Empathy is a word not often associated with WEEI’s brash “Dennis and Callahan” morning show. But consistent empathy is what co-host John Dennis received from the station and its management in the months-long buildup to his decision Tuesday to check into a rehabilitation facility for alcohol abuse.
“I give him a lot of credit,’’ said Phil Zachary, the vice president and market manager for Entercom Boston, WEEI’s parent company. “Dino [Dennis’s nickname] could easily default back and say, ‘This is who I am, what I am.’ He has this persona on the air, this devil-may-care, Hugh Hefner type of party animal, bon vivant if you will, and for him to admit this, and to admit it publicly, I think is extremely bold.”
The 63-year-old Dennis, a Boston sports media fixture since the late ’70s when he was a sports anchor on Channel 7, revealed his decision to receive inpatient treatment to the Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley in a story that ran Thursday. He didn’t respond to a request for comment Thursday, but according to Zachary, it is something Dennis has been thinking about for a few months.
“He had come to me back in January or February and said, ‘I think this is more than just a novelty. I have a problem and I don’t want it to affect the show, I don’t want it to affect my personal life any more than it has.’ He said ‘I need your support, I need your help,’ ’’ said Zachary. “I said, ‘Just tell me what you need.’ [Our station is] a family, albeit sometimes a dysfunctional family, and I pledged my full support to him at that time.”
Dennis was expected to be absent in mid-February for a couple of weeks, with Glenn Ordway filling in. But Dennis returned to the program after a couple of days’ absence.
“We agreed to try it his way, which was to seek counseling on an outpatient basis and that seemed to be working pretty well,’’ said Zachary. “He brought a clarity to the show the last 4-5 weeks. But I don’t think he realized how difficult it was going to be, particularly with the temptations that are around all of us in this business, the social things and the games.
“We came up at a different time,’’ said Zachary, who is 60. “In the ’70s and ’80s, drinking at lunch, socializing at night, that stuff was par for the course. It’s a different world we live in.”
Dennis told the Herald that after 40 days sober he had one drink at the Red Sox’ home opener — he could be seen on the NESN broadcast gesticulating animatedly from a seat behind home plate during the game — and realized then he needed to get help.
“He did slip on Monday, then called in sick on Tuesday morning,’’ said Zachary. “Monday was a trigger. It told us what we hoped would work was not working. Now we were starting to affect other peoples’ livelihoods, we’re starting to affect the program, and that really starts to bleed into the radio station. And so that was the signal there. You fell off the wagon. That’s OK. We’re all human. But this was affecting the station. It’s the day after Opening Day, and the Bruins stuff [the firing of general manager Peter Chiarelli] was coming down, and the [Aaron] Hernandez verdict was out there, and we need our morning show intact. Dino knew that.”
Zachary sat down with Dennis and his wife Kathy on Wednesday morning. That was when Dennis decided to take a leave of absence, which he told the Herald is expected to be in the vicinity of 4-5 weeks.
“It was a very easy decision to make,’’ said Zachary. “He understands what’s at stake for him, his family, and his radio family.”
Dennis signed a new multiyear contract in August. Ratings for the program remain high — in the recently released winter audio ratings, the program was second among men 25-54 in morning drive to The Sports Hub’s Toucher and Rich program. Gary Tanguay will fill in for him through the end of next week, and others may keep the seat warm as well. But Dennis’s job will be waiting for him when he returns.
“That show is performing very well for us,’’ said Zachary. “There’s no plan beyond having him back in that chair when he’s healthy and ready to go.”
Not her best side
Bad look for ESPN’s Britt McHenry, who was caught on camera in full Mean Girl mode berating a towing company employee in a video that went viral Thursday. At one point, McHenry said to the attendant, who was cashing out McHenry after her car was towed: “I’m on television and you’re in a [expletive] trailer, honey. Lose some weight.” McHenry, who was once on a short list of candidates to be NESN’s Red Sox reporter, issued a statement later Thursday that read: “In an intense and stressful moment, I allowed my emotions to get the best of me and said some insulting and regrettable things. As frustrated as I was, I should always choose to be respectful and take the high road. I am so sorry for my actions and will learn from this mistake.” ESPN suspended McHenry for one week . . . Comcast SportsNet New England will carry Games 2 and 3 of the underdog Celtics’ first-round playoff series with LeBron James and the Cavaliers. The opener tips off Sunday on Channel 5 at 3 p.m. Game 4 would also be an ABC game. CSNNE gets Games 5, 6, and 7 if necessary. Imagine the buzz around this surprising Celtics team if somehow a couple of those games are necessary.
Chad Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.