After Some Dark Days Kirk Minihane "Can't Wait" For What Lies Ahead

Less than a year ago, Kirk Minihane was on the brink of suicide. Today, he's ready to start anew.

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It’s 8 p.m. on Thursday, August 2, 2018. For you, it’s the dog days of summer. You’re probably preparing dinner. Maybe you’re just finishing up a day at the beach. The Boston Red Sox are playing the New York Yankees — maybe you’re there or tuning in.

As your life marches on, someone else’s life is on the verge of ending. You may have listened to him on the drive into work that morning. He may have made you happy or sad or angry. Without a doubt, he made you laugh, whether you wanted to or not.

Kirk Minihane, host of the popular “Kirk & Callahan” morning show on WEEI 93.7 FM, is wandering around the Wedgemere Train Station in Winchester, Massachusetts seriously considering putting an end to his life. For some time, Minihane’s been poking around the idea of suicide; it’s become his fixation. No one knows he’s been researching the topic, and no one knows he’s here.

Most importantly, no one knows he’s feeling this way.

“I didn’t want to die,” said Minihane looking back on that fateful day. “But I didn’t want to live the way I was living. But I have kids and I thought I’m not going to do this and like I’ve said before, it was like I was a journalist investigating how somebody would do it. It was weird. It was a weird fixation on it. I literally said ‘I can’t live like this anymore’”.

After struggling for a while, Minihane gets back in his car, and heads toward Winchester Hospital. He doesn’t know what the future holds. He wonders whether or not to be embarrassed — people will eventually know about this. But for now, he chooses to live.

As Minihane drives away, this time listening to the voice of the angel on his other shoulder, his life will enter a new beginning: one that will see many new doors open and others slam shut.

Contrary to the anti-sports radio personality he’s become, Minihane grew up like any normal boy would in the 1970s and 80s — loving sports.

“I loved sports growing up as a kid,” he said over coffee. “My era was Larry Bird and he was sort of the dominant figure of my youth. I played basketball and wanted to be like him. Until I was 12 or 13, I thought I was going to play sports because I was stupid like all kids. But I was always a reader and I read all the time.

“I read Bob Ryan as a kid and Gerry Callahan as a kid, and all these people,” he said. “I never really thought about being a sports writer necessarily. I kind of stumbled into this. If you’d asked me at any point in my life before I went to WEEI.com, was I ever going to be in this business, I’d have probably said no.”

Kirk Minihane and Bob Ryan in 2017

After graduating from Winchester high school in 1993, Minihane headed to New York City to attend Fordham University. But little did he know, his radio personality was already formed.

“Fordham had zero influence on my career,” said Minihane. “I would say who I am as a radio personality is more shaped driving around on Friday and Saturday nights in high school with my friends looking to go to a party and chipping in $5 for gas and breaking each other’s balls and dumping on each other. Having one guy say to me during the school day ‘hey, don’t tell Brian this but I’m pissed at him about this’ and getting in the car and saying ‘I can’t believe you’re pissed about him about this’, which is really what I do now.”

Once out of Fordham, Minihane bounced around a slew of different freelance writing jobs. From local California papers to the Lowell (Ma) Sun, to tutoring English, he did a lot to make ends meet. When his big break finally came in August of 2008, Minihane was the hockey editor of an Upper Deck company writing the backs of hockey cards out in California. At the time, his wife was in publishing out west and according to Minihane, was the “breadwinner.” They had their first daughter.

Rob Bradford, longtime Red Sox beat reporter and the brains behind WEEI.com, drew on his days with Minihane at the Lowell Sun to extend a job offer.

“I sort of knew, not just from seeing his writing but being around him, he was a type of guy that you want as part of your team because he’s so smart and creative,” said Bradford over the phone. “The initial job there was this sort of forced part-time fantasy writer/copy editor. He was a decent fantasy writer, but a terrible copy editor. Sometimes you can just know it in a person and that was certainly the case.”

One thing that makes Minihane the personality he is today is a perfect blend of wittiness and humor mixed with an underlying anger and fearlessness that’s hard to find in today’s media scene. But he wasn’t always as open as he is now on the air. Back in 2009 when he began doing weekend radio spots, Minihane wasn’t fully the Minihane we know now.

“I started with Mut (Mike Mutnansky),” said Minihane. “I knew what I liked. I liked (the shock-jock) Howard Stern. I knew I liked fighting. I knew that I couldn’t jump into that world — that’s not how it worked then. I wasn’t going to be able to do that and I was going to have to pick my spot. But I tried to incorporate it.”

Kirk Minihane on NESN in his early days with Dennis & Callahan

In October of 2012, longtime third man of the-then “Dennis & Callahan show” Jon Meterparel left his role to pursue play-by-play opportunities. Minihane was considered for the third slot on the show but was passed over at first.

“When Meter left in 2012, I did a few fill-in shifts, but they went with Kevin Winter instead for third man,” said Minihane. “I knew that was a mistake — nothing against Kevin — but I was thinking to myself that they’re blowing this. I can’t believe they blew this. Then about six weeks later, Gerry (Callahan) called me and said things weren’t working out with Kevin and they wanted me to come in.”

Minihane knew that coming in everyday was going to be a challenge, especially with the state of the “Dennis & Callahan” morning show.

“The show was sort of dead,” said producer Chris Curtis. “It wasn’t the fault of Gerry (Callahan) at all and not entirely the fault of John (Dennis). The majority was on the leadership there that didn’t allow them to do the show they wanted. John and Gerry didn’t even talk about the election when Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were going at it.

“They were not as successful with the ratings because of it.”

Chad Finn, media columnist with the Boston Globe, followed the ratings of WEEI at the time and didn’t foresee them lasting much longer.

“There was legitimate talk that they’d end up a country station because their ratings dipped enough that they were thinking about other things,” said Finn. “[Minihane] had a really significant role, probably the most significant role, in turning that station around and getting them back up to where the morning show has been number one off and on men’s 25-54 demographics.”

At the time, hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan weren’t exactly best friends, but got along fine on the air.

“February 2013 I went in full time,” said Minihane. “I knew it would be a tough spot. I was walking into a marriage that wasn’t great and I knew they were under some edicts from the company. But I knew I had to eventually muscle my way in.”

And muscle his way in he would, but not at first.

“We got along fine to start,” said Callahan. “Kirk initially just did the show and did it well but didn’t want to force his philosophy on the show right away. He did it the way we had done it. He went along with the guests and did the interviews and did the kinds of things that we did. It wasn’t for another year or so that he wanted a bigger role and didn’t want to do everything that John wanted to do.”

One example of this was when the “Dennis and Callahan show” would have guests on, Dennis didn’t allow Minihane to be part of interviews. To combat that, Minihane would leave the studio for the duration of the interview and record a podcast with Mutnansky. When the interview was done, Minihane would come in and ask what he missed, further mocking the interview.

“Little things like that were just so incredibly creative, outside the box, and different and funny,” said Curtis on Minihane’s leaving during interviews. “It was his way of saying screw you to Dennis.”

As these little things began to pile up, so to did the tension in the relationship between the three hosts.

Gerry Callahan, John Dennis and Kirk Minihane (left to right) at Fenway Park during the Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon

“At the time, I just wanted to have a huge impact on the show and help the show and then help myself professionally,” said Minihane. “And for a few years, the ratings went up and up and up. I think the chemistry between us three was great. It didn’t matter that we didn’t get along all the time off the air. But for a couple years we really got rolling and the show sounded younger, edgier, and faster.”

Despite the ratings boost and the revitalization of the show courtesy of Minihane’s arrival, Dennis had health problems forced him to retire from the show in 2016.

From that moment on, Minihane would dominate the airwaves with Callahan by his side.

Minihane is driving from Winchester train station to Winchester hospital. The symbolism is real: from bad to good, in the darkness to light, struggling to getting help, trapped to freed, and most stunningly, death to life.

“The hardest thing to do was get in the car and drive to the hospital,” said Minihane.

On the way, Minihane says various thought are running through his mind. From his wife and two kids at home to all the different personalities he works with, Minihane wonders how this will effect them.

“While I was driving, I was like wow, forget personally, but professionally this is going to be strange going forward if I get through this and if I still have a job and still want to work,” said Minihane.

He finally arrives at the hospital and checks in with the woman at the front desk. A burden has been lifted and to Minihane, it comes as a huge surprise.

“I told the woman at the front desk that I was having these thoughts,” he said. “Once that happened and I talked to my wife on the phone — she knew I was suffering and struggling — but I really said ‘this is where I’m at’. That was a release where I was able to say ‘ok, now I can just give in. Whatever happens happens. I’m going to go get help. Everyone’s going to know’”.

Minihane spent the next four nights at McLean hospital, a psychiatric hospital, in Belmont. Those next four days were a time for recovery and reflection.

“A lot of group therapy,” said Minihane of his five days at McLean. “A lot of one on one therapy. You meet with your doctors and counselors a couple times everyday. You meet with a group a couple of times a day at the beginning and the end of the day. And then there are groups you go in on your own whether or not you had alcohol issues or family issues. Your basic sort of inpatient care.”

As Minihane trudged through his recovery, the people he worked with were left wondering where he was.

It had to be another fight with management, right?

Once Minihane got his name on the show in the fall of 2016, the four hours of the “Kirk & Callahan show” featured a melting pot of uncertainty, humor, nastiness, exposing, and a finger on the pulse of what people wanted to listen to.

“The four hours of the show were, and I can’t believe I’m speaking in the past tense, but you just could never know what’s coming any second,” said Curtis. “At a certain point, I think midway through 2016 or 2017, about a year and a half into when I was back on the show, I think we all got the rhythm and we all sort of got going in the same direction with the pace of the show. It was awesome radio.”

The ratings rise from Minihane’s promotion was instant. In the first week of the “Kirk and Callahan show,” the program got a 14.8 — good for first in the market. When Minihane first got this news, he was surprised and excited.

“I remember saying ‘thanks’ and hanging up and literally yelling in my car when that happened,” said a reflective Minihane. “As much as I knew the show was going to be good, there’s still part of you that thinks maybe we’re totally wrong and John Dennis is the reason 40 percent of people listen and they’re going to flee.”

A large part of his success is his ability to understand what his listeners care about. Alex Reimer, one of the rotating third guests on the show since October 2016, points to that as why Minihane is so popular in Boston.

“He knows above all else what people want,” said Reimer. “He’s not afraid to go against convention. What Kirk has done to the medium is kind of unprecedented from the standpoint that he hosts this sports talk show on a sports talk station and he made it a point to rail against conventional sports talk and he was onto something.”

Minihane described his process of choosing what to talk about on the air and what not to talk about.

“I think if I care about it, the listener will care about it because they care about us,” said Minihane. “That’s what I’ve always thought.”

One thing Minihane became synonymous for was deciphering between what was a bad segment and what was a good one. And he never had any problem ripping on his own show.

“If somebody in the room is really uncomfortable and they’re getting grilled and you know you’ve got them, whether it’s personal stuff or making fun of them or a real argument, you just feel it,” he explained. “It’s not tangible but you can feel it in the room. And you say that’s good. I think it’s just as important to know this is dying on the vine which happens all the time too.”

Reimer went on to further explain why Minihane found himself as one of the most influential personalities in the city.

“Kirk above all else is going to put the show first, which can be destructive I think in a personal sense,” said Reimer. “He’s lost some relationships or certainly has made things awkward but he doesn’t care because his mentality is always ‘so what?’.”

Minihane acknowledged that he’s had some uncomfortable encounters with the people he’s ripped apart and made fun of on air.

“In my life, the past couple years have been running into media people who have had to deal with it,” said Minihane. “Whether it be Pete Abraham (Globe) or Ray Bourque (ex-Boston Bruins defenseman) — I made fun of [Bourque] a little bit and saw him at the golf tournament a few months ago and he wasn’t happy. But my response to them is say what you want. I dumped on you when you weren’t there so you can say whatever you want.”

Another aspect of the show that really helped listenership and ratings was Minihane’s ability to create characters out of everyone associated with the show. Mutnansky was the lovable loser, Curtis was a foil; the rotating third hosts were all characters with their own quirks and mockable attributes.

“The station hasn’t been number one but the morning show has and Kirk deserves a lot of credit for that,” said Finn. “His approach to doing the show which was the inner office drama, turning the people around him into characters, being very aggressive about criticizing other people, talking about people rather than sports tone to the show. It worked with a certain and sizeable segment of the audience.”

Alongside ripping on media members and athletes and creating a world of characters, Minihane has also engaged in tear downs, such as Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe. In April of 2018, Minihane and the show read through a series of exaggerations in Cullen’s work, which led to his suspension from the paper.

Cullen declined to comment for this story.

Another Boston Globe writer Minihane has taken aim at in recent times is Shirley Leung, the interim editorial page editor. Their back-and-forth has spanned almost all of 2018, starting with her column that lambasted WEEI after midday host Christian Fauria’s impression of asian-american agent Don Yee back in February of that year. Most recently, her column following his departure had him the most outraged, as he invited her on Jim Braude’s WGBH program “Greater Boston” to debate. Leung declined to join the show.

“I would just to say to her, and I’d be calm, I’d say ‘you’ve done a disgraceful work of journalism. How do you live with yourself? Why didn’t you do this, this and this?’” said Minihane after being posed with the hypothetical of confronting her in person. “I’d have a bunch of questions and she wouldn’t answer them and she’d leave.”

Leung didn’t respond for comment to this story.

No one that Minihane worked with could believe it when they found out about his intense suicidal thoughts on the night of August 2nd.

“I had lunch with him that day,” said Callahan. “He was great. We talked about the show and things we were going to do. Everything was fine. I couldn’t believe it when I found out four days later that he was hospitalized. I found out Sunday or Monday after the weekend. I called him right up and said what’s going on? I didn’t get him right away so I left some messages and talked to his wife.”

Reimer did the show with him that same day. For him, things seemed totally opposite of reality.

“Honestly, I had no idea,” said Reimer. “I remember even thinking at the end of the first show with the train tracks, ‘wow, Kirk was actually in a pretty good mood today for him’. That just shows you how you never know what someone else is going through.

“What I think is most powerful about Kirk and the biggest lesson I take from it is he shows you that you can still be at the top of your game when your mind is working against you, which is just unfathomable. The guy over the last year has lost both of his parents, dealing with mental health and depression. I didn’t notice any lapses in him ever. That to me is the most incredible thing about Kirk — that his mind is still working so against him.”

Kirk Minihane and his mother at the Jimmy Fund Radio Telethon

In May of 2017, Minihane lost his father. In June of that same year, he lost his mother — both to cancer. He expected the anniversaries to be tough, but not as bad as they ended up becoming.

“Depression never goes away totally,” said Minihane. “And it cranked up over the few months before August. I didn’t realize it at the time but my therapist had said to me that the anniversaries of my parent’s deaths were coming up. I didn’t really attach anything to that. Everyone says it gets worse, it gets worse. But everyday seems rough. Around those anniversaries things picked up.

“And then there was frustration at work and I just didn’t control it well. It continued to rise and rise and rise and got to the point where it was harder to get out of bed; I was really weepy all the time. I think a lot of the anger would spill out on the air — sometimes I think too much.”

On Sunday, August 5th, Minihane sent Curtis a text detailing that he was at McLean hospital for emotional issues. Up until that point, no one on the “Kirk & Callahan show” knew of Minihane’s whereabouts.

“I didn’t tell anybody at that moment because I didn’t want to betray his trust and I thought there was a chance he told me because I’ve been in McLean from alcoholism and I knew some of the things about it,” said Curtis. “But it wasn’t until Kirk was back on the air and he described in detail what happened that I heard the full story.”

Callahan understood that this could signal the end of Minihane on the morning show.

“Yes,” said Callahan when posed with the question of whether or not he thought Minihane might not return. “We talked about it everyday. Half the time he’d say I think I need to walk away because the doctor doesn’t think this is good for me. I would try and talk about it everyday. We went through this a ton. It was never ending. I talked to him every day and said let’s give this a shot. I missed him.”

One of the on-going topics on the “Kirk and Callahan show” was the hosts constant fights with management at WEEI.

“If you’re not fighting management all the time in radio, you suck at your job,” explained Minihane. “Plain and simple. You’re doing your listeners a huge disservice. You are a bore. If management likes you or doesn’t bother you, you should know you suck. You’re just boring.”

Management’s issue with Minihane is one that spans since his beginning in the 6-10 a.m. slot on WEEI. From controversial statements to different people’s attempts at getting him off the air, the show was constantly getting national attention. Sometimes for the right reasons — sometimes the wrong.

“You’re going to reap the benefits of what were incredible ratings attention and a buzz factor to a local show that got national attention,” said Curtis of what Minihane brought to the station. “He’s fighting with Jemele Hill on Twitter during the show. The New York Post and Big Lead are commenting almost in real time to what he has to say. If you like the attention, you’re going to take the unnecessary or out of line shots. They [management] knew at the end of the day, for the most part, that what Kirk was doing was good for business.”

On September 6th, less than a month after coming back on the air from his treatment at McLean, Minihane tweeted that he’d be taking a leave of absence from the show, citing that he was still battling mental health issues.

This kicked off his biggest and final rift with management.

According to Minihane, he was told to present a note from a psychiatrist saying he was ready to go back to work. He presented that to station program director Joe Zarbano on October 12th, which started a chain of mixed reactions.

“Then the weird stuff started to happen like ‘well, maybe we’ll bring you back after the Red Sox are done with the World Series’ and ‘we don’t want to have you on the days Tom Brady’s on’ because I’d had issues with Brady,” explained Minihane. “I thought it was pretty strange. So I contacted a mental health attorney about that and they said ‘are they paying you?’ and I said yes, every dollar and he said don’t do anything about it.”

Meanwhile, Callahan was doing his part on the management-end of things to get Minihane back on the air with him.

“I went to management literally — literally — everyday,” said Callahan. “Either on the phone or in person. Either the program director or general manager. I would literally talk to them about getting Kirk back on the air everyday.”

Kirk Minihane and Gerry Callahan at Boston Red Sox spring training 2018 (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

Just a few weeks after that turn of events, Minihane thought things might take a turn in his favor. He got a text from management saying that they were ready to wrap this up and for a meeting to take place.

But the meeting didn’t go as Minihane planned.

“We [Callahan, Zarbano, Mark Hannon (senior Vice President of Entercom Boston), and Minihane] met with Tim Murphy who’s the VP at Entercom,” said Minihane. “They basically said that they wanted me to write a letter saying I’d do this, this and this when I came back and I said I’m not. It was basically ‘don’t be critical of the Red Sox, don’t be mean-spirited, don’t do this or that. It was basically a refutation of everything I’ve done over the past few years which has been successful for our show.

“I said I can try and do that but then I left and said I just can’t. And Gerry said you just have to try; after a few months they’ll go away. I said they’re not going away. I don’t want to participate in this. I don’t want to put my name on that.”

Entercom is a media company that owns WEEI.

Callahan’s advice to Minihane came from his years and years of experience in radio and it was simple: after a little while, management backs off.

“It was disappointing but not surprising,” said Callahan when asked about seeing the new format of the show. “My reaction from it was we can do this. We’ve done it before by the way — the same edict seven years ago. Occasionally it happens where you get this blow back from really important people and management buckles and says you need to stick to sports. You know what we do? What we did before. We listened, we did more sports than we used to but we wait them out.”

Minihane wasn’t having any of it. He was out and wanted a buyout. But, there was one last option presented to him: his own show on Radio.com, an internet broadcast channel owned by Entercom. Callahan wasn’t given the same offer.

“At the time, I thought this was a way to get me off the show,” started Minihane. “They’re burying me. I left pissed. But then the more and more I thought about it, I don’t want to talk specifically sports anymore. I have no interest in that. I don’t want to be on Red Sox or Globe guidelines.”

After some consideration, Minihane realized that Radio.com was the way to go. And on Nov. 14th, 2018 Minihane made it official: he’d be leaving the morning show and heading to Radio.com.

In his time away from the radio, Minihane’s life has gone on without the show. He’s found solace in getting up early and going for runs everyday. When the weather was nice in September, he played golf. His only “extreme” thing done was flying out to Wyoming for two days and driving around. It was something he’d always wanted to do.

Because he has kids, most of his days now revolve around helping them get up and get ready for school. He explained the process of telling them about what happened back in August.

“Harry’s very young — he’s six,” he said. “He doesn’t really know. And Cate I told without being super specific. She’ll find out as we get older but I just told her that her dad is suffering with depression. He’s had a hard time since grandma and grampy were gone and he’s had problems in the past. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I’m getting help for it and I feel better and if you have any questions ever just ask.

“It’s not good to hide that stuff because they’re going to find out eventually. Especially for me because if you do a Google search for me, I’m sure it’s one of the things that pops up. Maybe not today, but it has.”

Because of his time away from the microphone, his spirits are high.

“I feel great,” said Minihane. “I feel really good. I’m looking forward to the new show. I’m looking forward to whatever this is going to be. I felt good really since I’ve been off. I’m actually happy to not be at WEEI. I’m much happier going forward and looking forward to this.”

His new show on Radio.com doesn’t have a set start date. According to Minihane, it will start in March of 2019 at the earliest; the name will most likely be “The Kirk Minihane Show”. Some people, such as Finn, believe he’ll be back on the morning show.

“Honestly I think he’ll be back at the station sooner rather than later,” said Finn. “I think [his show] will be successful at the beginning because people want to see what it is, but I also see what’s happening with WEEI and the morning show and it just doesn’t click the way it did when he was there. He’s not going anywhere because of his contract which he’s said so it wouldn’t shock me if he does the Radio.com thing for awhile and then his big triumphant return to the show comes along.

“But I still have this feeling that we’ll be hearing him on WEEI again and maybe not that far into the future.”

Despite what’s being said on the outside, Minihane is all-in on the new show and he already knows what he won’t be talking about.

“It won’t be a lot of sports,” said Minihane. “Howard Stern’s obviously going to always be an influence. I think I created my own world with ‘Kirk & Callahan’ and all these characters and all these parody accounts and rotating people. I’d like to do that again. But we’re going to have fun. It’s going to be a good time. I don’t have a lot of interest in yelling about caravans for four hours and I don’t have a lot of interest in talking about the Red Sox for four hours. We’re just going to goof around, have a good time and get people in trouble. If we read something we’re pissed about, we’re going to get those people on. We’re going to yell and scream. I think the two things I do well are make people laugh and investigate. I’m going to do those two things all the time.”

As he says this, the sense of a renewed optimism is palpable. He sums up his feelings for the future in a simple way.

“I’m thrilled. I can’t wait.”