Not all paths are the same. And not many paths resemble Fred Toucher’s journey in radio. The Detroit native openly roots for the New York Jets, bashes New England Patriots crybaby fans, and hosts a successful morning show in Boston. How in the holy hell does that add up?
Unconventional works if you’re authentic, which certainly sums up Toucher. Along with his radio partner, Rich Shertenlieb, Toucher & Rich has been a fixture on 98.5 The Sports Hub since 2009.
Toucher was a rock radio host for over a decade. He teamed up with Rich in 2006 at rock station WBCN in Boston. They eventually migrated to sports radio a few years later where they still thrive today. As Tom Brady tweeted when Ben Roethlisberger retired — there’s more than one way to bake a cake — the same is true in radio. Toucher is proof of it.
We chat about his uncommon path, admitting you’re an outsider, his hatred for the Patriots, and Toucher’s actual last name. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: How did you end up in Boston when you’re originally from Detroit?
Fred Toettcher: I was in Atlanta for eight years. I was at 99X in Atlanta when Cumulus bought 99X. I didn’t like the Dickey brothers and they were local, which was going to be a big pain in the ass. I asked if I could get out of my contract and they didn’t put up much of a fight.
I had known Rich from working at 99X when he worked there. A consultant, Randy Lane, helped us get together and we auditioned for CBS in Phoenix. Then CBS put us in Boston doing afternoons at BCN. That’s it. Eight years in Atlanta, then started here in 2006.
BN: What led you to going from Detroit to Atlanta initially?
FT: I went to college in Florida. I got out of college and I was interning for The Mitch Albom Show in Detroit. My best friend moved to Atlanta, so I just moved to Atlanta and worked there. It was CBS’s decision to move us to Boston. It wasn’t my intent to live in Boston, it was CBS’s thought. I guess my personality is suited for the Northeast is what everyone said. Sort of more caustic, probably better than the South.
BN: What did you think at the time when it was down to Phoenix versus Boston and how it shook out?
FT: Oh, I was glad that we ended up in Boston. I’m not a big fan of Phoenix. It was weird because this actually happened; they were like all right, we really liked your audition, but we’re not going to put you in Phoenix. They were like, we’re not going to tell you where we want you; we’re going to tell you where we want you on this date.
This guy, who did the show with us when we first started, and I went to this bar in Atlanta and waited around. It was like the draft. We waited around for a phone call from my agent to tell us where we would be moving to. That was pretty strange how they did it. Then we had five days to find a place to live and everything. It probably could’ve been handled better.
BN: [Laughs] That’s a wild story. In what ways has the show changed from initially being on a rock station to now being on a sports station?
FT: Things were still pretty wild in rock radio when we got to Boston. There were so many things that we couldn’t do now and probably wouldn’t want to do now. The sports format gave us much more structure. Knowing that you had to devote a lot of time to sports on the show definitely helped in terms of focus and everything. I’m glad that we were on rock radio when we were on it, but we probably wouldn’t have lasted in one market if we were in rock radio.
I think it also gave older people permission to listen to our show. A lot of people would be like, I don’t listen to BCN anymore, I’m too old. People in their 30s were like, I’m too old for BCN. So when we went to the sports format, it’s like people felt, well, this is a format that I can listen to. Our older audience got much bigger almost immediately.
Those are the two big things is that it gave people permission and also forced us to structure the show. It wasn’t easy. We had to meet with the programmer, Mike Thomas, every day for a year after the show to hash out how the show was going to be. I’m sure that wasn’t his idea of fun. That was a pain in the ass, but it ended up obviously working out.
BN: Were those times hard or undesirable?
FT: Yeah, there was also the belief — I knew it wasn’t true — but the belief that they were just keeping us around until our contracts were up. People were like, well, they’re just going to get fired. They’re not going to be here when their contract is up. The audience was like, who the fuck are you guys? You guys don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. You’re not sports guys.
Yeah, it was very difficult for the first year. It was no fun. Rich didn’t want to do sports. He tried really hard, but he didn’t really want to be doing it so that was difficult as well. The first six months were miserable.
Then the station started succeeding and every show succeeded on the same path. That’s all you’re doing at that point; you don’t want the other shows to outperform you if you’re us. We were performing as well as the other shows. Everyone started performing well about six months after we started. We weren’t number one or anything, but we were getting pretty good ratings. The pressure was starting to dwindle a little bit after six months, but the first year was not fun.
BN: If I would’ve told you back in ’09 that you’d be sitting here in 2022 enjoying the success that you have, would you have believed it?
FT: No, no, no. No one would’ve. No one would’ve thought the station would be this successful. Certainly no one would’ve thought our show would’ve been successful. I didn’t think that our show was successful. I didn’t know why they kept us. It was a big gamble for them to keep us from BCN. No one else thought they should have. No, there was no way I thought I’d still be in Boston.
I thought when BCN ended I had a pretty good inclination like a year before, I thought we were going to get fired. Then they told us they were keeping us six months before BCN went off the air. I thought I was going to get fired then and I certainly thought I was going to get fired after our first contract was up. No, I didn’t think there was any chance this was going to happen.
BN: What does it take for an outsider to be accepted as a host in Boston?
FT: To admit you’re an outsider. To not try to front like you’re not. Everything around here is impossible. The town names are impossible to pronounce. Everything is pronounced wrong. Everything is weird. If you come in and have flashcards trying to learn everything about the town, it’s going to come off very phony. My advice would be, just admit that you’re not from here. Admit if you weren’t on a sports station. Admit that you’re not a sports reporter. Just lay it out and if people accept you, they accept you. If they don’t, they don’t. But they will. I think the region values honesty.
BN: What’s your role during the BSM Summit?
FT: I don’t know. [Laughs]
BN: You just said yeah, I’ll be a part of it.
FT: Yeah, 11:30 in the morning I think I’m supposed to do something. I’m on with Felger and Carton. I’m not sure, though. [Laughs] I’m not positive. I know I’m not giving a speech. I know that. I think it’s probably a group of us. I’m hoping. I’ve prepared nothing, so I don’t know. [Laughs]
BN: Are you looking forward to it?
FT: Yeah, I haven’t been at an industry thing in a really long time. Like decades. I’ve only met my agent once, so she’ll be there. I’m sure I’ll see people I haven’t seen in a really long time. I like that stuff. I never have the opportunity to go do that kind of stuff. I’m never invited to anything.
BN: [Laughs] What are you hoping to gain by being there, or to provide by being there?
FT: Really, I’m going for fun and maybe to connect with some people that I haven’t seen. We’re syndicated now and always looking to pick up affiliates. If I’m out there and there’s someone from a small enough market that would take our show, I’d welcome that. Like everyone else, to go out and meet the people.
I hope that I have some insight. I don’t know if people go to these things to learn something. If there are people coming that want to get into sports radio, hopefully I can deliver some insight. I think my story is very odd and if I can do it, that should lead people to be inspired that they can do it.
I didn’t go to Syracuse and work at the school newspaper in the sports department. There’s different paths to get into the industry. You don’t have to follow the same path as everyone else. I think that’s probably a good message. I probably have one of the odder origin stories of anyone there. That I can offer.
BN: Is there anything from rock radio that you miss?
FT: Yeah, some days I don’t want to talk about sports at all. It’s like anything else; if you do it for a living, you get sick of it. We don’t talk about sports every break, but we have to talk about sports. There are days that I just don’t want to. Rock radio, you can do whatever you want. You don’t talk about rock music all the time.
In the long run, it’s not as good because you don’t have anything to fall back on. But there are days where I’m like, aww, I really don’t want to fuckin’ talk about sports. I don’t care. Especially if something contrived is happening that I find annoying. Like a lot of Patriots shit, I know what it’s going to be like going in the next day. I really don’t want to talk about this and hear the same thing. You’ll see stuff on Twitter and everyone’s saying the same thing and you’re like, ugh, I have to get in tomorrow and hear all of this again.
BN: What are some of the things you do today that you wouldn’t typically hear on a sports radio show?
FT: We do a lot of stuff. When I first moved to Boston, there’s this town called Brookline that’s like this really academic, annoying town. It was hell living there. Everyone’s yelling at you. There was one guy that had a megaphone on his front porch and if you stepped on his lawn he would be able to yell at you from his couch. We take the real 911 calls from Brookline and play them and make fun of them. So we do everybody’s angry in Brookline.
We do recaps where we have a kid on our show go out and talk to people, like weirdos after games. It started off being a drunken recap, but that got old. We met so many strange characters with him just being on the streets of Boston at night, just a bunch of weirdos and stuff. So we do that. We don’t have a lot of regular bits. We don’t have anything that we do on Wednesday at 8 o’clock or anything.
BN: I noticed on your email that your last name is spelled differently [Toettcher]. You don’t have a stage name, but is it a stage spelling of your last name?
FT: Yes, my regular spelling, no one would know my name is Toucher. It’s T-O-E-T-T; it’s very full-on German. No one would know what the hell it was. When I was at 99X, Sean Demery was like you have a cool last name, you should go by Toucher. It wasn’t even Fred Toucher, he was like you should go by Toucher. I’m like okay, so I did nights as Toucher. But I thought in print, no one’s going to know what the fuck this name is. So yeah, it’s phonetically spelled. Much to the delight of everyone at the doctor’s office when they ask for your email.
BN: [Laughs] What ideally would you want your future to be in radio or beyond?
FT: I would like it if the syndication grew. You always want a new challenge. I’m always interested in opportunities outside of radio. Not to exchange my career, but in addition to doing the radio show. Right now, in terms of radio, just to keep growing.
We’re syndicated in four other markets now, so it’s not really a big deal. But it’s all set up now. I can tell you it’s very lucrative. [Laughs] No money is exchanged, but we’ve paid for everything. It’s all set up. To continue to do that and to continue to grow that would be exciting. Obviously keep doing well in Boston, but to try to grow the brand just for the challenge would be a lot of fun.
BN: What’s the most fun that you’ve had during your career?
FT: I know for sure what it is. We got to be on the duck boat when the Bruins won the 2011 Stanley Cup. That was really, really, really cool. That was by far the best moment, the moment that I’ll always remember. It’s my I’ve-been-on-the-moon story. It’s my trump-card story. I have it in my phone, all the videos of it. There were a million and a half people in the city.
When a team here wins, they’re called duck boats. There are these things that tourists take. They are cars and they also can float. We got to be on one of them. It was us and the Bruins. There weren’t many other people that weren’t on the Bruins. That was awesome. We had only been on The Sports Hub for like two years. That was fun. That was the best.
BN: How did that come about?
FT: I don’t know. The station picked us, I think, because we’re not reporters. Probably the other shows thought it would look bad because they’re supposed to be above that. Also I was a big proponent of hockey, which helped us a lot very early. The Bruins really helped us. I developed a relationship with them at BCN. I’m a big hockey fan. No one was talking about the Bruins, so I develop this relationship with them. It was great, great timing; when they started The Sports Hub, the Bruins started to get really, really good.
I think the combination of my relationship and my pom-pom waving for them, which has stopped now, but my pom-pom waving for them and the idea that we’re not journalists I think was why the station let us go. The station could’ve put themselves on it, my management could’ve put themselves on it, but they picked us, which was very nice of them.
BN: Is there anything that you hate talking about in that area?
FT: I hate the Patriots. I don’t mind talking about them, especially now. But Deflategate was the worst. Deflategate was the worst. I hated it. We actually stopped talking about it during the height of it because I couldn’t take it anymore. Listeners going over legal documents and science data and stuff. It was so boring. The victim mentality of the Patriots fans is so annoying. I hated Deflategate. Rich would tell you the same thing. I really didn’t like it.
You have to understand people talked about it all day, every day here. All day, every day. The Patriots fans are so whiny and entitled because for 20 years, they’ve been so good. If you’re in your 30s, you don’t know anything other than the Patriots winning, which is funny because they think this is just going to continue now. They don’t know what it’s like to root for anyone else.
Any other team, there’s peaks and valleys. I’m a Jets fan, so I’ve hated the Patriots my whole life. [Laughs] And now I really hate the Patriots. But they’ve helped make me a comfortable living, so I’ve got that going for me.
BN: I’ll tell you, man, you have an amazing story. Being from Detroit, Jets fan, doing a morning show on a sports station in Boston, dude. That’s crazy.
FT: Yeah, I admit that I’m a Jets fan too, which everyone uses against me. Oh, he’s just making excuses; he’s a Jets fan. But I was very honest about that. I guarantee you a consultant wouldn’t tell you to come on Boston sports talk and say you’re a Jets fan. I can assure you. Or call their fans crybabies and losers. But it’s worked out. A consultant would tell you not to do that, so don’t always listen to consultants. They just give you the easiest road.
BN: I’d imagine that you’re selling a different product than pretty much anybody else in that market. When you come out and say I’m a Jets fan, I don’t know how to pronounce these town names, do you think there’s something about being different and authentic that helps you be successful?
FT: I think it was necessary for us. We would never have succeeded if we hadn’t done it. I mean if you think about it, I’ve always thought about it like this: If you were out to dinner with five people and you didn’t know three of them, say you’re a big Yankee fan and you were at a table and someone says, oh hey, did you see the Yankee game? And you’re like no, I’m a Red Sox fan. They’re not going to get up from the table and leave. It’s not something that you’re going to judge a person’s character by.
I think in our case, I talk a lot about my personal life. I don’t know why. It just happens for better or for worse, sometimes worse. I think just being authentic because we didn’t have the sports credibility. So yeah, you’re kind of selling yourself to people and you’re just going, this is the authentic person that I am within reason.
You probably wouldn’t talk for four hours if given your druthers, but here’s the authentic person I am talking into a microphone, so you can judge me. We’re not like Felger & Mazz who immediately had this sports credibility. They only talk about sports. They have the cred to do that. I think we were forced to kind of sell ourselves. I think just being authentic was necessary for us.
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.