THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

In a shakeup, WEEI will pair Holley with Ordway

By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / February 16, 2011

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During WEEI’s afternoon-drive program “The Big Show’’ yesterday, Glenn Ordway sprinkled in more than a few teases to a “major announcement’’ by the station.

Turns out it was no exaggeration. But what was left unsaid right up until Ordway made the announcement a few minutes past 5 p.m. is how much it affected him.

In a bold move that must be perceived as a reaction to ratings challenges from 98.5 The Sports Hub, WEEI announced yesterday that Michael Holley, who has cohosted the station’s midday “Dale and Holley’’ program since 2005, will join Ordway as a permanent cohost on “The Big Show’’ beginning Feb. 28.

What remains vague is how the changes will affect Holley’s partner in the midday since 2005, Dale Arnold. Arnold, who has been at WEEI since its inception in September 1991, was not mentioned in the station’s press release.

“Like every show, after a while, things get a little stale, you want to change it around, you want to put some life into it, you want to change up what you’re doing,’’ said Ordway.

Holley, said Ordway, is “a guy I have tremendous respect for, and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun, because I’ve told him we’d better have fun, because this isn’t going to work if we don’t.’’

Holley, a former Globe columnist, a best-selling author, and the host of Comcast SportsNet New England’s “Celtics Now,’’ is the big winner in the move. His contract with WEEI ran out in March; now he not only has a higher-profile role, but a new multiyear deal as well. (Terms were not disclosed by WEEI, but a raise is a certainty in a move from midday to afternoon drive.)

“When his contract came up, I questioned us, ‘Why renew that? Why not move his game forward? He is a superstar,’ ’’ said Julie Kahn, vice president and market manager at Entercom New England.

The format of “The Big Show’’ featured Ordway as the ringleader, with a rotating group of cohosts that changed through the years. He noted on the air yesterday that the show has had 57 cohosts since it debuted in the round-table format in 1995, when Ordway was the station’s program director.

“We’re still going to maintain relationships with [many cohosts],’’ said Jason Wolfe, Entercom New England’s vice president of AM programming and operations. “We’re looking forward to using them in different capacities throughout the year.’’

When asked if the lineup shuffling is a direct reaction to the remarkable Arbitron ratings success in the male 25-54 demo of The Sports Hub, which launched in August 2009, Wolfe said it was more a matter of trying to enhance the success of “The Big Show’’ and the station in general.

“I think Glenn said it perfectly, and I’m in total agreement with him,’’ Wolfe said. “That format had such an unbelievable run, the rotating cohosts. But like any great organization and any great show, you have to look at the future and see what puts you in that position to maintain that success and grow it. And that’s exactly what we did.’’

While the change is a significant one for the long-established and respected Ordway, his bosses said he took the decision graciously.

“I’ll tell you the truth,’’ Kahn said. “Glenn, we brought him in when we thought about this a few weeks ago, and Jason and I talked to him in my office and he accepted it right off the bat. He said this is organic and natural and sounds right and that he respected Michael and that I enhance his brand and he enhances mine.’’

Ordway’s tone on the air yesterday was one of enthusiasm regarding the pairing with Holley, who made his WEEI debut in 1997 as a cohost on “The Big Show.’’

“We’re going to try to do some different things,’’ Ordway said. “Michael and I have spent some time here recently going over a lot of stuff, [the] direction we want to go in with the show. Like everything else, you’ve got to alter, you’ve got to change, you’ve got to do some different things.’’

Kahn said Arnold will be on the air at his usual time today to discuss his future plans and that the status of the midday show will be revealed “in short order,’’ possibly within 48 hours.

The Herald’s “Inside Track’’ reported that former Red Sox infielder Lou Merloni and regular weekend and fill-in host Mike Mutnansky would take over the slot.

But an industry source said that Merloni, who was given a sweetened deal by WEEI after he was pursued by The Sports Hub in the summer of 2009 to be Michael Felger’s cohost, is not a done deal for the midday slot.

Neither Merloni nor Mutnansky returned messages seeking comment.

When asked if today was Arnold’s last day, Kahn replied, “No, no, no. We want Dale to tell his own story, but it’s not his last day tomorrow at all. We don’t let people go on the air on their last day. Dale’s a very important part of the WEEI family.’’

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globechadfinn.