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The Duo of Dung Radio
John Dennis and Gerry Callahan should be fired

IT TOOK A grotesque racist outburst to wake up the community to a fact that some observers have known for years: John Dennis and Gerry Callahan, the morning-drive-time hosts at WEEI Radio (AM 850), are the Duo of Dung Radio, spewers of hate who built their sleazy reputation by attacking women, lesbians and gay men, the criminal-justice system, and anyone else whom they deemed deserving of a degrading comment, hostile invective, or a cheap, low sneer.

Dennis and Callahan are currently serving a two-week unpaid suspension for comparing Little Joe, the gorilla who escaped from the Franklin Park Zoo two weekends ago, to a Metco student ó that is, to an African-American child. The laggard response of station management is instructive.

At first, when the public was led to believe that the comments were made by Dennis alone (WEEI surely knew better), Dennis was forced to apologize. As the furor grew, Dennis was given a two-day suspension. Then, last Friday, the public-affairs program Greater Boston, on WGBH-TV (Channel 2), played an audiotape it had obtained that showed Callahan was in on the yuks. Try to believe that two adults could say this on the radio:

Callahan: "They caught him at a bus stop, right ó he was like waiting to catch a bus out of town."

Dennis: "Yeah, yeah ó heís a Metco gorilla."

Callahan: "Heading out to Lexington."

Dennis: "Exactly."

Yet as late as this past Monday, Callahan was still on the air. (For the Phoenixís coverage of the Dennis & Callahan contretemps, see "Media Log," at BostonPhoenix.com.)

Only when Peter Meade, the executive vice-president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, pulled $27,000 worth of advertising off the air in protest of station managementís inaction did WEEI finally take serious notice. It was poetic justice that the good guy in all this was Meade, who hosted a talk show at WBZ Radio (AM 1030) in the 1980s that exuded civility, and who continues to contribute political commentary to that station.

Dennis, a former television sports anchor, and Callahan, who also writes a freelance column for the Boston Herald, are lucky that they got away with a two-week suspension. If WEEI executives were really honest with themselves, they would have fired these two knee-jerk, narrow-minded, loud-mouthed, anti-intellectual, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-minority bigots. Then again, they would also have had to fire themselves. Though Dennis & Callahan may be the worst of WEEIís line-up, the sports-talk station specializes in gutter-level locker-room humor.

Nor is WEEI the sole offender. In the 1980s, Boston had a vibrant talk-radio culture. In those days, the late Jerry Williams was considered the most controversial of the bunch ó and all he did was rail against state government and urge listeners to call their legislators.

Today, in addition to Dennis and Callahan, we have the likes of Herald columnist Howie Carr, on WRKO Radio (AM 680), who calls welfare mothers "gimme girls" and titters like a seventh-grader whenever the subject of homosexuality comes up.

On WTKK Radio (96.9 FM), Jay Severin, who presents himself as an intelligent alternative to Carr, nevertheless refers to illegal Latin American immigrants as "wetbacks" and Muslims as "towelheads." His ruminations on the mass and volume of Senator Hillary Clintonís posterior betray an equally degrading, dismissive attitude toward women.

Then thereís former Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle, who also hosts a show on WTKK. Barnicle usually keeps himself under control. But last May, he went on a bizarre tirade, reportedly trashing the paperís "adulterous" editors and continuing (according to an account in the Herald), "Youíve got someone over there whoís having an affair with a reporter on the staff of the paper.... This is a guy whose wife has hired a private detective to follow him around and take pictures of him having an affair." Barnicle even went so far as to talk about another editor whose alleged paramour had committed suicide. Yet Barnicle didnít miss a day of work following this outrageous attack on peopleís personal lives.

Indeed, among local commercial stations, the last bastion of quality is WBZ, where David Brudnoy demonstrates every day from 7 to 10 p.m. that civility and high ratings are not mutually exclusive.

Dennis has conceded on air, as reported by the Herald's Dean Johnson, that his remark was the "single most stupid and poorly thought-out comment I've made in the 26 years I've been in Boston," but that doesnít really begin to get at it. Everyone says stupid things now and again. The problem with Dennis was that a deeply racist thought was rattling around his brain as he considered the escape of Little Joe, and, for one instance, he couldnít control himself. And, of course, Callahan thought it was funny enough to chime in. Thatís very different from Peter Blute, who objected vehemently two months ago when his morning co-host on WRKO, John "Ozone" Osterlind, raged that the Palestinian people should be "eradicated." Osterlind, by the way, was fired; and WRKO, like WEEI, is owned by the Entercom chain. But, evidently, the standards are different at the two stations.

On Tuesday a wounded Dennis was quoted as saying, in a written statement, "Iíve heard people who know nothing about me evaluate my character, analyze my heart, dissect my brain, and pronounce me a lost and despicable soul." For many who have been victimized by John Dennis and Gerry Callahanís on-air callousness, that quote undoubtedly brought a rueful smile, along with the thought, Now you know what it feels like. Dennis also said, "I understand their anger, and, frankly, I deserve much of what Iím getting." Amen.

Dennis and Callahan, of course, have a First Amendment right to say anything they like. But they do not have a First Amendment right to be paid to say it on the airwaves.

The larger problem here is the federal governmentís shameful abandonment of the public interest with regard to radio. Starting with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, most of the countryís radio stations have been gobbled up by huge media conglomerates who place profits ó by any means necessary ó above the legitimate needs of the communities they purportedly serve.

Entercom, for instance, is based near Philadelphia, and owns dozens of stations in 19 cities ranging from Seattle to Buffalo, from Milwaukee to New Orleans. Does anyone really believe Entercomís top management cares what happens in Boston as long as the revenues keep rolling in?

We urge WEEI to clear its air permanently of the stench of Dennis & Callahan, and we cheer those who have already spoken out, like Peter Meade, Metco executive director Jean McGuire, Boston mayor Tom Menino, and 10 of the 13 Boston city councilors. We also encourage others to make their feelings known.

You can send a letter to WEEI program manager Jason Wolfe at 20 Guest Street, Third Floor, Brighton, MA 02135-2040. You can also send him an e-mail via the Web site www.weei.com/contactus.asp. Write to station owner David J. Field, president and CEO of Entercom Communications Corp., at 401 City Avenue, Suite 809, Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004. Ask that your letters and e-mails be placed in the stationís public files, which by law each radio station must maintain and make available for public scrutiny. These communications can also be viewed during licensing renewal, which any citizen can object to by filing a complaint with the FCC. For further information on how to file a complaint about WEEI with the FCC, go to www.fcc.gov/cgb/radio.html. The bottom line is that there are ways to be heard by radio-station management, even if you canít get on the air.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]phx.com

Issue Date: October 10 - 16, 2003
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