Sheppard out at WEEI
Pete Sheppard, who spent more than 10 years as a contributor and fill-in host on sports-radio WEEI's "The Big Show," has had his position eliminated by Entercom Communications, which owns the station.
As we continue to operate in challenging economic times, it is with regret that we announce today that we have eliminated Pete Sheppards position as sports anchor on "The Big Show," Entercom said in a press release. "Wed like to thank Pete for his outstanding work . . . [and wish him] the best of luck in his future endeavors and remain extremely grateful for all his contributions over the past decade.
Sheppard, 42, had been at WEEI since 1994, when he joined the station in a part-time capacity. In 1999, he began co-hosting a weekend show with Jon Wallach, and in '99 he moved to the highly successful "The Big Show," where he provided sports updates during breaks, bantered with host Glenn Ordway and the rotating co-hosts, and generally served in the role of a boisterous if occasionally buffoonish everyman with a genuine passion for sports during the drive-time program. Alongside ex-players Fred Smerlas and Steve DeOssie, he also hosted the "Real Postgame Show" following Patriots games.
The news of Sheppard's departure comes as a surprise. The native of Narragansett, R.I., signed a contract extension with the station in May 2007. While WEEI is facing a significant challenge from sports-radio upstart The Sports Hub, which launched on the FM dial in August, it has maintained and even enhanced its overall Nielsen ratings as well as those in coveted demographics. In December, "The Big Show" finished second in its time slot in the ratings among men 25-54.
What's next for Sheppard remains uncertain. According to Mike Thomas, the program director at The Sports Hub, Sheppard has not been in contact. Thomas added via e-mail, "If he is interested in working here, he would have to contact me. Although we have a full staff right now."
Sheppard and Entercom vice president of AM programming Jason Wolfe could not be reached for comment Wednesday afternoon. But Sheppard's former colleagues -- as well as caller Curt Schilling -- acknowledged his absence at length shortly after "The Big Show" went on the air at 2 p.m.
Said Ordway: "We learned last night that the company was going to eliminate the position held by Pete Sheppard over the last 10 years and they are going to outsource the flashes during afternoon drive like they do from certain hours over the course of the day. Obviously we were disheartened to hear that. I spoke with Pete at length last night. Pete does understand the economics of it.
"He was a very unique character . . . he presented his own approach, his own schtick, that of the passionate sports fan."
Wednesday's "Sports Flash" update was handled by Chris Villani, a frequent WEEI update anchor who is employed by Metro Networks, the company to which Sheppard's job has been outsourced.
Ordway indicated that Sheppard might be heard on the WEEI airwaves in the future.
"Who knows, down the road, maybe an opportunity happens for him, maybe an opportunity happens back here, when things open up, the economy comes back, and we're looking at a different set of numbers," he said.
Ordway, for whom Sheppard often and capably filled in as a host, reiterated that it was a financial decision made by Entercom.
"Even though we have been a very successful radio station, we are part of a larger company, and they have to, in essence, make sure they keep all of their company healthy, and so, therefore, it's a matter of moving some numbers around to make it all work."
Later in the program, Schilling, the ubiquitous former Red Sox pitcher who blogs for WEEI.com, called in and expressed his disappointment that Sheppard was gone.
"I probably won't be heard on WEEI until Pete's back . . . so I wanted to wish you guys all the best."