Don Mahler: Valley Airwaves Go Silent; After Six Years, Irreverent Radio Show Suddenly Bids Farewell
For almost six years, the Rich and Woody radio show has been plugged into the ears of the Upper Valley.
Every Saturday morning, Rich Parker, the Dartmouth College golf coach who once played in the U.S. Open, and Rob Woodward, a former pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, have been the hosts of a show known as The Sports Buzz on WTSL 1400 AM.
Every Saturday, they bring their off-beat observations and spot-on opinions to sports issues that can affect Upper Valley athletes and impact those in the professional ranks.
They have entertained some, offended others and just plain amused the rest covering a wide range of subjects through their perspective as professional athletes and local icons.
But that will all change after this Saturday. Because this weekend’s episode will be the last one.
No more spelling bees, no more (bad/off-color) jokes, no more lake reports, no more riffs on the Red Sox, rants on the Raiders or revelations on life.
Just the quiet air of a show closed down.
Parker had a meeting with station general manager Nichole Romano the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and according to Parker, she alluded to a general programming overhaul at the station where that specific Saturday morning slot — 10 a.m. to noon — might be better used by the station.
I understand, business is business. And as an outsider, I can’t speak to another group’s business. But it does seem odd that a local radio station, with local guys — perhaps two of the most visible Lebanon High athletes and grads of recent years — talking about local issues with support from local sponsors and loyal listeners up and down the I-89 corridor, suddenly after nearly six years is being replaced by something like ... let’s say a national music feed or some canned talk show from out of the area.
In the current stifling radio world of structured programming, Rich and Woody were a breath of fresh air. It took nerve to put those two untrained guys on the radio. The station should be applauded and feel proud of the decision. Heck, the station promoted the show in commercials declaring: “You never know what they’re going to say next.”
So why, now, after nearly six years, do the guys get the unceremonious boot?
Responding to an email request, station GM Romano explained: “We’ve enjoyed the past six years of hosting Rich and Woody and their Sports Buzz program, and understand they had their followers. Each year we do evaluate the program lineup on our stations to be sure we are delivering what the majority of our listener base will respond well to.
“WTPL in Concord had difficulty retaining enough listeners, and sponsor support, to keep the program healthy down there. WWOD 93.9/96.3 is a Classic Hits music station. ... We understood listeners began turning this station off specifically because they did not like the Sports Buzz Saturday program. With the recent announcement of the programs ending, many have emailed in favor of the change.
“WTSL/WTSV is undergoing programming changes in 2014 as we continue to listen to the wants and desires of our general listening audience, for both weekdays and weekends. ... We are also expanding our High School Sports coverage, with live broadcasts for Lebanon, and now Hartford Varsity Girls and Boys Basketball.
“Again, listening to the request of listeners, the coaches and parents of these kids, is the kind of community connection that is important to us.
“I too am a Lebanon Alum, and have enjoyed watching the achievements of both Rich and Woody through the years. ... I’ve listened to them comment that balancing the time to prepare for this program and what it took away from their weekend was at times difficult, and understood at some point it may come to an end.”
And unless something drastic happens, Saturday’s show — a special three-hour event from 9 a.m. to noon — will be the last. And that fact has struck some fans of the show as unfortunate. And many plan to air their opinions Saturday.
Toby Jasmine, one of the owners of JAS Auto Body in White River, is one of those fans. He has supported the show as an advertiser from the first day, and has also co-hosted at times.
“I don’t agree with taking them off the air,” Jasmine said this week. “It was something we all looked forward to.”
Like so many in the show’s legion of fans, Jasmine most enjoyed the discussion of local events — sporting and general — along with the special recognition for the local athletes.
“That was really special,” said Jasmine. “Some of those kids may never again get to hear their names on the radio. But it was more than just athletes. ... There were shout-outs to local businesses and talk about students and just general people in the Upper Valley.
“It was a local show that we all could be part of.”
That’s what everyone comes back to: the local angle, the community voice. Rich and Woody knew everyone and they knew about everything. Or they knew someone who did.
They raised money for causes that helped friends and begged recognition for people they never heard of. Their joy at the microphone was evident each week. And we enjoyed it along with them.
From Rich trying to get though the joke of the week without laughing all over the punch line, to Woody’s New Hampshire growl of, “Who is it?” when the phone rang, they were our guys talking our language every Saturday morning.
This Saturday morning, Jasmine and some friends are heading to the airport in Manchester. The car radio will be tuned to the Sports Buzz as far as the signal carries.
And once he gets settled, Jasmine plans to make one last phone call to the show. “I just want to say Hi to the guys ... and thanks.”
From the guys in the garages to the docs at the hospitals, from the high school moms to the kids cruising in cars, Saturday morning belonged to the Sports Buzz. It was local radio for the local people.
But those days will be over as of Saturday. You never knew what you had until it was gone.
Don Mahler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3225.
Toby Jasmine is owner of JAS Auto Body in White River Junction. His business was incorrectly identified in an earlier version of this story.