The Media Column: How Gerry Callahan's longtime online caricature became WEEI fixture

Alex Reimer
July 11, 2019 - 1:28 pm

We lost a member of the WEEI family this month. He was not a host, writer, or producer. In fact, none of us even know his real name. But his impact on the station, in conjunction with numerous other Internet People of Mystery, has been indelible. 

Farewell, “Stolen Valor Callahan,” or “SV” for short. Gerry Callahan’s No. 1 admirer appropriately retired from the Twitterverse on the Fourth of July, switching his name to “Snowman.” 

“I looked back, and I’ve been doing it for a little over two-and-a-half years,” the artist formerly known as “SV Callahan” told WEEI.com in a recent phone conversation. “It got to the point where I wasn’t actively doing the parody thing as much. It essentially had just turned into me being me, but with a Gerry Callahan avatar. It was a good run. It took a lot of effort –– I probably spent more hours on it than I imagined I would. I wanted to end it on a high note.”

Over the last three years, an array of parody Twitter accounts based upon WEEI personalities have emerged. Lucy Burdge examined this phenomenon in 2017, introducing the world to “Uncle Dino,” Dale Arnold’s text line, “Sporty R McKenzie,” and of course, “SV Callahan.” These diehard listeners serve as a real-time focus group, reacting instantaneously to our shows and contributing content in the form of crude photoshops and one-line quips. Two users in particular, “TJ Hubbard” and “Johnny Driscoll,” have created enough bizarre Mut images to form their own gallery –– as scary as that may sound.

Suffice to say, when one of these weirdos retires from the virtual world, we notice. Callahan has mentioned his Twitter namesake’s passing more times to me this week than AOC’s latest climate change screed or the Clintons’ (alleged) crimes against humanity. That’s how you know the news has resonated. 

“Prior to (the account), I was hardly using Twitter at all,” SV said. “But I started really listening to the show and stumbled upon (the other parody accounts). I thought, ‘These guys are great. They kill me.’ So I thought, ‘I think I could do what they’re doing,’ but then it was a question of, ‘What do I do? Who do I choose?’ I started thinking about who doesn’t have a parody account and who’s in this world. And as you know, Gerry is a hardcore right-winger, and that’s what makes him a perfect parody type.”

At first, it is a strange feeling to see somebody else use your name on Twitter and attempt to mimic your mannerisms. But once you get over the initial shock of seeing lifted Facebook photos appear on an account titled “Alex’s Whale,” there is a sense of flattery that comes along with having an online imitator. The real Gerry Callahan recognizes this, and instantly embraced his social media caricature –– who tweeted about patriotism, “maggots!” and “pukes.”

The acknowledgement, regularly in the form of an on-air shoutout, kept “SV Callahan” going, even as he wondered what a grown man was doing imitating a sports talk radio personality. Contrary to popular belief, these parody account operators do have jobs and families, at least according to them.

“We’re more normal than you think. I’m not some 40-year-old who’s living in my parents’ basement and being supported by them,” SV said. “I have a normal job, a wife, two kids, I coach baseball. I have a house. I have the quintessential suburban life –– white picket fence. There is nothing interesting about me, personally. But I do have a sense of humor. I get the jokes. For me, I wanted to be funny for people, but it’s hard to do that when you’re, ‘Joe6250.’ So I got an audience.”

The accounts’ primary audiences are the hosts and producers sitting in studio, as we are cut-off from the real world for four-hour spans. Human contact is limited, and given the in-and-out nature of the talk radio audience –– the average listener tunes in for less than 15 minutes at a time, according to consultants everywhere –– it can sometimes be hard to decipher what’s clicking and what isn’t. That’s where our P1 listeners come in, and the advent of social media allows them to communicate with us directly without waiting on hold or anonymously texting into the seldom read text line (at least depending on who’s in studio). 

“Mut & Callahan” senior producer Ken Laird says the value of these interactions are enormous. “When (the tweeters) are good, you feel like they’re part of the show, because every day you’re looking for how they’re going to react to stuff you think is good content on the show,” he said to WEEI.com. “You think, ‘Alright, our P1’s, or parody accounts, are reacting to it. That’s a good sign. It means you’re hitting on some funny stuff.”

In addition to reacting to the shows’ content, the accounts create their own gimmicks and perpetuate their own themes. At the height of this parody craze, “SV Callahan” says three or four of them would direct message each other about ideas, such as creating photos of Callahan enjoying himself on a balcony. (It’s better for your mental health if you don’t understand the reference.)

One of “SV Callahan’s” signature gags was tweeting out interview requests to some of Gerry’s favorite guests from “Dennis & Callahan” yesteryear, such as hockey analyst Darren Pang and ex-professional golfer Brad Faxon. On rare occasions, one of these media moguls, such as Pang, would mistake this bit for a genuine interview request. That case of mistaken identity was amusing. But sometimes it wasn’t so funny, SV explains.

“There were definitely instances where people weren’t in on the joke,” he said. “People would come at me as if I were Gerry. A guy direct messaged me saying he wanted to kill me. It made me think, ‘I wonder how much of that Gerry gets in real life?’”

Still, the good moments far outweighed the stray Twitter threat. Though Callahan and SV have never met, and almost certainly never will, it’s almost as if a bond has been forged. 

“I am deeply depressed he’s gone,” the real Callahan said to WEEI.com. “He was a great tweeter. He made me laugh, he pays attention to things. I wish I worked with someone at this place who is half as creative as ‘SV Callahan.’”

The admiration, of course, is mutual.

“Gerry followed me pretty early on. It struck me that he has a sense of humor,” SV said. “(If we met), I would probably thank him. It’s sort of weird, but the fact he supported it and was a good sport about it. Everybody from EEI, for the most part, was welcoming and encouraging. They were good at helping promote me and some of the other guys. I would probably say, ‘Thanks,’ and we would have a couple of laughs about it.”
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MLB All-Star Game ratings will keep cratering: Once upon a time, the MLB All-Star Game was one of the signature events of the barren summer sports calendar. The game has predictably lost its luster over the last decade, due to the advent of social media and other tools that allow fans to watch the game’s best players on a nightly basis –– diminishing the uniqueness of the night. So it should come as no surprise that this year’s ASG drew a record low TV rating of 6.2, falling slightly beneath last year’s 6.5 mark.

Ratings have fallen 40-percent over the last decade, and the combination of MLB’s torpedoing national popularity and today’s cord-cutting era will likely keep driving ASG ratings down for the foreseeable future.

But if there is a silver lining for baseball, the Midsummer Classic still rates better than the NBA All-Star Game, despite the league’s abundance of superstar players. 

FOX also won the night Tuesday, so even though ratings are down, the property remains valuable. That explains why MLB continues to rake in record revenue, while attendance and fan interest declines. Life is relative, and in the dwindling world of live TV, professional baseball is still a juggernaut.

Joe Buck gets flak for harmless joke: One of the main gimmicks of Tuesday’s ASG broadcast was mic’d up players, who would chitchat with Joe Buck and John Smoltz while standing in the field or up at the plate. During one exchange, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman joked about Buck helping him out and stealing signs, to which Buck replied, “I don’t think (AL catcher Gary Sanchez) understood what you were saying.”

The innocuous quip ignited a small social media storm, with multiple users calling Buck racist an demanding his firing –– even though it is an incredible stretch to say he was inferring anything about Sanchez’s English speaking ability. The New York Daily News has called for Buck to stop talking indefinitely due to this apparent outrageous breach of decorum.

How ridiculous. While this blip won’t bear any impact on Buck’s career, it’s another reminder of the sick “gotcha culture” in which we live. The social media peanut gallery seemingly won’t stop until everyone is afraid to open his or her mouth.

Baseball players to blame for their own lack of popularity: This week, MLB Players’ Union head Tony Clark bemoaned Mookie Betts’ lack of national notoriety, saying he should be a household name –– like LeBron or Rinaldo. Clark blamed MLB for not promoting Betts, and said the league must do a better job of supporting its players. It’s a simplistic explanation that doesn’t place any blame on the players themselves, who don’t promote their own personalities or brands.

In 2019, you don’t need to be featured in some cheesy commercial to become a big star. Donald Trump won the presidency on the strength of his unhinged Twitter feed –– and Russian interference, gerrymandering, voter suppression, etc. (I had to, sorry).

Mookie’s last tweet was March 28 and he’s reportedly turned down league commercial requests. Before Clark rips MLB, perhaps he should chat with his player. It’s hard to promote somebody who doesn’t appear to want to be promoted. 

Related: The Media Column: Kyrie Irving smear campaign getting out of control