Joe Zarbano has resigned from his position as WEEI’s program director. Zarbano had been at the station since 2007, starting first as an intern. After becoming a producer for the station, he was named program director in July of 2016.
WEEI’s good start
WEEI did very well in the ratings for the first couple of years Zarbano was the PD. One of the main reasons the station flourished during this time was due to the morning show. In August of 2016, host John Dennis retired after 19 years at the station.
That left Gerry Callahan, the other longtime staple of WEEI’s morning show, and Kirk Minihane to hold down the 6-10 slot. With a rotating third co-host, the show’s ratings, as well as the station’s overall, dramatically increased.
In 2017, WEEI was neck and neck with the rival Boston sports station, 98.5 The Sports Hub. Here is how the ratings looked between the stations that summer.
WEEI’s Kirk & Callahan: 13.7
The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich: 10.6
WEEI’s OMF: 9.2
The Sport Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand: 8.8
WEEI’s Dale & Holley: 8.7
The Sports Hub’s Felger & Mazz: 11.3
In the coveted rating group of men 25-54, WEEI bested The Sports Hub 8.8 to 8.5 in overall ratings. Unfortunately, 2017 would be the last great year for the station.
What went wrong
Starting in the fall of 2017, a man named Bob Murchison began contacting WEEI’s advertisers. He found audio of a 2015 conversation with Minihane, Callahan, and Gary Tanguay. The three hosts gave their thoughts on a news story where a five-year-old girl’s parents discussed the possibility of the child transitioning genders.
Murchison relentlessly emailed and contacted WEEI’s advertisers, practically pressuring them to denounce the hosts and to stop doing business with the station. He would continue contacting these businesses for months.
Management from Entercom and the station wanted the hosts to not dive into such controversial topics. In February of 2018, the station even shut down programming for a day to have “sensitivity training“.
Things at WEEI would get even more serious when Minihane twice took a significant break from the station to deal with suicidal thoughts and mental health struggles. It would later come out that the station did not allow him back on the air when he was ready to return. He would leave the station in November of 2018 and join Barstool Sports in June of 2019.
In July of 2019, Callahan was done at WEEI after over 20 years of hosting the morning show. The two driving forces at the station, who propelled every show afterward to higher ratings, were gone. While executives had to have been relieved the controversies were done, they had to also know the ratings would dip.
In Zarbano’s last rating book at WEEI, the fall of 2020, The Sports Hub was first with a 15 ratings share and WEEI was 4th with a 5.
Where do they go from here
WEEI used to really matter and set the dialog in Boston. Their media wars, such as with The Boston Globe and The Sports Hub, were always intense and compelling. Now they have fallen down a hole they might not ever get out of. It will be fascinating to see what changes their new program director makes.
Neither WEEI or Zarbano made a public statement on the situation.
Story by Chad Jones
Follow Chad on Twitter @shutupchadjones