Less Controversies. More Revenue: Why Kirk Minihane is being Kept off the Air at WEEI

Less Controversies. More Revenue: Why Kirk Minihane is being Kept off the Air at WEEI

“Complicated.” That was the word his former cohost, John Dennis, used to describe Kirk Minihane in an interview Maria Stephanos on WCVB. While Dennis was likely hinting at the perceived disparity between Minihane’s off air personality and his moniker, as Alex Reimer in Forbs puts it, “The Most Acerbic Man in Sports Talk Radio,” it appears the complication has spread to Kirk’s postponed return to WEEI. There are several factors to consider when examining the circumstances keeping Minihane off the air; namely, from Red Sox ownership and front office, to the Boston Globe, to millionaire activists with high influence, the evidence suggests that there is a calculated and ongoing attempt to keep Kirk Minihane off the air at WEEI.

First, there is the perceived close relationship between Entercom CEO, David Field, and Red Sox and Boston Globe owner, John Henry. As a source close to the station speculated, “Sam Kennedy and David Field are great friends...and they don’t want kirk [sic] bashing the Sox during the World Series, so they want to keep him on ice.” The fear is that Minihane, a man who once called Red Sox pitcher, David Price, “soft as baby poop” and has oft been critical of both Red Sox players and front office, might cast a tone of negativity over the Red Sox World Series run—a run that shows on the station (“Kirk and Callahan” included) have framed as a celebration of the franchise. Both these points are evidenced by Jessica Heslam’s piece in the Boston Herald, outlining Minihane’s sudden “personal time” in the summer of 2017 after accusing Red Sox ownership—both Henry and Pizzuti—of “institutional arrogance” over their handling of the alleged Adam Jones incidents involving racial slurs. “They are the most pandering organization in America,” stated Minihane, “I wouldn’t work for them if you cut me a check for a hundred million dollars. They’re pukes. Top to bottom, the organization is loaded with pandering vomits.” While John Henry does not own WEEI, the station seems beholden to his influence; as Heslam states, in 2016, “WEEI inked a seven-year deal…with the Sox to keep broadcasting their games.” Minihane disappeared from the airwaves shortly following his inflammatory comments. Influence, it seems, can be bought.

Second, there is the consideration of the questionable managing of both Minihane’s hiatus and public displays of support for him on EEI airwaves from an ethical and public relations standpoint. But first, some history. One could easily argue that Kirk Minihane saved WEEI. With the inception of the Sports Hub in 2009, EEI found itself playing second fiddle to a station that was considered younger, edgier, and more relevant—framing EEI as “the lodge.” In Chad Finn’s 2011 article “‘Sports Hub’ Rules Spring Ratings Book,” Finn states that the Sports Hub “finished first in the market among the all-important men 25-54 demographic, earning an 8.8 share. The classic rock station WZLX was second, at 7.6. WEEI-AM was tied for sixth (5.1). With the share in the Boston market for its Providence-based FM station included, WEEI moves up to fourth (5.6).” The supremacy of the Sports Hub continued in 2012 which found WEEI tied for seventh in the fall ratings book. Likewise,WEEI finished third in fall ratings in 2013 and 2014—with one important caveat.

Enter Kirk Minihane. As Finn states in a 2014 column, “WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan program, which also includes third host Kirk Minihane, was strong second with a 9.7” despite the station finishing third overall. And in 2015, while the Sports Hub remained number one overall, “The ratings [were] WEEI’s highest since the current methodology for measuring listenership went into effect in January 2009.” With Kirk in the fold, ratings continued to increase, and in 2017, “WEEI’s Kirk & Callahan won morning drive.” While correlation does not always equal causation, the numbers bear out that there was a considerable increase in ratings after the addition of Minihane.

The question, then, is why a station that was finishing in seventh place before Minihane arrived, treat his “indefinite leave” due to mental health in such a questionable way. The answer is… complicated. In the first place, sources close to the station, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, have stated that the “previous GM [Phil Zachary] protected his ppl. [sic] New ex-CBS (Hannon) regime is more sales/business focused. No one really knows how it’s [sic] all will play out.” The logic seems to be less controversies: more revenue.

Next, there is the issue of public support for Minihane on the airwaves. Sources within the station confirm that there is a deliberate attempt to censor any station programs that show support for Minihane, talk about the state of the current K&C show, or discuss the fans’ desires for him to return. Sources close to the station confirm that programs have been pulled from on-demand and calls supporting Minihane have been scrubbed from station audio because, as another source confirms, it is a “sensitive issue and may affect sponsors.” Any questions to on air hosts regarding Minihane are greeted with the universal—and ostensibly company approved—response: “we all hope Kirk will be back soon.”

And why would the topic of Kirk Minihane’s return be a sensitive issue for sponsors? It is at this point where we arrive at, as the cliché goes, “the man behind the curtain.” A certain millionaire activist who wields incredible influence over public officials and sponsors with strong ties to writers at the Boston Globe. As one source close to the station states, this activist “is a terror. Vindictive. Nothing better to do. I remember one day I was told we had a new sponsor and they ran exactly ONE spot. Before it could run again they pulled their ads because he harassed them.” This individual’s influence stretches so far that this person was able to scare away a sponsor after a single advertisement. The reason behind this vitriol? As simple as what amounts to a difference of opinion.

As blogs elsewhere have covered and sources inside the station have confirmed, “It all stemmed from a support group for parents of transgender kids. It was a forum of some kind. Someone posted an old clip [2015 then Dennis and Callahan] from headlines…and it included the guys being critical of some family propping up this daughter who wanted to transition. It was a national story but the family was local. The guys said it was child abuse (you might be familiar with it. Kirk and Gerry did a podcast about all this one day).... and that clip being posted to that forum was the genesis of all this.” The ethics of whether hormone treatments and transition surgeries are appropriate for an underage child are to be tackled on another day; however, the fact remains that taking issue with this practice is a legitimate concern—not abusive or hate speech.

The activist in question, then, seemingly outraged over the comments, proceeded to launch a campaign against the Kirk and Callahan by contacting station advertisers and pressuring them to withdraw all K&C advertising. The following is an email from this activist obtained by TurtleBoy: “I have recently heard (insert business here) advertising on the “Kirk and Callahan” show on WEEI. You may not be aware that these radio ‘personalities’ have a long history of controversy on race, gender, and sexual orientation talk on the radio.”

As Callahan and Minihane state in the podcast discussing this issue, over the course of several months Minihane and Callahan along with Program Director, Joe Zarbano, who declined to comment on this story, worked to appease this activist, including a face-to-face meeting with this person to come to some sort of resolution. But the emails to station sponsors continued, forcing Callahan and Minihane to respond.

Fans of Kirk and Callahan might be familiar with a podcast where Kirk and Gerry carefully discussed what was happening with this activist, but fans might not be aware that there was a second podcast that was taped—a special edition of Enough About Me with Kirk Minihane. The podcast was with a third individual whose career and reputation were allegedly greatly affected this activist; management killed the podcast when this activist filed a public records request for the correspondence between Minihane and the interviewee: “I went into the WEEI Studios. On a Monday morning over the summer. I have to fact check the date. Met with Zarbano for 1/2 hour or so. Kirk came in after his show was over, we chatted about [the activist], Ken Laird took me into studio and ran the board during taping Kirk and I did a 20 minute or so segment. They wanted to talk with [another party]… His attorney did not let him do podcast. WEEI lawyers got spooked, because [the activist] put in a public records request for my correspondence with Kirk and Zarbano.” It seems that WEEI attorneys wanted Minihane to slow down in his attempt to fight back at a person negatively impacting both himself and the station.

Beyond the issue of station sponsors, there is the consideration of the connection between this activist and writers at the Boston Globe. Minihane has made it well known that he is no fan of the Globe—i.e. his coverage the Kevin Cullen story—while the Globe has displayed harsh critique of the station. Shirey Leung’s article “WEEI Hosts Peddle Cheap and Vile Shock. It's Time to Force a Change” published in the Globe earlier this year appears to have incentivized the station to hold sensitivity training in February of 2018. It has been implied but not confirmed that a relationship exists between this activist and a prominent writer at the paper. Given the political environment and the station’s premium on positive public relations, one could surmise that corporate attorneys see Minihane returning as a liability.

WEEI’s parent company is Entercom, a company that already has no shortage of controversies—Mike Francesa, Craig Carton, and Joe Beningo for example. It is not surprising, then, for a big corporation to be conservative towards legal matters and public relations concerning corporate partnerships. However, one has to wonder if, in a political and cultural climate where free speech is regularly under attack, whether a line exists between free speech and corporate partnerships, whether loyalty to a valued and influential employee should eclipse fear of litigation, whether mental health is taken seriously on a corporate level or exploited to avoid liability through stonewalling and forcing out an employee. The answers to these questions are not apparent, and, for the time being, it seems the situation will remain…complicated.