While the retirement of longtime Syracuse men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim was the biggest story to come out of Central New York this spring, a close second was what happened afterward involving local radio host Brent Axe.
Axe, a longtime Syracuse radio host who had been the cornerstone of ESPN Radio Syracuse’s lineup, was fired just a week after Boeheim’s announcement. The reason given by Galaxy Media Partners CEO Ed Levine was that Axe was being “overly negative” about Syracuse (which he was an alumnus of) and that he was part of an “agenda” related to Axe’s other job with Syracuse.com.
“I had a problem with the content of the show,” Levine said. “I’m an SU fan. I’m sorry, but I bleed Orange. I’m not going to apologize for that, and I think a fair reading of the Orange is appropriate. I understand (Galaxy has) a business relationship (with Syracuse), that Coach (Jim) Boeheim and I are personal friends and he’s an investor in my company.
“I understand and acknowledge all of that. We’ve called it pretty fair, and I would argue we’ve been tough on SU when the on-field or off-field events warrant it. I just think over the past six months it took a different tone and became overly dark and negative. I don’t think that’s what Syracuse fans want to hear.”
…“Brent is a full-time employee of Syracuse.com,” Levine said. “I believe Syracuse.com has an agenda in regards to Syracuse University. I don’t know what that agenda is, but that agenda was manifesting itself on our airwaves. We have no agenda. We’re in business with Syracuse University, but we call it straight down the line. What I said to Brent was I wish he covered Syracuse University with the same affection that he covered the Buffalo Bills.”
At the time, Axe told Syracuse.com’s Chris Carlson that “I had a responsibility to give an honest, fair, and thorough opinion to my audience” and that he didn’t “regret anything about the approach of the show. We put listeners on the air, and we gave them the opportunity to say what they needed to say.”
It was also noted that the historically thin-skinned Boeheim was part of an ownership group that bought a stake in Galaxy. Given that the curmudgeonly head coach was notorious for disliking media criticism, it wasn’t hard for many to put two-and-two together and think this was some kind of revenge. That it was some kind of punishment for the perception that Axe was part of the reason his legendary coaching career came to a close abruptly. Especially when the station has just announced that Boeheim would soon begin making more regular on-air appearances, not to mention that one of his final press conferences was dedicated to calling out people on sports radio shows.
No one has ever directly tied Boeheim to the decision, but Axe is finally speaking out about the incident. In an interview with Jon “JAG” Gay on the WJPZ at 50 podcast, he said that it’s hard not to connect the dots.
Thanks to @JAGinDetroit for having me on #WJPZat50. He's done amazing work with this pod. We covered my media journey and I talk about my firing from @ESPNSyracuse for the first time publicly. Hope you can give it a listen. https://t.co/36DcKfA3O0
— Brent Axe (@BrentAxeMedia) July 10, 2023
“Look, I can’t prove that Jim Boeheim had me fired, JAG, but I will go to my grave believing it was done to appease him,” Axe said.
Axe also added that there was a correlation between the way Levine communicated Boeheim’s concerns about him and the way Levine communicated the firing to the media.
“When Ed Levine talked on the record to Syracuse.com and the reasons for firing me, I mean, that is almost word-for-word what he said to me when it was an inquiry about Jim Boeheim that set him off with that,” said Axe. “I can’t prove it. I can’t prove it was done as an order by Jim Boeheim. To use a mafia term, JAG, if he ordered the hit or not. I can’t prove that. But I will go to my grave believing it was done as a hat-tip to Boeheim.”
While Axe says that Levine never directly told him that Boeheim asked that he be fired, he could read between the lines based on what was said.
“It’s announced on a Saturday [Boeheim] has more involvement in Galaxy Media,” said Axe. “I get fired on a Sunday. Like, listen, I don’t think we have to go to a whole episode of Law & Order to figure out what went on here.”
The former radio host added that he’s actually appreciative that Levine was so forthcoming in his interview about why the decision was made.
“I’m also thankful to Ed that he said what he said publicly and put it out there, as opposed to 99% of the time, you know how this goes,” said Axe. “You get the email that says ‘We wish them well,’ and you gotta explain to people 100 times what happened. Well, by him putting it out there publicly, we saw the reaction to it. I’m not tooting my own horn here but you go look at the national coverage this thing got. Bill Simmons. Keith Olbermann. Barstool. Sports Illustrated. The New York Post…That was validating to me, too. I felt vindicated. That people saw right through it. They saw the situation.
“He chose to put it on the record. I can’t speak for him. I don’t know what he thought, by doing that, how that was gonna make him look. Again, I think he’s appeasing some people that clearly fall in a minority here. And clearly are people that work at Syracuse. Boeheim himself. The people that were most upset about what I was saying.”
Axe also recently started his own Substack, Axe’s Edge, where he expounded on what it was like when he went from being a daily radio host to immediately having no outlet for that energy, which he calls “The Juice.”
“My body would send signals in the early afternoon looking for ‘The Juice.’
I craved it. I needed it. I couldn’t come close to matching it.
I was in full-blown withdrawal.
I consistently became moody and anxious, dreading the arrival of 4:00 p.m.
I feared depression was settling in, but resisted talking about it to anyone, even my wife.”
Axe is still working as a sports columnist and video content producer at Syracuse.com and says he has a podcast in the works as well. That may or may not give him the same “juice” as a daily radio show, but at least he’ll know that no one can stop him from being “overly dark and negative” if he chooses to be.