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Deal cuts option for radio duo

Dennis and Callahan seen in WCRB talks

As a basketball coach might put it, Dennis and Callahan have been boxed out.

Entercom Communications Corp., parent corporation for WEEI-AM sports radio, has cut a syndication deal to place its sports content on 11 Nassau Broadcasting radio stations around New England.

But more intriguingly, Entercom also is buying 50 percent of a 12th station, WCRB-FM, a classical station in Boston owned by Nassau that was said to be in negotiations with WEEI's star morning sports talk hosts, John Dennis and Gerry Callahan, who have been off the air since last week in a contract dispute with WEEI.

Under that possible deal with the two hosts, WCRB would have switched to a sports format. The agreement between Entercom and Nassau keeps WCRB a classical station, effectively removing a potential alternate outlet for Dennis and Callahan.

Entercom is already playing hardball with another one of its top talents, WRKO-AM's Howie Carr, to prevent him from joining WTKK-FM as morning host next month. Carr filed a lawsuit against the company, saying his contract contained illegal provisions to keep him from jumping to a rival. Entercom countersued, maintaining Carr's contract is valid.

In the developing Dennis and Callahan showdown, Julie Kahn, vice president and New England market manager for Entercom, said last night that the Nassau pact was not related to the possibility of WEEI's stars bolting to a potential competitor.

"We've been working on this for months," she said. "This is the same group of stations that Dennis and Callahan were supposedly looking at as well, but we were concurrently working on it but never talked about it."

She said WEEI would like to resolve its differences with Dennis and Callahan. The contracts of both hosts expire next month.

Dennis was on vacation last week; Callahan has been out since May while recovering from throat surgery. Yesterday, WEEI began its annual Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon, which ends today. Dennis and Callahan had been expected to play major roles in the event.

"We're hopeful that we can continue negotiations with them," Kahn said. "We are currently still supportive of continuing the relationship."

Terms of the deal between Entercom and Nassau were not disclosed. It will add WEEI programming to markets in Portland, Maine; Cape Cod; Lebanon and Concord, N.H.; and Montpelier, Vt., among others.

A report citing unnamed sources in yesterday's Globe said Dennis and Callahan were in talks with Nassau Broadcasting to move to WCRB. Dennis and Callahan could not be reached last night. Nassau Broadcasting officials could not be reached, either, and Nassau president Louis F. Mercatanti did not address the Globe report in a news release Entercom and Nassau issued jointly.

He suggested that maintaining WCRB's classical format has been a successful strategy since it acquired the station a year ago. "We have been overwhelmed by the positive response from our listeners with regards to . . . our preservation of the classical format in Boston," he said in the release.

Christopher Rowland can be reached at crowland@globe.com.

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