Entercom’s latest disaster

It’s one thing for Entercom to screw up its fading Boston talk station, WRKO (AM 680). It’s quite another for the company to mess with its highly successful sports operation, WEEI (AM 850). But that’s exactly what has happened.

Boston Sports Media’s David Scott got the scoop late last night, reporting that WEEI’s top-rated morning hosts, John Dennis and Gerry Callahan, have been locked out over a contract dispute. The Herald’s Jessica Heslam and Laurel Sweet follow today with a story that actually leads the paper. (Callahan is also a Herald columnist.)

Now, consider the ill-fated moves that have brought Entercom to this impasse. The big one took place last fall, when the company negotiated a deal with the Red Sox to move most of their games from the sports station to the talk station. Yes, some games are still on WEEI. The schedule is determined, as best as I can tell, by the phase of the moon. Fortunately, those of us who live in Media Nation are able to hear all the games on a non-Entercom affiliate, WBOQ (104.9 FM).

The residual effects: WEEI now has a talented host, Mike Adams, trying to do a sports show that competes with the Red Sox, an impossible task. WRKO’s Howie Carr (like Callahan, a Herald columnist) is said to have been furious over having his show cut short by Sox games, thus helping to precipitate his move — pending the resolution of lawsuits he and Entercom have filed against each other — to rival WTKK (96.9 FM). Finally, both WRKO and WEEI have had their identities fuzzed up (a talk station with the Red Sox? a sports station without the Sox?), which is deadly for marketing.

In the case of “Dennis & Callahan,” there is an additional drama. Callahan has been off the air for months, recovering from what Scott describes as “multiple surgeries to his throat.” Supposedly Callahan was going to return to the airwaves today and explain, finally, what was at the root of his health problems. Scott also writes that “D&C” may not return to WEEI at all:

The final bit of intrigue in this whole complicated mess is the multiple reports we are receiving that D&C are being coveted by a completely separate broadcasting entity that would use the pair as its cornerstone to build a New England regional sports talk network. While some industry insiders are telling us that is a real, viable possibility others are more skeptical and assume it is a ploy on behalf of D&C’s representatives to drive up their clients value on the open market.

Shots can confirm that a regional player fitting the description does have the infrastructure in place to build such a network, but whether or not the group would be able to guarantee the kind of money that Dennis and Callahan are looking for is open to debate.

Personally, I wouldn’t miss “Dennis & Callahan,” which trucks in low-rent populism, homophobia and — in one notorious incident — out-and-out racism. I think you could move the vastly superior “Dale & Holley” show into the morning drive-time slot without missing a beat or a ratings point.

But “D&C” is the number-one radio show among men between the ages of 25 and 54. I wouldn’t think Entercom executives Jason Wolfe and Julie Kahn would want to take the chance of losing them.

Then again, maybe Tom Finneran can do sports.

Virtual Dennis: If you click on the WEEI home page right now, you might see a virtual John Dennis talking up the Jimmy Fund radiothon.