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Radio Has Been Good To Ron Gleason But He’s Ready For a Change

Gleason recently announced his retirement and will be stepping down in a little less than five months and has been with WBBM since November 2005

Jim Cryns

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Mark Twain said some people got it wrong about his death. If you’re one of the folks that are certain the Chicago Bears are leaving WBBM, you might end up with a Twain-esque egg on your face.

“I must tell you, WBBM losing the Bears is not official,” said Ron Gleason,  director of news and programming at WBBM in Chicago. “I can understand some are concerned from an economic standpoint, but I don’t see how keeping the Bears on WBBM would be any economic loss.”

However, Gleason did say it would hurt if the Bears did leave the station.

“Not just me, I think it will hurt Jeff Joniak, Tom Thayer, who have been calling the games on this station for 22  years,” Gleason said. “This is my 22nd year with the Bears broadcast team, and it’s still the only thing I do on the air. Radio is ingrained in all our lives. Sure, it would be hard to take.”

While the Bears leaving WBBM is expected but not etched in stone, Gleason has in fact chiseled out his departure from the station and the business.

“I love what I do,” he said. “Radio is in my blood. I’ve known I wanted to be in radio since I was 12 years old.”

Gleason recently announced his retirement and will be stepping down in a little less than five months. He’s been with WBBM since November 2005, overseeing the station’s expansion from its AM-only signal on the 780 frequency to a simulcast with 105.9 FM in 2011. Radio Ink magazine has named him one of the nation’s top 10 program directors each of the last two years.

That’s the way to do it. Go out with a bang.

“One thing most people don’t understand is that when you’re in sports media, you’re working when everyone else is at leisure,” Gleason explained. “You work nights, weekends, holidays. I can’t tell you how many Thanksgivings, kids’ soccer games, family functions I’ve missed out on, but I wouldn’t trade back for the world.”

Gleason started covering sports while still a senior at Northwestern University. 

“I was a 21-year-old kid who got season credentials to the White Sox, Bears, and Bulls. I had to take public transportation to and from the games. It was the ‘L’ train there or a bus back. We didn’t phone stuff in so I’d go back and cut up tape at the John Hancock building.” 

Following his graduation from Northwestern, Gleason spent a year in Cheboygan, Michigan at WCBY-AM and FM.

“I did tons of high school play-by-play,” Gleason said. “I would call four games each weekend, two on Saturday and two on Sunday. I chose to do a lot of them solo as you got paid $15 bucks alone and only $10 if I worked with a color man. I figured I was working 90 hours a week trying to keep the players’ nicknames straight while sitting at the top of the high school stands in light rain, trying to spot the chains. It was quite an adventure.”

Gleason worked five and a half years at WJOL and WLLI in Joliet, Illinois, before he started his career as a sports reporter and anchor at WBBM. In 1988, he accepted a sports director position at WMAQ, where he also served as backup play-by-play announcer for White Sox baseball.

He stayed three years at WMAQ, until moving to the fledgling WSCR, The Score, as the station’s first director of sports and programming in 1991. At WSCR, Gleason oversaw the station’s launch from daytime-only to 24 hours, with two frequency changes and multiple ownerships.

“When I decided to join The Score, the frequency 830 AM was dark,” Gleason explained. “I agreed to join them as program director in July of that year, but they didn’t have a license at that point. It had been dark due to the previous owner having some FCC issues, but they cleared it up before the deal was consummated.” 

WSCR went daytime on January 2nd. It was very different stuff. A lot of people were skeptical and thought it was going to be a ‘Mickey Mouse’ thing that would quickly fade. 

“Ed Sherman, then the Chicago Tribune’s college football writer, was the first guest,” Gleason said. “He and Tom Shaer discussed the split national championship of Miami and the University of Washington. Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and football analyst John Madden called in later that day.”

WSCR was off to the races. 

Gleason said he became aware of all-sports stations when there were about 30 around the country, outside of Chicago. He knew WFAN, and the changes they went through. Switching frequencies, then featured Don Imus. To whet his creative juices, he’d head home.

“I’d go to California and lay on the beach with my radio next to me,” Gleason said. “I used to listen to the Mighty 690 in San Diego, where Jim Rome was a local talk show host at the time. I listened to Lee ‘Hacksaw’ Hamilton and the San Diego Chargers. I didn’t listen much to morning radio. I listened to the original Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford. I gleaned a lot listening to them on the beach.”

Comfortable with the WSCR switch, Gleason absolutely knew the format would work. 

“I had a good feeling of what we wanted to sound like,” Gleason said. “First, we wanted to be entertaining. Informational in the morning, but as the day went on we wanted to become more raucous. We felt we could bring in more than just sports. At the time our target audience was men 25-54. We could create a locker room environment with more sports talk.”

Most of the big hirings were made before Gleason arrived. 

“I’d kept in touch, listened to a ton of cassette tapes. I knew the kind of people they were looking for.”

Tom Shaer and Dan MacNeil were onboard before Gleason got there. 

“We had conversations with Brian Hanley, Dan Jiggetts. As we went along I’d put in my two cents.  We had one major slot remaining in mid-December that was still a question mark. We’d talked to a number of people. I’d been listening to tapes for a month. There was a guy named Dan Vogel out of Milwaukee. Bruce Wolf was another guy I considered. I knew Wolf was going to be a great comedic talent, but he wasn’t an X’s and O’s kind of guy so he withdrew his name.”

You’re always looking for that intangible in a hire. At the same time, there are tangible needs.

“We definitely needed somebody who sounded like Chicago, who knew what they were talking about when it came to Chicago sports,” Gleason explained. 

“Whoever we brought on had to understand the Chicago landscape, know all about the teams. Their strengths, their weaknesses. What they’d like to see happen with the teams or what they were already satisfied with.”

Longtime WSCR personality Mike North was an unforeseen find. North had a hotdog business near WXRT. Their employees would go there regularly for lunch and enjoy hearing Mike spout off about sports while serving hot dogs.

“They sold time to Mike North to do what at the time would have been considered a sports handicap show,” Gleason said. “At the time, gambling on games within Illinois wasn’t legal, but you could talk about it. Mike was interesting. I had put his tape on the stereo in my condo at the time. I was with my then-fiance, now wife, and had it on in the background. Suddenly she started laughing, and I asked what she was laughing about. She told me Mike was funny, entertaining. He was talking about sports and my fiance knew nothing about sports, but still enjoyed him. It was the personality she heard. We’ve been together for 30 years now and I learned she is an excellent consumer. There was a time she worked in international books rights for a company. She’d have to look at manuscripts to determine if they should be purchased.” 

Gleason knew North was raw, but his instincts wouldn’t let him go. Gleason sat down with North and told him he’d like to bring him in as a weekend talk show host. 

“He said he appreciated that, but he told me I should hire him for his weekday job. He’d say, ‘Here’s why you should hire me for that job.’ 

Other people we were looking at weren’t right. So, they put Mike North in there without a contract. They figured if he didn’t work, we could make a change.

We decided to pair him with Dan Jigggits and hear what they sounded like,” Gleason said. “Three days after starting on the air, I knew the Jiggetts and North show was gold. We knew after three days we had something special.”

The Monsters of the Midday show, is a twist on the popular Chicago moniker, ‘Monsters of the Midway.’

Gleason knew they had won the figurative lottery. The only problem was the radio numbers didn’t reflect their confidence in this new product. Back then, Gleason said they had a diary system for ratings. But it was delayed and a month behind the date. Two months in, Gleason said the station didn’t show up in the book. 

“In the first quarter, we didn’t see much,’ Gleason said. “But we knew through January, February and March, we were lighting up the phones. Papers were writing everything about us. Conversations were generating gobs of conversation in the marketplace. The teams in the town were upset because they weren’t used to being criticized. We couldn’t understand why we weren’t showing up in the diaries, so we flew out to Laurel, Maryland. We found out a few things. It turned out Arbitron didn’t properly calculate the daytime numbers.” 

Gleason said the ratings were incorrectly correlated from the 820 frequency, which was sold to Westinghouse. 

“Right before we switched to 1160, we were number one in the 25-54 demographic. The radio industry was stunned. How was it possible for a daytime station to be number one in the target audience?” 

Gleason had the distinct pleasure of working with Walter Payton. 

“He was a playful guy, to the hilt,” Gleason said. “I would go and meet with him at his office to sign our contracts. We’d sit down with him and his associates. I reached out to shake his hand and he squeezed so hard it ached. Each ensuing time we met, I’d put out my hand to shake, then instinctively pull it back. I couldn’t go through that pain each time.”

Before going into management, Gleason covered the Bears from 1985-87 and saw the Bears players all the time. 

“I went to the post-game press conferences in a tent under the seats in Soldier Field. It was freezing, the players would come out and talk. One time I dropped something and Walter bent over to pick it up and gave it to me. 

That’s how nice he was. This is the same guy who in the locker room would walk by and pinch your butt.”

As a kid, Gleason worked full-time at night for Chicago’s Sportsphone. 

“Boy, that goes way back,” He said. “I was one of the original full-timers. There was Les Grobstein during the day. I worked with Tom Green at night. It was unbelievable training. I’d give a 60-second recording with sports updates. There was no internet, so we were the sole source. Gamblers were looking for out-of-town scores, and the only way they could get them was by calling this place. It was really cool. We also covered teams, gathered sound.” 

One of the reasons Gleason got into the business was Vin Scully. He grew up in Los Angeles and listened to him call Dodger games. He listened to Chick Hearn call games for the Lakers. Dick Enberg came out of Los Angeles, another Gleason favorite.

“I never met Vin Scully,” Gleason said. “I covered Dodger games once in a while but was a bit intimidated by him. You have to remember I was in awe of this man. I interviewed Chick Hearn for an old sportsline show on WBBM. It was a thrill because he was from Aurora, Illinois. I would listen to every single Dodger game on the air. I kept season statistics on my own, line by line. There was no other way to get that kind of information.”

Gleason is retiring, morphing from going full-throttle every day, to taking his foot off the accelerator completely. It could prove to be tricky. 

“I’m a workaholic, busy 24-7. I’ve been in this particular role for 17 years. Sports is still a part of it. I wouldn’t say I’m scared of retirement, but I don’t want to be involved in business around the clock anymore. I’d like to keep my hands in it. 

I want to be able to do what I want. I have a place in the desert in South Carolina. I also want to be able to turn something down by telling them, ‘I’m on a three-week vacation’.”

Bon Voyage 

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BNM Writers

Kansas City Chiefs’ Playoff Runs Giving Local News Talkers Bump

BNM’s Pete Mundo writes in five years of watching the Kansas City Chiefs make deep playoff runs, we haven’t seen any real loss, in fact, we’ve seen bumps.

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In case you hadn’t heard, the Kansas City Chiefs are heading to a fifth-straight AFC Championship Game. Coincidentally, that coincides with the five years I have worked and hosted a News Talk Show in Kansas City. 

Some want to give all the credit to guys like Patrick Mahomes. Meantime, I sit back and wonder if I’m the real good luck charm this team needed all along. But I digress… 

In my first year, it admittedly concerned me that the Chiefs were making a huge playoff run. I thought it would mean we’d lose all our listeners to sports talk. But in five years of watching this team make deep postseason runs, we haven’t seen any real loss for our station in January/February, in fact, we’ve seen bumps in prior years, as more Kansas Citians may be sampling the AM band looking for the two sports stations in KC (which only reside on AM) and stumble upon our News Talker.

That being said, we’ve also enjoyed getting to tap into the city’s excitement and giving our own spin on one of the most dominant sports teams in recent memory. No, we aren’t going to start breaking down the Chiefs secondary against the Bengals wide receivers for four hours. That’s not our place or role. But I will, and our station should, discuss the energy in the city, the business angles of what hosting these events mean to big and small business alike, and more conversations that are appropriate for the format.

If it’s your market that’s next with a big World Series, Super Bowl or NBA Championship run, do not fear. Just own it in the lane that you operate and think outside the box. Your audience will be there.

Two examples come to mind that we’ve tapped into this week. First, we welcomed Patrick Mahomes’ high school coach on the show. Here’s someone who knew Mahomes when he was a teenager. He shared stories about the likely NFL MVP growing up that sports talk listeners weren’t going to get. We turn the story of the week into a human interest story on the biggest star in town that appeals to casual fans, along with some diehards, who may stumble upon our station.

Second, we are having a conversation this Friday with the man who is set to sing the National Anthem before the game on Sunday. He is a Missouri native named Generald Wilson, who is a veteran and has sung at several NFL Playoff games, World Series and more. Anything that combines celebrating the United States of America, with a local veteran and the Kansas City Chiefs, is a home run for us.

This is an opportunity for us to lead the way with civic pride as a talk show and talk station. We aren’t going to beat the sports station at their game, and nor will we, or should we, try to. But we can take another exciting opportunity for Kansas City and make it fit our audience’s wants and needs. 

Plus, if nothing else, this is a welcomed reprieve from talking about classified documents. This reminds me, I need to go through one more file cabinet in my office… Go Chiefs. 

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BNM Writers

Mark Davis Was Always Fascinated Hearing Folks On Radio

Mark Davis told Barrett News Media’s Jim Cryns that growing up he was always fascinated hearing folks on the radio, leading to an eventual career.

Jim Cryns

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I’d only been speaking with Mark Davis for about thirty seconds when an epitaph for his tombstone occurred to me.

Here lies Mark Davis. An unapologetic conservative, but he was never a jerk about it. 

A few moments later we were discussing An Evening with Mark Davis and Mike Gallagher, to be held on April 18, 2023, in Grapevine, Texas, in the heart of Dallas-Ft. Worth.  Gallagher makes a daily appearance on the Davis morning show just ahead of his own program on the Salem Radio Network. I suggested it reminded me of the current tour with Steve Martin and Martin Short.  

“That’s a wonderful comparison,” Davis said. “During this event, you’ll see an obvious mutual affection that enables us to deliver a show reflective of the segment we do on the air. We’ll cover a lot of topics, put our spin on things and have a good time. I think that will appeal to a lot of people.”

Davis said it’s natural for him and Gallagher to do a joint event given their chemistry. It could be as natural as two old friends sitting on a couch in the middle of the stage, sipping Scotch or coffee. Whatever two opinionated old men drink. Two avuncular figures getting together for a chat, yelling at kids to get off their lawn.

“Mike is a true friend, someone I love to spend time with both on and off the air,” Davis said. “Our relationship on radio is our predominant connection, but we’re constantly on the phone with each other. I’ve been with him through loss, various moves, issues both large and small. He’s always there for me, in good times and bad.  He’s like the brother I never had.”

Davis said Gallagher is a guy you’d like to have a cup of coffee with, adding that his friend enjoys the rough and tumble of topical talk radio, but always with a giving spirit.

“We both want to do shows to make a person’s day better. Give people something to both think and laugh about. We go through tough times but that doesn’t mean we can’t approach things in upbeat tones.”

You can listen to The Mark Davis Show weekdays from 7-10 am on 660 AM The Answer (KSKY) in the DFW area, or online at 660amtheanswer.com

Growing up, Davis said he was always fascinated hearing folks on the radio. 

“As a teenager I was captivated listening to people having conversations.  This was before I ever thought of doing this for a living.  It made me appreciate the magic of hearing people in a studio across town, yet it felt like it was presented just for me.”

His father was a career Air Force man. His mother stayed home to raise her only son until he went to high school. She then sold real estate and was an executive with United Way in Washington, DC.

“I was given a lot of latitude to follow any career I wanted,” Davis said. “I was an only child, but we were solid middle class.  It’s not like I was pampered.  But do the math.  I got 100 percent of the parental attention.”

“They were always there for me,” Davis explained. “I was loved. If I had the choice, I guess I’d rather have had a sibling. To have someone who was in the same proverbial boat. A shared experience with the same mother and father. I never knew what that felt like.”

When he was 16 and growing up in the Watergate era, Davis was very interested in current events, news, and journalism. The imagery was all around, and he’d already enjoyed writing. 

Davis wanted to study something in school that would give him a chance for a job. He didn’t think a degree in history or English screamed employability. Both of his parents recognized their son’s interest in reading and told him covering news might be a logical career choice.

At the University of Maryland in 1975, Davis started taking courses in print journalism. 

“I learned to write headlines, turn column inches into certain amounts of space,” Davis explained. “But in my junior year I discovered WMUC, the campus radio station. That changed everything for me. Part of the charm of college radio is you get the opportunity to do it all. I was a disc jockey, I worked the record library, I did sports play-by-play, I covered news.” 

That’s when it dawned on Davis this was what he wanted to do with his life. During his junior and senior years at the University of Maryland–College Park, Davis was cutting tape, writing stories, writing into audio, anchoring newscasts.

“A lot of journalism is collaboration,” Davis said. “In a newspaper, your piece of writing goes through various editors, a group of people along the path to print. On television, the story you see on the airwaves is handled by a lot of people. On the radio, it’s just you, a tape recorder and a typewriter. You write around sound, anchor the newscast. If it’s all good, you did it. If it’s bad, it’s all on you.”

During the summer of 1973, the Watergate hearings were in high gear. Davis was still in high school when Richard Nixon resigned his presidency.

“I didn’t go into journalism hoping to bring down the next president,” Davis said. “I saw it as a force for good. To uncover secrets. Shine a light on things the government was trying to get away with.”

Davis looks back with gratitude on his full life. His family, his career, and his friendships. He said, ultimately, by virtue of being born, you’re lucky. It’s a gift from God. 

“Make the most of that, make the country or world a better place,” he said. “Support your family and find a sense of service. When you’re finally able to pull your own head out of your butt, you can discover it’s time to serve others. My faith guides me to this. If I start using my days in devotion to others, my life will be better. I imagine people driving around, hanging out in their homes and offices, and I have the opportunity to speak with them. They give their time to me, and there’s nothing more valuable than their time.”

Davis said his approach to being on the air is to welcome more people, not turn them away. “Now more than ever,” Davis explained. “We’re so entrenched in arguments. We may be bruised and even bloodied, but optimism and success are possible, even in the toughest battles I’m trying to fight.”

You can’t fake a daily show. People often ask Davis what it takes to be a talker on the air. 

“I tell them you need your unique picture of the world, know a little about a lot, care about a lot, be curious about a lot,” Davis said. “Figure out what you believe and make it clear you believe it. You might run afoul of some people, but you’ve got to find a way to navigate those times. People can agree, disagree, but let’s reasonably come together. Be welcoming.”

Davis explained he’s always been interested in inviting a reasoned argument from the other side. Does he consider himself a journalist? Yes, he does. “That doesn’t make me the sole definer of what is or is not news,” Davis said. But he doesn’t consider himself a reporter, as he was at the start of his career. 

“I did that years before talk radio landed in my lap,” Davis said. “To be a reporter you must be objective, give everything equal weight. I’m not required to do that, but I do try to be fair.”

Talk radio is opinion-based. You share your views, mingle with others, and offer up your ideas. Even though Davis has been working in what he calls ‘opinion journalism’ for 40 years, he’s still chronicling events as they happen. Interviewing people along a journalistic path. 

“I’ve always been open to opposing views,” Davis continued. 

“Is that vital in today’s terrestrial radio? Sadly, I don’t know. It may not be. It’s not that every show needs to be like mine. Some like mine succeed. Some come at you like a sledgehammer and some of those succeed, too.  Markets will embrace what they will embrace. I have to be honest with myself every day. I don’t know how people sleep after saying things they don’t believe. I have to derive some sense of satisfaction. Not just from getting calls, making a good living, but sharing things I believe. Dealing honestly in agreement and disagreement.  People may like or dislike me, but they’ll always know I’m sharing what I feel honestly.”

Davis said issues we used to talk about with friends and neighbors just don’t happen anymore. 

“It’s through talk radio we discuss borders, gun control, abortion rights, drugs, and education,” he said. “We’re reacting on the fly and discussing what people used to talk about at the water coolers and over the fence in the backyard. We don’t have those personal relationships anymore. We’re not talking to neighbors.”

I spoke with Davis about the current situation in Memphis regarding the fired officers and alleged beating of a suspect. He said one of the big problems in society is people are not getting all the facts before jumping to conclusions.  There are people that are going to immediately assume the police are guilty. 

“It’s my default setting to support the police,” Davis said, “until or unless I see evidence that they were in the wrong.  The George Floyd situation was enormously complicated. It was a horrible day of police work, but I have a tough time calling it murder. There are people who seek what they call justice by remedying past wrongs with current racial revenge.” 

I asked Davis if he felt today’s America was the most divided ever.

“Some of my listeners perhaps don’t recall 9/11,” Davis said. “Some don’t really know what happened in the 1960s. Some say we’ve never been this divided before. That’s crazy. We’ve probably always been a divided country. But cable TV shout-fests and social media make it seem worse.  The problem isn’t that we’re divided, the problem is we’re arguing with each other like we’re toddlers. Never listening.”

Regarding the kerfuffle over New York congressman George Santos and the web of lies he spun to get elected, Davis said not every story has an instant satisfying resolution. “He was duly elected. Many of the voters on Long Island are disgusted and want to get rid of him. Others still prefer him to a Democrat. The end of his term will come up fast and they’ll be able to get rid of him if they wish. Redemption may be at hand, but ultimately it’s up to the voters.”

We discussed our shared love of film and its ability to teach life lessons. 

“You’ve got the collaborative effort of actors, directors, set designers all coming together to create a visual experience,” Davis said. “When it’s at its best, it can change lives. When I was 12 years old, I saw George C. Scott in Patton.” He said Patton’s devotion to duty, history, and to his men was something he can’t shake from his head. “I revisit that performance in my mind. I think the most important thing is selflessness.”

Davis said another portrayal that has stuck with him is Peter Sellers as Chance the gardener in the cult classic Being There. 

“Chance, the character played by Sellers, is the dimmest bulb imaginable,” Davis said, “but he was representative of the way our country behaves. There are many awesome moral messages in that film. Basically at his heart Chance is a good person.”

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BNM Writers

Radio’s Control Has Gerry Callahan Appreciating His Podcasting Freedom

“The first 20 years of my radio career ratings were the only thing that mattered. Then it became about avoiding headaches. It was stunning. That’s when I realized things had really changed.”

Jim Cryns

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During the last few months on the morning show on WEEI in Boston, Gerry Callahan said his crew was called into the boss’ office quite a bit. Management told the show that ratings were not their primary concern, they just didn’t want any more trouble.

“The first 20 years of my radio career ratings were the only thing that mattered,” Callahan said. “Then it became about avoiding headaches. It was stunning. That’s when I realized things had really changed.”

Early in his radio career, Callahan said you wanted a bit of trouble wafting around your show, something to keep the conversations fresh.

“We were encouraged to walk on a tightrope,” he said. “When you get to a point where there is nothing contentious, nothing happening, people stop listening. You wanted a bit of good trouble just to survive another day. It’s not like that anymore. We were never called to the boss’ office to be told ‘you had a great show.’ We’d go in and they’d say, ‘Why did you say that?’ Or, they’d say the owner of the Red Sox was emailing them upset about something they didn’t like.”

After graduating from UMass Amherst with a degree in communications, Callahan started working at The Sun newspaper in Lowell, MA. He started at the paper in 1983.

The only thing I’ve ever associated with Lowell, MA is the film The Fighter, featuring Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale.

“I went to the premiere of that movie,” Callahan said. “I can’t tell you how good Christian Bale was in that movie. I know Dickie Ecklund and Bale captured him perfectly.”

The 2010 film depicted Dickie Ecklund as a former boxer, drug addict, and part-time lunatic. His claim to fame (and it really was his claim) was to have knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard in a bout. The truth was Leonard essentially tripped backward. Still, that technicality never stopped Dickie from telling every person who has crossed his path since how he’d knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard.

“Dickie is a good guy,” Callahan explained. “His brother Micky Ward had a good career. Won some belts. Dickie was always jealous of his Micky’s success.”

When he began working at The Sun, Callahan said he arranged media guides in alphabetical order. He recorded little league scores over the phone from around the area. Later he started covering the Red Sox, Celtics and the rest of the New England sports teams.

Then it was on to the Boston Herald in 1989. After that, Callahan’s star continued to rise when he began to write for Sports Illustrated from 1994-1999.

As a sportswriter, Callahan spent a large part of his early career in press boxes. Covering teams tends to take the fan out of you. If you’re objective, there’s no rooting in the press box.

“Sometimes you meet your heroes and it can be disappointing,” Callahan said. “The Red Sox clubhouse that I started working in was not one of the greatest environments to cut your teeth. With guys like John McNamara, Jim Rice, it could be a nasty place.”

Callahan recalled when he was a kid in 1975, he said he cried when the Red Sox lost to the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.

“As a writer in 1986, I laughed when they lost to the Mets,” Callahan said. “They collapsed. Like any good columnist, you rooted for chaos.”

Callahan said the arrival of Larry Bird in Boston changed the culture of sports in Boston.

“Bird was easily the most colorful and intriguing guy I’ve ever covered,” he said. “From the day he arrived he had this huge chip on his shoulder, and each game was an event with Bird. He was clutch, very smart, cocky. There’s a huge misconception about Bird being a ‘Hick from French Lick.’ Let me tell you, he was smart and knew everything that was going on around him. He was a great interview. Blunt. A wise-ass.”

Callahan said he also enjoyed his encounters with Curt Schilling, a man he said was opinionated and polarizing.

“Like Bird, he was cocky and clutch,” Callahan said. “I tend to like guys the mainstream media doesn’t like. I’m kind of a right-wing zealot, like Schilling. Like Bird, Schilling was fearless and a fun guy to cover.”

He grew up with newspapers and reading the work of legendary Boston sports columnists.

“There were so many columnists that they were hard to keep up with,” Callahan said. “They were everything to me. Like most things, they died out in time. I could have told you the top 10 writers in the country. I was familiar with everything they wrote, and watched everything they said when they went on television.”

When Callahan was young it seemed a career as a columnist in sports journalism was too far away to give serious consideration to.

“I didn’t think I was going to become the next Mike Lupica,” Callahan said. “I worked hard at The Sun and then the Herald. It was then I started to think maybe I could do this the rest of my life. I was happy just writing for The Sun. I started growing as a writer and moved up the chain. That’s when sports radio was becoming a big thing and it was good time for me.”

The influence of newspapers have partially died at their own hand, a demise of their own creation Callahan said.

“The Boston Globe used to be so respected, now it’s a joke,” Callahan said. “John Henry, the owner of the Red Sox, bought the paper for his wife Linda as kind of a plaything. Nobody reads that paper and it has zero influence. There was a time you could say a newspaper controlled the narrative in a city, shaped the dialogue. Not anymore. Now it’s bloggers, podcasts, Twitter, everywhere else that controls the narrative. Newspapers are essentially insignificant.”

Callahan recalls a time he told a young associate how he used to read five or six newspapers a day. The kid laughed.

“I said I had three papers delivered daily to my house,” Callahan said. “I’d read a few out of town papers when I got to the office. The kid couldn’t believe I was serious. There was a time I couldn’t have imagined starting a day without a newspaper, now I don’t even buy one.”

Newspapers were still going strong when Callahan began his career. He said the Boston Herald had a huge sports department and a dozen reporters from the suburbs would also come to town to cover Boston sports.

“I don’t know if there are any suburban writers there anymore,” Callahan said. “I’m not sure how many television stations come in from the suburbs as I haven’t watched lately.”

As his writing career flourished, Callahan started popping up on various radio shows in the city, and his on-air presence improved. Then came the offer to do a morning show on WEEI.

“It was a gradual thing,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was on the air full-time right away. I’d make some regular appearances on afternoon shows. A lot of writers in the city were doing this back then, and I was one of them who was offered a full-time gig. There were a lot of people with real opinions and we had real debates. We were encouraged to be ourselves and talk about the issues of the day.”

Callahan thinks one of the problems with talk radio today is that it’s controlled by special interests, activists, and advertisers.

“In my final years people were walking on eggshells all the time. Hoping not to upset the wrong person and incite an email campaign. It got to a point where you just didn’t feel comfortable talking about things. All the things I talk about now on my podcast I couldn’t talk about on the radio. I couldn’t talk about Covid lockdowns. The censorship on Twitter. That’s the kind of stuff you get canceled for these days. I have much more freedom on my podcast, nobody controls me.”

The Gerry Callahan Show can be heard on Newsmax Radio and Apple Podcasts.

He’ll tune in once in a while to talk radio, but said it has become boring and sanitized.

“Everyone is tiptoeing around. I originally thought about calling my podcast, Things You Can’t Say on the Radio,” Callahan said. “On radio I couldn’t talk about election irregularities. It was such a controlled environment. People were living in fear. The bosses, GMs, program directors.”

As an example of the mood change, Callahan said he used to talk with Tom Brady every Monday morning for 19 years.

“The reality of things hit Tom Brady too,” Callahan said. “During the first 16 years we had a ball and talked about everything. Then the last three he got kind of quiet. Something spooked him. He used to be friends with Donald Trump. Played golf with him, hung out. All of a sudden you weren’t allowed to like Trump. You couldn’t joke about him anymore. Brady’s mother and wife hated Trump and I think Tom went into a shell. What happened to Brady has happened to a lot of people.”

According to Callahan, the mob mentality has taken control. In the old days if someone was upset with someone or something that was said, they’d write a letter to the station. Then it became a phone call. Now it’s a mass email.

“You need a strong boss. Someone who will stand up for you, defend you,” Callahan said. “I don’t have to answer to anybody today. We don’t swear a lot or get into graphic sex stories, but we’re free to discuss what we want. We’re on the Newsmax platform. I’d been on Newsmax a lot. I don’t like to rely on guests too much.”

The radio career ended more than three years ago. He started his podcast a few months later. Even though he’s with a large company like Newsmax, he still has to find ways to promote the podcast. Callahan said much of the promotion is done on his social media platforms.

“There’s no other way to do it. You do your best, do your thing. Options are limited. I try to watch the way the entire field operates. No local podcasts can be really successful. You can still do local on radio and television to make a living,  but to make it on a podcast you need to appeal to a larger audience.”

There are times he misses the early morning adrenaline rush, the immediacy of being part of the breaking news and current events. He said they’ll present their podcast between 9:30am and 10:30am, trying to keep it at 57 minutes. It gets posted an hour after that.

He’ll tackle the same issues he had while on morning radio, whenever possible.

“I hope George Santos never resigns, he’s giving us so much material,” Callahan said. “I was listening to an interview he did with Sid Rosenberg and Bernie McGuirk where he said he went to Baruch and played volleyball. Santos told them the whole story about what a great team they had. They could have checked this with any sports information director but never did. All those details about how he blew out his knee.”

Callahan said he’s not going to write a book about his experiences as he’s a self-described grinder. “I’d take too long and tinker with it,” he said. “I’d slave over a book. I used to slave over my pieces for The Herald, sweat through four columns a week.”

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