Will 98.5 The Sports Hub’s ‘Toucher and Rich’ ever be the same? – Boston.com

By Chad Finn

The “Toucher and Rich” program is the best example of a sports radio show whose whole is greater than the sum of its main hosts that I’ve heard since the heyday of “Mike and the Mad Dog” on WFAN in New York. Nothing else that comes to mind is even close.
That’s not intended as a knock on the individual talents of Fred Toucher and Rich Shertenlieb, who have hosted 98.5 The Sports Hub’s highly rated morning-drive program (along with third voice Jon Wallach) since its launch as a sports station in August 2009.
They’re both individually gifted, Toucher with his droll sense of humor, and Shertenlieb with a knack for cooking up creative bits. But together, the hosts — who worked together in Atlanta before coming to the Boston market at rock-radio station WBCN in 2006 — have the chemistry of a high-scoring shooting guard and a crafty point guard who have shared the backcourt for years.
At its best, “Toucher and Rich” is the rare show in the Boston sports radio market that seeks to make listeners laugh rather than agitating them.
The show is good when just one of the hosts is on the program. When both are there, fully engaged and playing off each other’s strengths, it’s often exceptional.
Right now, it feels like a long time since that has happened. And given the drama around the program over the past few months, which seemingly came to a head this past week, it’s fair to wonder if the show will ever be at its best again.
According to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, months of tension between Toucher and Shertenlieb culminated in a meeting Wednesday with station and parent company Beasley Media management in which Shertenlieb, among other frustrations, accused Toucher of creating a hostile work environment.
Here’s the condensed version of how it got to this point:
Over the past several months, Toucher had dealt with a mysterious throat problem that affected his voice so much that at times he struggled to talk without coughing. He missed several shows, with Shertenlieb, Wallach, and a fill-in third host picking up the slack.
On April 10, Toucher took a leave of absence to receive treatment. On more than one occasion during that absence, Toucher took to Twitter to complain that Shertenlieb and other show personnel hadn’t reached out to see how he was doing. One example: On April 29, he wrote on Twitter, “They don’t need me. Cancer scare and I don’t hear a word for weeks. Then I reach out to them … Nothing back.”
On May 5, Toucher tweeted that his previous comments were not true and that he actually had heard from Shertenlieb and Wallach, among others. Toucher elaborated when he returned to the show this past Thursday. “[The tweets were] completely unfair,” said Toucher, who revealed that he was being treated for leukoplakia, a condition caused by smoking. “I talked to Jon, I talked to Rich, [he] had offered his connections at Dana Farber [Shertenlieb’s wife, Mary, is a cancer survivor], he had offered these things. In retrospect, it was a stupid thing to do … I was sitting home scared of all this happening, not that this is an excuse.”
Shertenlieb was not there to hear Toucher’s mea culpa. He had called in sick Wednesday evening, several hours after staffers learned of Toucher’s imminent return. He was not on the show Friday, either. But he is scheduled to be in Monday … when Toucher has a previously scheduled day off.
Perhaps they will work together Tuesday. But it seems to be at least possible that they won’t work together again. According to sources, during Wednesday’s contentious meeting, Shertenlieb asked management what the plan was for the show.
He was told that Toucher was coming back Thursday, they remain cohosts, and the show — which has maintained its massive Nielsen Audio ratings though all the drama and absences — will go on.
Shertenlieb has not gone on the show since, and neither he nor Toucher had responded to interview requests as of Friday night. The hosts of the best and highest-rated sports program in the market are choosing radio silence. But the unrest is coming across loud and clear. Tuesday’s actions will speak volumes.
I’m confident that this is the only time we’ll recommend checking out the Sunday Herald in this Globe territory, but there’s a good reason. Karen Guregian, who is on the short list of the most universally liked sports reporters in Boston, has her final column running in those pages. She’s moving on to MassLive, which also recently hired respected baseball writer Sean McAdam in a boost to an already-strong staff … Heard a lot of gripes that Mark Jones and Doris Burke, who have called the ESPN games during the Celtics-Sixers series, have been, let’s say, more enthusiastic for Sixers highlights than Celtics highlights in this series. I really don’t believe that’s the case – no broadcaster I’ve talked to has championed Jayson Tatum more through the years than Burke – but I will concede that Jones’s enthusiasm sometimes seems influenced by the home crowd. Sunday’s Game 7 would have been the final test for that theory, but Jones and Burke won’t be at the Garden. ESPN/ABC substituted Mike Breen and Mark Jackson into the lineup after the Lakers/Warriors series ended Saturday night. This change isn’t related to Jones and Burke’s performance or the perception of it in one market or another. It is standard policy for ESPN and ABC to have its No. 1 team, with Breen on play-by-play, call Game 7 in a semifinals series if it is the only one being played. Jeff Van Gundy, who is also part of ESPN/ABC’s top team, won’t be part of Sunday’s broadcast. He has a previously scheduled day off.

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