By David Scott
Boston Sports Media Watch

An already contentious and prolonged contract negotiation between Entercom and its WEEI 850 AM morning team duo of John Dennis and Gerry Callahan was ratcheted up this past weekend when it was confirmed to the pair that they will not be on the air to start this week – and maybe never again at 850.

“Before I went on my scheduled (and signed-off on-by-Jason-Wolfe) vacation of last week,” said Dennis in a Sunday night phone call with Shots. “ Jason Wolfe called me into his office, where he and Julie Kahn told me they didn’t want me back on the air (after the vacation) unless the negotiations had been completed. They called (Callahan) an hour later and told him the same thing.”

Negotiations have not been completed and Monday morning’s show is scheduled to be hosted by barely tolerable Craig Mustard and the intolerable Larry Johnson with odd-man-out of the D&C negotiations, Jon Meterparel, on sports flash duty.

Both Dennis and Callahan have expiring contracts in the first week of September and negotiations have not, to this point, resulted in an agreement to keep the duo in their role as one of the city’s most listened to (and profitable) talk radio offerings.

With no progress in talks, the talk station is, according to Dennis, “locking us out.”

While it is believed the two sides are at least in the same neighborhood on salary and length of the deal, Dennis and Callahan are basing their demands on what they see as their combined value to the station. Entercom’s perception of that value (especially with the most recent ratings book indicating the absence of Callahan didn’t have any appreciable effect on the show’s popularity) appears to be somewhat lower.

Dennis is claiming that Callahan was ready to return to the morning show on Monday (August 13) and Dennis had even planned to tease the long-awaited return during the week of July 30 but says he was forbidden to do so by Wolfe.

“It makes me sick to my stomach to think that we may not be able to be on the air this week (for the Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon),” said Dennis. “That is the most important thing we do all year long. And Gerry has an important story to tell this year.”

Dennis would not elaborate on what that “story” was but it is consistent with some of the deeper whispers that have surrounded the four month hiatus forced upon Callahan due to throat problems and multiple surgeries.

Dennis, on Sunday night, was still hopeful that, “in a day or two, we can all sit down and at least agree to put this aside for Thursday and Friday (for the Jimmy Fund fundraiser) and then if they don’t want us back after that, we can move on from there.”

That’s not to say Dennis (and, we assume, Callahan) is not both mystified and disappointed by the way things are playing out, but it is to say that publicly, D&C are already playing this thing better than the Entercom duo of Kahn and Wolfe, who appear to now spend their days bouncing from one Entercom fire (Bernie McGuirk) to another (Howie Carr).

(Efforts to reach several Entercom PR firm-of-record, Regan Communications staffers, late Sunday night via email were not successful. There had been some under-the-radar murmurs that Wolfe was preparing a press release on the matter, but Shots has yet to receive any such information as of posting time. UPDATE: George Regan gives a mysterious response – likely meant to be humorous – to the Herald for Monday’s edition, sounding both smug and hardline on behalf of his major client.)

. . . So, who’s ship is sinking faster? The Red Sox and Eric Gagne’s or WEEI’s and Jason Wolfe’s? If Wolfe flubs this one the way he has flubbed his recent WRKO mis-maneuvers, his reign of terror in the New Balance Building could be near an end.

. . . Dennis playing the “cancer card” with the annual fundraiser on tap is nothing more than good spin from a savvy spinster who has seen a few things in his time in TV, PR and Radio in this town. It’s WEEI’s fault entirely that the mess is even being discussed this week during what is supposed to be the station’s most empathetic time of year.

. . . Dennis was also under the impression that Wolfe was attempting to spread the news that Dennis would be taking an un-approved vacation this week (August 13-17). “If Jason Wolfe is portraying things that way, it is nothing but a bold-faced lie. I would not take time off during this week with the Jimmy Fund radio telethon going on.”

Dennis added that he was unsure if he and Gerry’s scheduled visit to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute set for Tuesday was still on or not.

. . . This is nothing new for the way that Jason Wolfe has handled personnel decisions at WEEI. The Bob Neumeier negotiation was similarly botched, resulting in Neumeier’s departure from the midday show he co-hosted with Dale Arnold.

Ironically, Neumeier has been doing some fill-in work at the station (including with Dennis) and is head and shoulders above any other scab co-host that populates the Meat Locker. If only Wolfe hadn’t been penny-wise and pound-foolish, he’d very likely still have Neumie in his stable.

. . .There are certainly elements of truth to last week’s Shots’ item indicating that Dennis and Callahan are being sought by another entity to be the cornerstone of a new broadcasting venture that could eventually make a run at WEEI for sports talk supremacy. While that option is still being ironed out, there is no question that part of D&C’s self-worth assessment is being tied into what they think they would be able to get from another employer.

. . . It is expected that Callahan has spoken to his paper’s Jessica Heslam, who will likely have a report for Monday’s paper on the “lockout.” Note that the Messenger Blog has not been updated since July 27th as of this post – a very big gap in what had been a promising blog for the Herald. UPDATE, 3:45 a.m., Monday: The Herald plays the story huge with front page billing on Monday and with no direct quote from its own columnist. It doesn’t appear the Monday Globe has anything on the unfolding soap opera involving the duo and their station.

. . . For those conspiracy theorists who see this as a publicity stunt by ‘EEI and D&C in order to garner attention (ala Mikey Adams’s taking over the studio), we’ve got news for you: This thing has nothing to do with Buzz and everything to do with the Benjamins. There is no way ‘EEI wants to be dealing with this during a week when the station is supposed to be on display in a favorable, charitable light. And there’s no way Wolfe and Kahn need more of their stations’ dirty laundry on display for all to see.

. . . Our gut feeling as of Sunday night at 11:48 p.m. when we write this? D&C are gone from ‘EEI and Wolfe is left trying to explain to his bosses why he has now lost three of Boston’s most influential voices (Howie, Dennis and Callahan) in the course of one miserable summer.

. . . Shots will stay on top of developments in the murky, messy and potentially ugly saga that is the latest example of the Wolfe Way at WEEI. Check back regularly both here and at Bruce’s front page.