By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

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Was Ordway firing more about ratings — or money?

Yes, as a matter of fact, I am old enough to remember Glenn Ordway as the color man back when the legendary Johnny Most was doing Celtics play-by-play.

I have nothing especially profound to say about Ordway’s departure from WEEI Radio (AM 850), a station he helped build into a sports powerhouse and that is now lagging in the ratings behind relative newcomer WBZ-FM (98.5 FM), better known as the Sports Hub. I’m only pointing out the obvious by observing that if this was all about the ratings, then no one is safe, starting with John Dennis and Gerry Callahan.

The one thing I’d keep an eye on is whether the move to dump Ordway was about money as much as it was about ratings. Marc Ganis, a sports business consultant based in Chicago, tells Matt Stout of the Boston Herald that Ordway’s salary — $500,000, down from $1 million a couple of years ago — was seriously out of whack with what local stations pay these days. Chad Finn of The Boston Globe reports that Ordway’s replacement, Mike Salk, is expected to make about $100,000.

We’ve already seen the dismantling of political talk radio in Boston. WTKK (96.9 FM) recently switched to music. WRKO (AM 680), which, like WEEI, is owned by Entercom, has cut way back over the years, to the point at which afternoon host Howie Carr is the station’s only highly paid star. The one exception to the downsizing trend on the commercial dial is Dan Rea’s evening show on WBZ (AM 1030).

Sports talk starts from a much higher ratings base than political talk, so perhaps Entercom is willing to spend some money to get WEEI back in the game. But it’s not only about ratings these days. It used to be that if you put up the numbers, the advertising would come rolling in. The ad business has changed considerably in recent years, and it’s not that simple anymore. There are plenty of non-radio options for people to listen to in their cars these days.

Ordway is talking about pursuing Internet options, and I wish him well. The challenge is that Internet radio doesn’t make money, and is generally used to promote something else. Consider the city’s two online alternative-music outlets. and RadioBDC exist to extend the brands of The Phoenix and the Globe’s site, respectively. I don’t think anyone expects them to become profit-generating monsters.

As for the battle between WEEI and the Sports Hub, it could be that the most interesting sports talk you’ll hear over the next few weeks and months will be about the stations, not what’s on them.

Photo (cc) by uzi978 and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

WEEI gets back in the game

Much as I prefer the Sports Hub to the bitter old men of WEEI, I suspect John Dennis, Gerry Callahan and company are going to make up a lot of ratings ground very quickly once they start simulcasting on WMKK (93.7 FM) this coming Monday (Boston Globe story here; Boston Herald story here).

I don’t think anyone should underestimate how badly ‘EEI has been hurt by its miserable signal (AM 850) in the face of sports-talk competition from the Sports Hub, officially WBZ-FM (98.5). Yes, the programming on the Sports Hub is better, younger and funnier. But ‘EEI has been at a huge disadvantage. And it’s not without assets, principally Michael Holley plus Red Sox and Celtics games.

It’s not just that AM is fading from the scene — no worries, I suspect, at news-and-talk station WBZ (AM 1030), which has a nice, strong signal that can be heard in most places east of the Mississippi River after sundown. It’s that 850, weak and full of static, is almost unlistenable.

As for the simulcast, I give it a few months so that WEEI can promote 93.7. Once everyone has gotten the message, Entercom will probably do something else with 850 — although, frankly, it’s not good for much more than leasing it to a foreign-language religious broadcaster.

Follow the bouncing sports talkers

So why did the Boston Globe and WEEI Radio (AM 850) reach an agreement that will allow Globe sportswriters to appear on the station for the first time in years, as the Boston Phoenix’s Adam Reilly reported yesterday?

According to the Boston Herald’s Gayle Fee and Laura Raposa, Globe sportswriter Tony Massarotti is about to jump ship to WBZ-FM (98.5 FM), the CBS-owned all-sports station that will begin competing with WEEI this fall. Massarotti was a constant on ‘EEI when he was with the Herald.

Bringing the Globe-‘EEI war to a peaceful conclusion would presumably open the way for (a) Massarotti to return to that station or, more likely, (b) beef up ‘EEI as it seeks to compete with a new afternoon show on WBZ-FM that would be co-hosted by Massarotti and Mike Felger, though it’s not entirely clear what is going on.

Weirdly enough, Globe sports-media columnist Chad Finn tweets that Globe writers will be allowed to phone in, but not be in the studio, for WEEI’s highly rated morning and afternoon drive programs, “Dennis & Callahan” and “The Big Show,” although an exception will be made if a Globie has a chance to co-host “D&C.” (Via Boston Sports Media.)

In looking over this item, it appears I may have only added to the confusion. My work here is done. You’re welcome.

A couple of Gates-related odds and ends

I want to make it clear right up front that I know neither of these tidbits speaks directly to the matter of Professor Henry Louis Gates versus Sgt. James Crowley. But I’ve been thinking about both of them, and have decided they’re worth passing on as being indicative of a certain cultural mindset.

First, can we agree that 1999 wasn’t that long ago? Good. Because it was during that year that the Cambridge Chronicle discovered the Cambridge Police Department was training its officers to believe Mexicans and members of other ethnic groups who routinely eat spicy foods were immune to pepper spray. Apologies ensued.

Second, why on earth would Crowley give his first major interview to John Dennis and Gerry Callahan on WEEI Radio (AM 850)? The officer was trying to make the case that he’s not a racist — and yet he talked with two guys who were once suspended for comparing black kids to “gorillas.”

I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that Crowley is a racist. On the other hand, the evidence that he’s “clueless,” as Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker put it yesterday, continues to build.

As for President Obama, his week was like the Red Sox’ — really bad, ending on an upbeat note, but leaving you wondering whether he can shore up some fundamental flaws (lack of message discipline, combined with a disconcerting habit of having to revise his remarks) that weren’t evident when he was winning.

Dennis, Callahan* and homophobia

People regularly tell me about the homophobic rants on “Dennis & Callahan,” on WEEI Radio (AM 850), but I rarely catch them in the act during the two- or three-minute increments in which I listen to them. I only stay when they’re actually talking about sports.

So let me pass along the BC Heights’ account of their loathsome shtick from earlier this week. As Adam Gaffin puts it: “I’d almost think Dennis and Callahan are closeted but … That would be an insult to gay men.”

*Update and correction: WEEI is so proud of the segment that it put the audio online. As it turns out, Gerry Callahan was out sick that day.

Callahan says he had throat cancer

WEEI Radio (AM 850) morning-show co-host Gerry Callahan today confirms longstanding rumors that his months-long absence in 2007 was due to serious illness. In his Boston Herald column, Callahan writes that he was being treated for throat cancer.

Bruce Allen notes that Callahan timed his announcement to coincide with the annual WEEI-NESN telethon for the Jimmy Fund. Good move — it will raise interest and could well result in more money for the Jimmy Fund.

Media Nation is no fan of “Dennis & Callahan,” with its snide putdowns of everyone to the left of Dick Cheney. But I wish Callahan well.

Dennis and Callahan return

Not much to say about the return of John Dennis and Gerry Callahan to WEEI Radio (AM 850) except that Entercom executives proved to be not quite as suicidal as they sometimes appear.

Personally, I wouldn’t have minded seeing the offensive duo take a permanent vacation. But they’re ratings monsters, and it was obvious that Entercom had to do everything it could within reason to bring them back.

Even though I suspect WEEI’s morning ratings would be fine without Dennis and Callahan, Jason Wolfe and company would be foolish to take a chance.

The last “D&C” update

Pending any real news (and certainly Entercom’s acquistion of half of WCRB (99.5 FM) qualifies as real news), I’ll let David Scott round things up one more time. Bottom line: It’s now clear that no one — not Scott, not the Herald, not the Globe and certainly not yours truly — had any idea of what was really going on until the agreement was announced yesterday afternoon.

Perhaps Entercom and Nassau can now cut a deal that would allow John Dennis and Gerry Callahan to take over the morning show on WCRB. No disrespect to Laura Carlo, but wouldn’t you love to hear Dennis introducing one of the “Brandenburg Concertos” while Callahan wonders out loud if Bach was an illegal immigrant?

“D&C” headed to WCRB?

David Scott reports that “Dennis & Callahan” may be headed for classical station WCRB (99.5 FM), which could become the hub of a regional sports network. He rounds up Globe and Herald coverage as well.

Stunt or not?

Bruce Allen of Boston Sports Media offers five reasons why the “Dennis & Callahan” lockout might be a stunt, but says he really doesn’t think that it is. Among other things, he cites Entercom sources who claim John Dennis and Gerry Callahan are looking for as much as $1.5 million apiece annually. Not much laugh potential there.

I doubt it’s a stunt, too, but you never know. Allen points to the time that Mike Adams locked himself inside the studio in order to demand a contract, an incident that was later revealed to be a hoax. But that was at least semi-amusing. What’s happening now isn’t funny or even all that interesting, my own incessant posting on the subject notwithstanding.

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