The oral history of 'Big Show Unfiltered:' From its modest beginnings to humble end

Alex Reimer
July 12, 2017 - 5:26 pm

During my senior year at Boston University, I rented a Zip Car every Wednesday and drove to Glenn Ordway’s house so I could hang out in his attic. The ride from BU to the South Shore often took longer than an hour, but it was worth it, because I was chasing the “exposure bucks” he had promised when we first spoke. 

This is the story of “Big Show Unfiltered,” the short-lived program that Ordway had launched in between stints at WEEI. The first show aired with modest fanfare on St. Patrick’s Day 2014 –– Steve Buckley even drove in from Somerville for the big debut –– and then petered out with nary a mention the following April. I didn’t even know the show was off the air, until I texted producer Jet Striar and asked why there weren’t any new episodes that week. 

“Big Show Unfiltered” aired Monday-Friday from 3:00-6:00 p.m. on platforms ranging from Sirius XM to ESPN Radio New Hampshire. It also streamed online and on its own smartphone app, unless it was windy near Ordway’s house that day. Then the feed would cut off, forcing us to broadcast into the abyss. 

Ordway says the show averaged 385,000 listeners per month, despite its slew of technical difficulties. Much like the old “Big Show,” there was a Whiner Line and rotating cast of co-hosts –– at least at the start. I was part of the mix as well, screeching into the microphone once or twice per week. 

The oral history of “Big Show Unfiltered” is based off interviews with every regular member of the show. Some quotes have been edited for brevity. 

The launch

Glenn Ordway (host): "I had met with a people dealing with digital technology and where it was all going and the fact that everything was changing. I met with the Sirius people, including the president, and even those guys knew that it was all going to [digital] eventually, in the same respect that the newspaper business with a hardcopy newspaper was going by the wayside. I got a good education into where it was all going. So I said, 'Maybe I should try doing something like that.’”

Jason Wolfe (consultant): “At dinner one night, he had mentioned he was going to start up this podcast –– this broadcast is what he called it at the time. He was going to call it 'Big Show Unfiltered.' It was going to be exclusively digital, but he had ideas about potentially airing it on terrestrial radio stations as well. I thought the concept was unique in that sense. I thought given my connections with different places across the region, that I might be able to help him get it on terrestrial.”

Ordway: "I went through the first couple months of 2014, and was talking to WEEI. They wanted me back at that time, and actually, two days before we actually put a release out that we were going to do [Big Show Unfiltered], WEEI actually offered me something serious to come back. And this was 24-48 hours before the announcement was made. I had hired a PR firm and everything else to spin it and put everything out there with this new unfiltered thing. So I had to make a hardcore decision, and it might've been a mistake on my part, but at the time I felt pretty confident that I could go do something like this."

Pete Sheppard (co-host): “It was an easy pitch. We were going to do ‘The Big Show’ like we used to do it, except we could curse a little more if we wanted to. To me, the concept was going to be exactly the same. We had already talked about doing the Whiner Line. A great idea he had was having that app. That was a good idea and ahead of the curve of a lot of outlets.”

Graig Murphy (co-host): “It was a lot of fun, because for the most part it was me, Pete and Glenn. Not that we were abusing the language, but it was three guys who were talking about sports. It was natural and Buck coming in added to it –– the first week there was a spike on the Internet. It was Glenn people wanted to listen to, and Pete secondary. I was happy to be involved.”

Ordway: "I was in a situation where I didn't need a job. I could risk a little bit, because I didn't really necessarily need a week-to-week paycheck. So I said, 'This is a good time to probably start something like this, and try it.’”

The original plan was to move the studio out of Ordway’s house on the South Shore and into a more central location within the first couple of months. Jet Striar’s father owned a building in Braintree with open space to host the show. Ordway nearly made the move –– Striar even stayed over one night to make sure the air conditioning wasn’t too loud –– but the change was never made. 

Doing the show out of Ordway’s house presented two problems. Firstly, the location made it difficult for unpaid guests to come in every day. After a couple of months, former “Big Show” mainstays such as Steve Buckley and Fred Smerlas were no longer part of the rotation, whittling the everyday cast down to Ordway, Sheppard and Murphy. Jerry Thornton also used to be a frequent contributor, but WEEI scooped him up in November 2014. 

In addition to its inaccessibility, Ordway’s home studio wasn’t set up to handle a high-powered radio show. The software was glitchy, and the Internet couldn’t carry the signal.

Technical difficulties

Jet Striar (producer): “The Internet sucked. They needed to put in lines under ground. All of the power lines are above ground and you’re right next to the ocean. There was no cell service at all. There were a couple of shows where Glenn was running late, because he was coming from Comcast, and the show would start late –– or me and Murph would have to start the show, because he wouldn’t be able to call and tell us ahead of time. We didn’t get any service.” 

Ordway: “We literally had Comcast execs who were showing up to the house, because they couldn't figure out why we couldn't get it to work. Then finally, when we met Verizon FiOS, they were able to solve that problem. They were able to put it up.”

Striar: “Since the Internet is crappy, we’d crap out with Sirius. Sirius is a huge company, they’re incredibly difficult to deal with. They have really, really poorly trained technicians at the site. I’m not saying everyone there, but the people we had to deal with –– first it was this place in New York, then they switched us to this place in D.C. I would have to call and make sure they were connected, and then they wouldn’t connect on their end. It was a huge pain in the ass. Being on satellite radio was a good idea, because it was a way to reach more people. But the execution, because it was from the [South Shore], with questionable at best Internet and because Sirius has thousands of shows, so it’s hard for them to pay individual attention to a show and you don’t necessarily have well-trained people there saying, ‘OK, we can troubleshoot this for you.’ So Sirius would crap out all of the time.”

Ordway says the Braintree studio fell through, because they could only install Comcast, which didn’t have enough total bandwidth to support the show. Wolfe offered an additional account, saying it would’ve cost too much money to build a studio in the Braintree space, because the show wasn’t bringing in any consistent revenue. "Big Show Unfiltered" attracted a smattering of advertisers throughout its run, but nothing long-term or lucrative. 

Though the studio didn’t work out, “Big Show Unfiltered” still seemed to have a chance. In August 2014, ESPN New Hampshire announced it would simulcast the program. WCAP in Lowell picked it up shortly thereafter. 

But as it turns out, the move to terrestrial wound up being a misstep. 

“Big Show Unfiltered” was no longer “unfiltered:”

Murphy: "I kind of lost focus when we went to simulcast with ESPN New Hampshire, because then the whole platform of being unfiltered and letting it fly kind of went out the window –– no swearing, we were taking breaks to compensate for what's going on up there when they needed to get the commercials in.”

Sheppard: “It was very difficult. I know when I got to ESPN New Hampshire (Sheppard joined the station in 2015), the producers said it was almost impossible. Our show was getting faded out so they could fit their local commercials in and we didn't know when they were back on or not back on. It was really difficult, but we just kept going, because we were on SiriusXM at the time, and the other satellite station.” 

Wolfe: "The issue was, Sirius needed the show to be produced a certain way from a commercial log standpoint. The radio stations needed it a separate way. So if you listened on one or the other, it definitely sounded different. That became difficult over time, because we were trying to please three different masters when what we should've been focused on was the content itself. At the end of the day, the content is what's going to drive anything. He had good content. If it could've continued with that kind of a focus, I'm not sure all of those other platforms would've mattered so much.” 

Ordway: “We were everywhere, but we were nowhere we needed to be. We didn't have an identity. So branching out, in order to create a legitimate business that we could monetize, was actually killing us. In retrospect, if we had gone back and did this the way we wanted to do this, it probably would've worked. But it would've maybe taken five years for it to work. I'm not going to do that for five years, and I couldn't expect anybody else to do that for five years. We fragmented ourselves to be the point where we became a no-win situation.”

Tasked with commuting from Billerica to the South Shore on a daily basis, Sheppard would sometimes stay over Ordway’s house and another friend’s in the area so he could do the show. But he left the program in October 2014, after his father and two sisters had passed within a nine-month period. 

There was also a dispute over compensation. Sheppard says Ordway promised to give him a regular stipend, whereas Ordway says otherwise. 

Sheppard’s exit 

Sheppard: “[Ordway] told me and my wife to my face –– and he can deny this all he wants, it’s a fact –– he told me right to my face, ‘Look, Pete is going to get paid right away. Obviously it’s not going to be what it’s used to, but he’s going to get something on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.’ Well, that never came to fruition.” 

Ordway: “The premise I had with Pete was, 'You go get an advertiser, and we'll split it 50/50.' We weren't Entercom. We couldn't sit there as a corporation and say, 'We're going to pay you X-amount of dollars to do this.' We had a much different business model. Pete actually did get money out of it. Not a lot, but enough to probably handle some of his troubles.”

Sheppard: “We had no sales coming in –– I know it was tough, but I was like, 'How are you going to justify anybody coming down here for nothing? I can't do it. I'm way past working for nothing.' I was just under the impression at the time, when he first initially talked, that I would get something on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. I wasn't expecting a lot, but something and that didn't happen. It would've had to come out of his pocket, which he probably did the few times he paid me. I was, like, the only one who got a little something.”

Ordway: “I was giving him enough money for gas and a little bit more for his troubles to come down here. Pete was looking for work, and there were no opportunities. So I brought him into this thing. But he knew up front what the parameters were. There was never any promise [of money]. If it made it, then Pete certainly would've done fine with it. He would've done well. I feel bad that it didn't. But I don't feel guilty, because I never lied to anybody up front about it. There was no misdirection or lies."

Sheppard: "I just couldn't make the sacrifice any more, spending all of that gas money without knowing when I was going to get a consistent income. Nobody else would drive down there. Buck came down once, Freddy Smerlas came down once. Meter came down once or twice. Nobody would drive down there. It was just too much of a hassle, especially for people with families. It was a great premise, it was a great idea, it's too bad we couldn't have had a studio in Boston. He was definitely onto something really good.”

The show continued for another six months after Sheppard had left, with Murphy and Striar sitting in as the regular co-hosts. One of Ordway’s children experienced a health scare in mid-April 2015, which hastened the show’s end. 

Reflections

Wolfe: "It didn't have to be a radio show that was digitally savvy and on satellite. It could've been a kick ass podcast that he did once or twice per week. I think in that case, he wouldn't have had any trouble getting people to go down there if they knew it was only –– they were going to be on once per month or once every six weeks. I think if he had modified it early on, when it started to become a challenge to get people to go down, not only would it have been saved, I think it would've grown and become a hell of a lot bigger than it ever was in its initial stages.”

Ordway: “I wouldn't call myself a pioneer, but I was delving into something that people were trying out. But nobody was making money at it. Now, was I foolish thinking that I'm going to be able to do what other people aren't able to do? That was probably –– maybe I looked at it the wrong way. I should've probably looked and said, 'Who else is making money on it?' There are people doing it who have a bigger name than I, and they're not really making money on it.”

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