Opinion

Shirley Leung

Entercom made the right call with Kirk Minihane

Fort Myers, FL 2/19/2018: At the same time that Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner (not pictured) were taking questions from the media, a short distance away, team CEO Sam Kennedy (left) was engaging in a conversation with WEEI morning drive talk show hosts Kirk Minihane (second from right) and Gerry Callahan (far right), as well as an unidentified man (second from left). The first full squad workout of Spring Training for the Red Sox was today at the Player Development Complex at Jet Blue Park. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
Jim Davis/Globe Staff
Kirk Minihane (second from right) spoke with Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy (left) during spring training.

It must have been a difficult decision for the honchos at Entercom Communications to take one of its biggest stars, Kirk Minihane, off one of its most prominent radio stations. But it’s the right call.

During his five years on WEEI, Minihane — who acts like a Howard Stern for sports radio — has been suspended or abruptly went on vacation several times after making rude or otherwise unacceptable comments. Most egregious in my book was in 2014, when he called Fox Sports sideline reporter Erin Andrews a “gutless bitch” for the way she handled an interview during baseball’s All-Star Game. More on that later.

Minihane isn’t going very far; in fact, he remains in the Entercom family. He’s leaving his top-rated sports radio morning show, which he never really wanted to be about sports, to launch a radio show, podcast, and column on Radio.com, a digital platform also owned by Entercom.

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It’s a risky move all around — for Minihane, WEEI, and Entercom — but listeners and advertisers who are tired of the vile commentary will thank the broadcasting behemoth for cleaning up the airwaves. “Kirk & Callahan” will become “Mut & Callahan,” with Minihane’s cohost, Gerry Callahan, staying on the morning show with Mike Mutnansky, who has frequently been the third voice on the program.

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But there is one thing.

In explaining the move to its affiliates, WEEI said in a statement: “This national platform will provide Kirk the opportunity to host a show the way he envisions without having to worry about certain station and FCC guidelines.”

What exactly does that mean? Does he not have to “worry” about some of the WEEI sensitivity training he went through after one of the station’s cohosts mocked Don Yee, Tom Brady’s sports agent, using an Asian accent that Yee doesn’t have?

For sure, it means Minihane can swear all he wants on Internet radio. F-bombs away! But for a Boston sports radio station that has become synonymous with racist and sexist banter, I worry the statement reads like a thinly disguised wink and nod to let Kirk be Kirk, albeit to what is certainly going to be a much smaller audience.

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Let me remind you in more detail about what he said about Andrews, the Fox reporter. After calling her an offensive name, Minihane continued to insult Andrews in an on-air “apology,” suggesting that her success is based on looks rather than her ability and saying if she “weighed 15 pounds more she would be a waitress.”

Fox temporarily pulled its advertising from WEEI. Only then did Entercom decide to suspend Minihane without pay for a week.

Every MBA student knows this: Corporate culture is set from the top. In putting Minihane on Radio.com, Entercom CEO David Field is setting a new tone — later than he should have, but it’s good he’s at least doing it.

Up until now, Entercom has enabled cheap shock to flourish because it has been ratings gold. “Kirk & Callahan” was the highest-rated morning drive show in Boston over the summer among the male 25-54 demographic.

Entercom seems to be rethinking that strategy after the Yee incident in February. Companies began pulling their support from WEEI after I wrote a column suggesting that only advertisers can force change, by voting with their money. A few days later, the station did the right thing by suspending live programming for a day so staff could go through sensitivity training.

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Here’s what I’d like to think: Thursday’s statement was a poor choice of words. I’d like to think Minihane will make the best of his new gig without being rude and crude to women and others. Just by making this move, WEEI and Entercom have turned a
corner.

But there is one other thing, and it’s no small thing. Entercom, a publicly-traded company, needs to fix the fact that it has an all-male board. Do your homework, guys. Diversity is even good for the bottom line.

Shirley Leung is interim editorial page editor. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.