonte West and LeBron James’s mother. Shertenlieb asked West, who had just signed with Boston, about the rumors. West managed a cryptic denial before a PR flack stepped in. It was the issue that every person there was thinking about, but was afraid to bring up.

“I’m less terrified of getting in a situation like that, where you have to do ­something embarrassing,” Shertenlieb says, “than being on air and having no content or nothing to talk about. That’s what terrifies me.”

So far, lacking good content hasn’t been a problem. Buoyed by the success of the Bruins and the Patriots, in the spring of 2011 Toucher?&?Rich earned an 11.6 share and finished first in the ratings among men ages 25 to 54. Dennis?&?Callahan, meanwhile, finished third in the same time slot with a 6.0 share. (Data company Arbitron defines a share as the percentage of radio listeners in the market tuning into a particular station or program.) The news was equally good for the entire Sports Hub station, which surged into first place with an 8.8 share. WEEI, meanwhile, tumbled to sixth with a 5.1 share.

And for the past year, things have pretty much stayed the same. Over the past four quarterly ratings periods, Toucher?&?Rich has beaten Dennis?&?Callahan and finished first or second in its time slot among men ages 25 to 54. That’s surprised nobody more than the old guard.

When Toucher and Shertenlieb were hired, “Being the gossipy, catty group that we are,” their Sports Hub colleague Tony Massarotti says, “I think people looked at one another and said, ‘What are they gonna do with the morning guys? They can’t be staying, right?’ And I think none of us knew anything about them.”

So, who were these guys?

After graduating in 1997 from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, Toucher landed a job at a tiny Americana radio station in Cumming, Georgia. A native of Detroit, Toucher produced fishing, gardening, and bluegrass shows, and, when management let him, moderated a live swap shop, where listeners traded farm animals. If a storm knocked out power, he had to pull-start a backup generator. And when he left at night, he turned off the station.

In 1999 he landed a gig as a receptionist and on-air fill-in at Atlanta rock station 99X. (Around this time he shortened his on-air name from Toettcher to Toucher, making it harder to mispronounce.) Soon he was hosting the night show. “There were a lot of rednecks listening,” he recalls. “So I would screw with the rednecks.” Also, he hated the music 99X played, and wasn’t afraid to say so. It’s still odd to him that his bosses didn’t seem to care that he was bashing popular nu-metal bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn. His on-air outbursts were funny, even if they pissed people off. In 2005, for instance, he repeatedly and ­gleefully spoiled the ending of the latest Harry Potter book. “His personality disorder is exactly what makes him fabulously successful and unique,” says Jimmy Baron, Toucher’s friend and a former 99X host.

Shertenlieb spent his formative years in Atlanta, where he sang and played guitar for a hardcore band called Miller’s Tale. As a student at Georgia Tech, he auditioned for the campus radio station, hoping, he says, that it “would play my band, then all of a sudden we’d be the next U2.” Eventually the band did blow up, but “not in a good way,” he says.

By 1999 Shertenlieb had left school after managing to land a job on the morning crew at 99X. He quickly gained a reputation for fearlessness. He’d do just about anything for a radio bit, including participating in something called “What won’t Rich eat?” Former 99X program director Chris Williams says, “He has absolutely no inhibition. He’d be the perfect contestant for Fear Factor.”

Case in point: In 2001 Shertenlieb helped rescue a woman who’d been carjacked. The Atlanta Journal-­Constitution report on the incident added this Shertenlieb-­related postscript: “He is best known for his arrest last year for squatting on a commode at the Buckhead Home Depot.”

Shertenlieb and Toucher quickly became friends. When Shertenlieb left Atlanta in 2003 to take a job with a show in Texas, the two made a point to stay in touch. Two years later, they started talking about working together and, in early 2006, auditioned for a show on CBS. They landed the afternoon-drive gig at WBCN, and when the station dumped nationally syndicated Opie?&?Anthony in late 2008, Toucher?&?Rich moved to mornings.

Shertenlieb struggled to accept the move to sports. “I can’t do this kind of radio,” he remembers thinking. He didn’t have any connection to our teams, and listening to WEEI only made things worse. “It kills me,” Shertenlieb says. “It sucks my soul out. Everyone’s angry and they’re talking about garbage that I couldn’t care less about.” He calls the months leading up to the format switch the “worst period I’d ever had in radio.”

The weekend before The Sports Hub went on the air in August, Shertenlieb traveled to rural Georgia for a funeral. “It was all these hillbilly relatives who we didn’t know about, just these awful people,” Shertenlieb says. While away, he found out that Adolfo Gonzalez — the show’s phone screener and street-audio specialist — had ignored his direction to go out to Red Sox games and collect sound bites. “I’ve never, ever ripped someone a new a-hole like I did with Adolfo,” says Shertenlieb, who’d planned on using the material during the show’s first week on The Sports Hub. While telling the story, he pauses and looks up. “I’m kind of getting stressed out just talking about that time.”

To Toucher, the possibility of his friend quitting seemed very real. “Oh God,” Toucher says, “he really, really freaked out.” Shertenlieb wanted no part of what he considered a toxic genre of radio, but decided that if he was going to stick it out, he would do it his way. “What The Daily Show was to politics, we’re going to try to be with sports,” Shertenlieb vowed. “For the first time, we’re gonna try to make people laugh.”

The industry didn’t seem convinced. Thomas, The Sports Hub’s program director, says the conventional wisdom was, “They’re just keeping them because they have a year left on their contract. When their year is up, they’ll blow them out, and they’ll get a real sports morning show.” Hannon, the VP, says the station was inundated with calls from people who wanted to be the next morning-show hosts.

When asked about Toucher and Shertenlieb that summer, Gerry Callahan — their direct competition — said he’d never heard of them. “I am speaking to you from under my desk right now because I am so scared,” he told the Herald’s Jessica Heslam. “I’m afraid to come out.”

The truth is that Toucher and Shertenlieb relish their status as outsiders. They even admit to not knowing a ton about sports. Toucher isn’t so sure the rest of the establishment knows all that much, either. “Being talked down to like you’re listening to a dissertation is disingenuous,” he says. “I don’t think that your insight is particularly more valid than anyone else’s.”

Still, Toucher?&?Rich’s lack of local credibility was an issue. To help remedy that, Jon Wallach was added to the show before its launch. A veteran of WEEI with two decades of experience, Wallach’s job was to deliver sports news updates every 20 minutes and lend his expertise to the discussion. At the time of his hiring, Toucher?&?Rich was still on WBCN. He’d never even heard the show, so he tuned in to find out about his new coworkers. Everybody was talking about getting drunk and peeing on themselves. Wallach had one thought: “How the hell am I going to fit into this?”

But the transition was surprisingly smooth. He’s become a full-fledged character on the show, and loosened up in the process. A few months after The Sports Hub’s launch, Wallach hammed it up for a comedy bit at a station event. Afterward, Toucher recalls running into Wallach’s former WEEI colleague Michael Holley. “He was like, ‘Jesus Christ, you gave that guy a personality.’”

Rounding out the show is 25-year-old Gonzalez, who’s described by Aaron Ward, a former Bruin and guest of the show, as a “bald Cookie Monster.” Shertenlieb first met him while working in Texas. “At 5:30 every morning, this strange kid, 300-and-something pounds, would just sit down in front of the window,” recalls Shertenlieb, who eventually introduced himself to the teenager. Gonzalez eventually became Shertenlieb’s intern. When Toucher and Shertenlieb were hired at WBCN, he took a bus from Dallas to Boston.

Gonzalez these days spends evenings outside Fenway Park and TD Garden, where he interviews the city’s craziest, most inebriated fans. The sound bites he collects set the tone for the show’s ­underlying premise: that sports should be (sometimes-boozy) fun.

WEEI, of course, has yet to catch on. When Toucher?&?Rich surpassed Dennis?&?Callahan last year, Toucher decided to let the world know what he thought of the competition. “Congratulations, you jackasses,” he crowed at ’EEI. “Get under your desk now.” He went on: “They became so egocentric and so dismissive of their audience that it took not even two years for this station to not beat them, crush them.”

In March, I asked WEEI program ­director Jason Wolfe about ­Toucher?&?Rich’s bomb-throwing.

“Sticks and stones…” he said in an e-mail. “If listeners want compelling, entertaining, and smart sports talk, they’re going to listen to Dennis & Callahan.” For his part, Callahan declined comment via e-mail. It’s unclear if he did so from under his desk.

  • Matt

    Best thing that has ever happened to Boston radio…

  • Tophat

    When I first heard that WBCN was going to be taken off the air I was crushed. Mostly because of the music but also because I thought T&R were going to loose their jobs along with Adam12 and the rest. These guys are the best and turned me on to sports talk radio.

  • kenny powers

    WTF? did Rich just grow a second left foot?

  • Bill

    Seriously? T&R are fine, but they barely can talk sports without inserting jokes and turning it into comedy. I don’t believe that Boston Sports Radio needed saving. I love how all the people come out and bash WEEI now, but before The Sports Hub came along, EEI’s ratings were very good. They weren’t suffering at all. Doesn’t sound like it needed saving. Even if it did, it certainly wasn’t T&R that saved it. Maybe Felger and Mazz, but not T&R.

    • Matt

      So it wasn’t due to the fact that T&R were #1 in the ratings over EEI’s best show D&C for a year straight? Wasn;t due to the fact that straight, old, boring, stiff topic radio didn;t benefit from some comedy thrown in? Sports radio didn’t need saving..it needed a new image, something that screamed fresh, that targeted a new generation of Sports fans…there will always be EEI for you, enjoy!

      • Bill

        matt, again, you’re talking about AFTER The Sports Hub came on to the scene. Why did Boston Sports Radio need saving if the ratings were so good? C’mon Matt get out of T&R’s ass and read what I say.

        • CVE2

          Bill, you just don’t seem to get it. Maybe Matt is exaggerating when he says it needs saving, but the point is before 98.5 if you were into sports, you only had one choice: WEEI. Whether or not you liked D&C, the Big O, or whomever didn’t matter – if you wanted sports talk you had no other choice. For example, I actually agree politically (for the most part) with D&C, but I loathe Meter. But the talked sports, and their post-game Pat’s coverage was good.

          So along comes 98.5 the Sports Hub, now people have a choice, and they are clearly choosing them over WEEI. The ratings don’t lie. But no worries, as Matt said you’ll always have WEEI (for now)!

          • Bill

            All well and good CVE2. I like The Sports Hub too. I like having a choice. My only point is that to say T&R saved sports radio when they barely even talk sports is a little silly. If you wanted to say Felger and Mazz saved it, OK, you’d have a much better argument. T&R are fine, they’re funny and all, just not my first choice when i want sports talk.

          • Hak

            Bill. I really disagree with you. I am an avid Boston sports fan, and I used to listen to ‘EEI. But I got to the point where I couldn’t stand listening to the D&C show. It was 50% annoying politics and 50% pompous. the other shows were OK, but not great. When ESPN was on, I much preferred Mike and Mike because they made sports talk entertaining.

            I love all the shows on 98.5, even the weekend shows are good. But T&R are the best. They have just the right mix of serious sports talk, fun, and irreverence. throw in some good music and some good interviews it is great radio.

          • Mike

            I agree, Meiter sucks.

            Big Show was always unbearable, too many personalities yelling over eachother.

            The whole WEEI, “we know better than you” attitude was tiring. Stiff and humorless.

            It’s no suprise men 18-34 flock to T&R and Sports Hub in general.

      • Bill

        And believe me Matt, real sports fans who want to hear actual sports talk between the hours of 6-10 every morning, do NOT listen to the Sports Hub. You were a T&R fan BEFORE the sports hub, so you obviously were not a Sports Radio listener anyway.

        • Brett

          When they were at BCN I listened to them and listen to sports talk, it’s not hard to do Bill. Sports talk can get very boring when they’re aren’t good stories or good guests on. Who wants to listen to D&C complain all morning? I had to endure listening to them and the callers who 80% of the time have nothing interesting to say (on both stations) just to get to the interviews updates. These guys are very funny. Fred has a solid knowledge base when it comes to sports, Rich doesn’t but his bits are great.

          • Bill

            I understand Brett, but i wouldn’t say people don’t like to hear complaining. You ever listen to Felger and Mazz? All they do is complain. Honestly, sports radio is much more fun when you have stuff to bitch about. If its all through rose colored glasses, it gets kind of boring.

    • http://DrunkenSportsmen.com Drunken Sportsmen

      Felger & Mazz is probably the worst show in Boston Sports radio besides Gresh & Zo. You want to talk about disingenuous dissertations, Felger & Mazz are right there with D&C.

      The truth is, you don’t need incredibly insightful analysis out of the hosts. They are a portal to the guests, callers, etc. T & R certainly get caught up in the jackassery, but I’ll take that over the alternative – D&C’s uninformed political noise.

  • Matty

    T&R are comedy guys masquerading as sports radio guys….D&C are jerkbag political rightwing guys masquerading as sports radio guys. D&C should be on wrko or 97.7.

    • Bill

      It used to be that way matty, but D&C haven’t talked politics in ages. Probably since they’ve been simulcast on NESN.

      • Mel

        D&C (I love that designation) may have toned down their political rants, in order to keep their jobs — but they’re still boring, humorless and self important. They still are WAY too adoring of dopey athletes and have no interesting insights about specific teams or games. Their analyses of any particular games or teams are no more interesting than what you hear at the local bar. They act as if they are curing cancer with their blather and are incredibly pompous. They are well nigh unlistenable. Thank goodness for T&R — where good, smart sports talk is leavened with great humor. Their irreverence is a breath of fresh air and they DO know a good bit about sports — T knows a good bit about baseball and hockey and R is a basketball nut – and they both love football (though yes, it is sad that T loves the Jets of all dumb teams).

  • http://DrunkenSportsmen.com Drunken Sportsmen

    Toucher is an f’ing Jets fan!? Done. NPR all the time now.

    In all seriousness, T & R is the only Boston sports radio show that won’t make you regularly want to drive your car into a #$%^! bridge abutment.

  • Bill

    You make it seem like homophobia and racism scared audiences away from Dennis and Callahan. If anything it endeared them, that stuff is hilarious. Their problem is they’re boring.

    • Bill

      Not the same Bill as who was leaving all the other comments by the way that left this one….

  • Patrick

    I always loved sports. But for the most part hated radio sports talk. I don’t need to be informed like a child on the possibilities and events of the day. I don’t rely on radio or the newspaper for this information but forums of fans like at realgm or twitter feeds. Toucher and Rich makes sure you miss nothing, makes sure you laugh, and provides an avenue for interviews with players and coaches or in depth conversations with sport writers. Now I listen everyday to T&R, and if I miss an hour, I’m steaming the podcast on my commute home!

  • Josh

    Dennis and Callahan are a couple of ignorant, hateful, boring old morons. The fact that they are getting whipped in the ratings is great. The fact that they won’t even comment on getting whipped in the ratings after being arrogant for 20 years shows how terrible they are.

  • Kevin

    They are terrible and they are the only ones that think they are funny. They listen because its the lesser of two evils. T&R literally gives me headaches. Felger and Mazz saved Boston Sports Radio.

    Bill speaks the truth,
    “Seriously? T&R are fine, but they barely can talk sports without inserting jokes and turning it into comedy. I don’t believe that Boston Sports Radio needed saving. I love how all the people come out and bash WEEI now, but before The Sports Hub came along, EEI’s ratings were very good. They weren’t suffering at all. Doesn’t sound like it needed saving. Even if it did, it certainly wasn’t T&R that saved it. Maybe Felger and Mazz, but not T&R.”

  • TheFirstMohican

    A sports talk radio show that doesn’t take sports seriously? How original.

    I’ll just leave these right here.

    http://www.theticket.com

    http://www.dallasnews.com/sports/columnists/barryhorn/20120518-hot-air-mlbn-is-must-see-tv-for-fans-of-rangers-game.ece?action=reregister

  • Bill

    As a morning drivetime listener, I started tuning into T&R as an alternative to WFNX and WZLX. All I needed was 30 solid minutes of sports coverage before work. But they took the morning show, threw a wrench into the conventional sports radio genre, and made it truly special. I catch up in the afternoons/evenings with their podcasts to listen to what I missed. Keep up the good work Fred, Rich and Wallach; you have given that “coveted 25-54 segment” a real place to turn to for sports in this city.

  • DelPreston

    You guys saying T&R never talk sports clearly never listen to the show. Yes they do funny bits but they talk just as much sports and have on just as many sports guests as those fossils on EEI. The difference is they are actually funny and entertaining when not talking sports while D&C shove right wing politics down your throat when there not talking sports.

    The ratings dont lie, the people have spoken. Its time for D&C to jog on cause being a coupl of hacks is finally catching up to them.

  • Laura

    I am not a member of the “coveted demographic,” but I enjoy getting a sports update every morning. I used to endure D&C rants just so I could catch up on the sports news. Now I listen to T&R and follow them on podcasts and Twitter. I actually enjoy my 50 minute commute every morning. They may not have “saved sports radio,” but they have certainly saved my morning commute!

    • Amy

      I’m with you Laura. 98.5 is very entertaining. I flip between them and NPR on my morning commutes. Love sports and now, my commute!

    • Mel

      Me too — years ago, I used to toggle between Howard Stern and NPR — and couldn’t stand listening to D&C. Now, I enjoy T&R and NPR. And as someone said, it has saved my commute, if not Boston sports talk radio!

  • Rich A

    I used to listen to WEEI all the time, but even before the Sports Hub went on the air, I simply couldn’t take listening to D&C or Ordway anymore, and I found myself tuning into Opie and Anthony and T&R. Laughing and not listening to sports talk was better than being annoyed at D&C bullying anyone who disagreed with them or Ordway ignoring and talking over the majority of his callers. T&R might not know as much about sports as D&C, but at least T&R don’t spend most of their time in a pathetic effort to prove what alpha males they are. The only time I ever tune in to 850 AM now is to listen to the Red Sox.

    • Chris

      Maybe if you listened on FM you would like them more.

    • Jasoturner

      To describe D&C as “alpha males” is highly amusing. Beta worshipers of alpha males might be more like it…

  • Mr Butch Walker

    An entire article about Toucher, and no mention of me?

  • Uckphay Ooyay

    “Real sports fans” know that sports talk radio doesn’t actually give them any information at all.
    WEEI pretended to be informative. SportsHub doesn’t.

  • Chris

    Its pretty simple… if you are a liberal, bruins fan, or you don’t like to hear callers get bashed then you probably listen to the Sports Hub.

    If you are conservative, like the Patriots, if you like insightful interviews with relevant stars, if you like to hear stupid callers get bashed then you listen to WEEI.

    In my opinion Toucher and Rich are funny but they don’t come close to the skill of D&C

    • Peter

      What skill?

  • Chili Guy

    Couple beers, no beers.

  • Rick

    Look you like Toucher and Rich,fine. But was the cheap shot about a bogus suspension almost 10 yrs ago necesary.As for the debate about Buck and D+C being homophobic that is laughable IF you listened to the show you would know John Dennis set a call by none other than Bobby Orr to show support of Buck among others,but don”t put that in your article we wouldn’t actual facts to get in the way.Gerry,Dino and Meter are the best and funniest thing on radio and what they do for charities (mostly the Jimmy Fund)is unparalleled just because you may not agree with there politics get your facts before you blast them.

    • bob

      A bogus suspension? If I remember correctly even their coworkers found that comment reprehensible, especially given the history of sports and race in Boston. As for D&C being the best and funniest, either your sense of humor is politically based or you have never heard T&R, hell Karlson and McKenzie, and the Hillman are funnier than D&C on a regular basis. EEI in general isn’t all that funny, even the Whiner line which is ostensibly the funny time on the big show is mostly yawn inducing. Yes D&C participate in their bosses corporate effort for the Jimmy Fund and that is a good thing, but don’t sell T&R short on the charity front, they helped conceive Cuts for a Cause for the Childrens Cancer Ward at Floating hospital with Aaron Ward and kept it going with Shawn Thornton after Ward was traded. But don’t let their good deeds get in the way of proving a point. All you proved to me was your age and political leanings, In my experience the dividing line for the Hub vs EEI seems to be about 50 years old, under it and you appreciate the fresh choice, over and you are content with the old venom spewing.

      • bob

        Also who cares who called D&C to support Buckley? Bobby Orr’s attitude isn’t what was being questioned, it was the sensitivity of the notorious Right wing hosts towards their colleague. Never mind the conspiracy theory where Buck timed his coming out to coincide with the end of an Arbitron ratings period in some sort of desperate ratings ploy. Not necessarily true, but he did mention discussing the timing of the event with Jason Woolfe and Glenn Ordway.

  • Peter

    I’m 50 years old and listen to the T and R podcast everyday as I don’t have access to a radio during work. They might not have saved sports radio but they got me back into it as I had given up on eei years ago. If I ever want to hear forced laughter and people yelling over each other I will tune into that station until then my radio stays on 98.5

  • Toukonfan

    Comparing T+R to D+C is truly apples and oranges. I listen to both shows regularly. T+R rarely speak about sports, and when they do it is VERY superficial. I cannot think of a time I actually learned something about sports listening to T+R. And they usually have their flash guy do most of the sports talking.
    They have (mostly) 2nd and 3rd tier sports figures contributing that that show.

    Their “bits” can be funny at times. Overall, the show comes across to me as a watered down Opie and Anthony, with the flash guy talking about sports, and the hosts trying to play along that they have indepth sprts knowledge, which they clearly do not have.

    D+C are still the REAL sports show in the morning. They have true sports credentials, get all the MAJOR sports reporters, GMS, and athletes.

    If I want to hear interesting sports discussion, D+C is the only option in the morning.

    If I want to hear funny radio bits, then T+R is my destination.

    2 shows, appealing to VERY different audiences, IMO

  • Andy

    I miss Crash.

  • Finn

    When I got back from deployment Toucher & Rich were doing sports. The first thing I thought was, “This is perfect for Crash Clark”. He was the sports guy for BCN. I am still a fan of Toucher & Rich. I have lived in Atlanta and Boston so I’ve sort of followed Toucher for a while. Toucher has never changed. He’s never pandered to an audience. They have both stayed true to form. I’d lose respect for them if the transition to sports changed their on air personas.

  • Lori Larsen Ward

    Good article; I’m a sports radio devotee who’d regularly tune to the Hub after D&C’s show was over but lately I’m starting the day with T&R. If the Sports Hub could score the Belichick and Brady interviews I’d never bother with EEI.

  • cyclemadness

    As soon as I heard about T&R from my son, I started listening and have for the last three-plus years. I am way older than their key demographic but I love them. I stopped listening to the two racist Tea Partiers on WEEI during the 2008 election campaign. D&C’s ratings are going to continue to fall because their target audience is people just like them and, fortunately, that group is starting to shrink.