Weaponized Mental Health: Why the Kirk and Callahan Show still hasn’t Addressed Minihane, and How Listeners can be a Force for Change.
In the words of his former cohost, John Dennis, “There’s trouble to be found on Twitter.” At least that was the case for Kirk Minihane when he addressed the apparent lack of public support from his cohosts Gerry Callahan and Mike Mutnansky in a tweet addressing his absence: “Obviously I’m disappointed in Gerry and Mut. But they’ve made their choice. I’m OK with it. But if they were off the air I’d be screaming all day. Maybe that’s why I’m not on.”
It seems, from his perspective, Mut and Callahan have not done enough to support him throughout his extended hiatus from WEEI, and a quick scroll through @KirkandCallahan twitter mentions shows that the fans, mostly, agree with him. In fact, over the past several weeks there has been a passionate and coordinated Twitter campaign to put enough pressure on station management to get Kirk Minihane back on the radio. And, according to one source close to WEEI brass, management is listening: “David Field is furious over Twitter response and Kirk’s cryptic tweets.” Followers of Kirk on twitter might be familiar with these “cryptic tweets.” When Barstool Sports recently announced new shows coming to their radio station, Minihane responded with “really?” Beyond that, he has sub-tweeted the show by quote-tweeting a very odd tweet by Peter Gammons, stating, “What are three things not discussed on WEEI this morning?”
According to sources, the sense is that the station is frustrated by both Kirk’s antics on Twitter and the vehement response from fans tweeting at Entercom and station leadership. In fact, Kirk himself retweeted a tweet from Entercom CEO, David Field, and to no surprise, his retweet sparked almost 70 responses defending Minihane and accusing the company unfair treatment and exploiting someone’s mental health due to pressure from the Globe, the activist discussed in the previous piece, and Red Sox ownership. The irony of the situation is that, unlike most twitter backlashes in 2018, where companies bend to the will of an impassioned audience online, it seems Entercom, at least for the time being, has chosen to ignore this issue; however, that doesn’t mean they don’t see it.
In fact, beyond the claim that Field is “furious” over the twitter backlash, multiple sources have asserted that on air members of WEEI could face disciplinary action from the station if they publicly defend Minihane. As a source close to the station states, “It’s a tug-of-war stalemate. Both sides making demands, neither side budging. Aside from repeating the company line, ‘we hope Kirk will be back soon,’ nobody is allowed to talk about the situation on air or they will face suspension.” Another source inside the station stated that if they were to say too much about the Minihane situation, “there’s a chance I’d be done.” Again, for a station seemingly attempting to behave like everything is fine, the situation seems to be much more dire. While the assertion of threatened suspensions for defending an on-air partner may seem a bit extreme, all one has to do is examine the character of Gerry Callahan in context of his past behavior to see that this claim holds water.
Callahan, a man who, in Massachusetts, has no issue publicly supporting Trump and defending his policies on the radio is familiar and adept at taking unpopular positions. The fact that, other than teasing that “Kirk will be back soon,” he has remained silent evidences the fact that there is a larger issue and edict down from station management in regards to discussions about Kirk Minihane. In fact, the fans—this author included—ought to apologize to Callahan and Mut for the online backlash they have received. In statements from folks familiar with the situation, it has been made clear that they stand in solidarity with Kirk, but their hands are tied. As a second source close to the station with knowledge of the situation puts it, “Kirk was critical of Gerry on Twitter the other day, but I don't think he means it. Kirk knows Gerry has to stay on the air for him to return. If Gerry put his neck on the line through a strong defense of Kirk and was taken off the air because of it, Kirk would never be able to return.” In other words, Callahan is essentially being held hostage; if he defends Minihane, he jeopardizes the entire show; if he remains silent, he is criticized for his lack of loyalty. It is a no win situation.
This information evidences the palpable fear and tentative nature of Callahan and Mut on the show in the past several weeks. In a segment of the show on October 30th, Callahan, responds to Mut who stated that the show needed Kirk, stating,“That goes hand in hand, stupid. We need you if we get Kirk, because he loves you, you’re like his favorite.” This audio was later scrubbed from on-demand. And what was so egregious in this clip that it was sensitive enough for the station to censor it? It seems that Callahan’s admission “IF we get Kirk” is to blame for this audio being removed because it breaks from the company line that “Kirk will be back soon.” The word “if” casts doubt that Kirk will ever return.
Beyond the topics of threatened suspensions and Twitter backlashes, there is the issue of Minihane’s contract to consider. As reported by Henry McKenna of The Big Lead, “Minihane is still under contract with the Entercom-owned radio network…However, Minihane is unlikely to return to the station’s radio waves, according to one person, despite the station still having a morning show with his namesake, ‘Kirk and Callahan.’” McKenna’s statements are corroborated by a second source close to the station, stating that the “meeting between Kirk and WEEI brass did not go in his favor, and his return to the station is very unlikely.” A third source has echoed this sentiment: “management doesn’t want him back since the ratings have been good without him.” While it is true that—without Minihane for most of the book—“Kirk and Callahan” won the mornings this summer in the all-important 25-54 age group, summer ratings are largely deceptive. Their competition, “Toucher and Rich” took most of the summer off, and the lack of live sporting events makes it a slow time for sports talk radio. This sample size is not sufficient to determine whether ratings will continue to be strong without Minihane. In fact, most fans assert that they only tune in to hear information about Minihane, and that, once they have confirmation that he will never return, they will stop listening. It still stands to reason that, without Minihane, the ratings would fall back to what they were in 2012, and revenue will most likely suffer.
With confirmation that Kirk is, indeed, under contract, the next question is how long will he remain under contract? For those unfamiliar, in radio, most contracts for on air personalities restrict where those personalities may work and how soon they may work at a new company after release from contract. As Glenn Halbrooks in an article on non-compete clauses in media contracts states, “While media companies’ standard contracts may differ widely in length and detail, the vast majority include non-compete clauses.” He continues, “They are designed to protect a media company by restricting where the person signing the contract may work in the future. In other words, a non-compete clause means you can't have a bad day at your station and decide you're going to quit to go work across the street at the competing station.” Some companies are willing negotiate release of a non-compete if the employee is willing to sign a non-disparagement clause. In fact, this exact topic was discussed on the Kirk and Callahan show in regards to Megyn Kelly’s recent departure from NBC and her resistance to signing one of these non-disparagement clauses. During headlines on October 31st, Callahan stated, “I think it’s called an NDA, a non-disparagement agreement…how much would you require to do that…to never criticize anyone here [WEEI]… it’s harder for some people than others, would you say?” Mut and producer, Chris Curtis agreed with Gerry’s sentiment. Is Callahan asking us to read between the lines? That may be the case.
The topic of non-disparagement agreements on the Kirk and Callahan show seems prescient considering information form a source close to the station. While national outlets have speculated that Minihane could likely end up on Barstool Sports Radio soon, one source clarifies this information: “Kirk will not be working at Barstool anytime soon because Entercom will not budge on non-compete clause in contract. His choice is to either work at WEEI and play nice (i.e no more bashing Globe or Sox) or not work.” The same sources continues stating that there are talks around the station regarding Minihane, an NDA, and negotiating release from this NDA in order for Minihane to be able to speak freely about what is happening at the station. While the sense is that Minihane would like nothing more than to speak freely, it seems that Entercom would be unlikely to release him from either a non-compete or a non-disparagement agreement. Beyond that, we could not confirm when Minihane’scontract is up; however, on a 2016 podcast with Justin McIsaac, Minihane stated that he signed a 5-6 year deal after McIsaac was laid off in 2015. While it is difficult to determine whether Minihane is joking or being serious in this statement, if he did indeed sign a multi-year deal in 2015, this would mean he would be under contract—at minimum—until 2020.
Ultimately, if true, this puts Minihane in a difficult situation. It seems that he has three viable options before him: 1. Negotiate release from his non-compete by signing a non-disparagement agreement, 2. Sit on the bench and remain off the air until the end of his contract, or 3. Play nice and come back on the air but with restriction on what he is allowed to talk about. None of these options seem ideal for the either the fans or Minihane. There is, however, a fourth option. With the advent of social media, fans have been empowered. One needs to look no further than shows like Community or Arrested Development to see examples of fan outrage leading to corporate responses. At the end of the day, Entercom owns radio stations, and radio stations ought to be accountable to their listeners—not their corporate partners, sports teams, or newspapers. If listeners continue to make it clear that they want Kirk back—on twitter, in emails, in letters, and in calls to the station and Entercom—perhaps there will be enough pressure that they will allow Kirk to return. The other, more severe, option would be complete station boycott and allow the station to feel the displeasure in the ratings. On Friday, Callahan teased that Kirk could be back as soon as Monday, November 5th. Whether that tease will pay off, remains to be seen.