The retirement of Angelo Cataldi from WIP Sports Talk Radio leaves a huge void in Philadelphia’s morning radio. I would compare the importance of the moment to when Howard Stern left Philadelphia radio for the lucrative rewards of satellite radio.
The story behind Cataldi’s emergence as the loudmouthed, irrepressible personality who became the dominant voice of sports talk radio is one of the most incredible stories in the business. I was there when it happened.
Some people would be shocked to know that when WIP transitioned to an all-sports format, Cataldi was not the original morning guy. Angelo, at the time, was a beat writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer covering the Eagles. Cataldi had already been involved in Flyers coverage as well. Angelo had come to the business as a graduate of the prestigious Columbia School of Journalism. As far as I know, he had no thoughts about pursuing a career in broadcasting.
By now, if Angelo is reading this piece, he’s probably wondering who is this phony schmuck? I don’t know him. It’s true. Cataldi couldn’t pick me out of a police lineup. Yet by a twist of fate, I believe I was the first one to have Angelo on as a guest on WIP after an Eagles game. And that was by phone.
What happened was that I had been the regular host of the station’s pre- and post-game Eagles coverage. The new program director, Tom Bigby, had been brought in to fine-tune WIP’s new sports talk format. Bigby was a heavy-handed bully, but he had a vision for his station that he pursued ruthlessly. One of the first things he did was fire my co-host on the shows, a former football player who had the habit of falling asleep watching the games. The guy blamed his firing on me and he and I haven’t spoken in over 20 years.
Rather than work the show alone, I would obtain a different member of Philly’s sports media as a guest each week on the postgame show to help answer the calls. On this particular week, Cataldi agreed to come on by phone.
I didn’t know anything about Cataldi except that he was knowledgeable about the Eagles. That was enough for me. Frankly, I didn’t expect anything special to come out of the broadcast. At that point, it seemed inevitable that Bigby was ready to pull the plug on me hosting pre- and post-game shows.
Well, the Eagles — coached by Buddy Ryan — lost that day. As the calls came in, I realized that Cataldi was taking a hammer to Ryan’s coaching ability. Ryan was one of the most popular personalities ever in Philadelphia, but Cataldi would not have any of it. Soon the show had turned into a lengthy debate between Angelo and the fans over Buddy. The phones kept lighting up. I stayed out of the way. It was all wonderfully entertaining. It was the one and only time I ever worked with Angelo Cataldi.
I don’t think there was any connection as far as I know between Cataldi’s fiery appearance on my show and the subsequent move by Bigby to add a new show called THE MORNING SPORTS PAGE as a regular program to the station’s weekday schedule. Bigby had a group of sportswriters from the Daily News rotate with a group from the Inquirer. Bigby told me privately that he never expected what happened next. Despite the fact that the Daily News had the more provocative sports page, it turned out that the Inquirer guys led by Cataldi, Glen Macnow, Al Morganti and Mike Missanelli were far more entertaining broadcasters. So Bigby did the obvious.
He began to lean heavily on recruiting the Inquirer sports writers as the station’s sports talk hosts. The station flourished, capturing the key demographic of males ages 25 to 54.
Angelo Cataldi became a huge part of WIP’s success. According to some who worked with him, his on-air personality seemed quite different from his off-air persona. But gradually the on-air flamboyance became Cataldi’s off-the-air personality as well. He was paired with former Eagle Tom Brookshier in the mornings. It was a bumpy ride. Not a great matchup of personalities. But eventually, Brookshier retreated to his largely ceremonial duties at the station. Cataldi developed a team of regulars — Rhea Hughes and Al Morganti – that lasted over two decades lighting up Philly’s morning radio.
Cataldi’s relationship with Bigby went sour. It seemed at times that most of the station’s staff was at war with Bigby. Rumors were that Cataldi had a clause placed in his contract that limited the need for him to deal directly with Bigby.
From a personal viewpoint, I felt WIP’s Morning Show was at its zany best when Tony Bruno joined Cataldi in 1991. Bruno wound up leaving to do TV sports and has since retired.
At its height, WIP had its celebrated feuds between personalities. Mike Missanelli defected to the new rival sports station in town, the Fanatic. Anthony Gargano followed. Bigby left town and then returned for a while to WYSP-FM where Eagles broadcasts had landed. Bigby has since passed away. Missanelli’s career is in limbo after a feud with a fan. Macnow is reduced to weekends on WIP. The station moved Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie to the coveted morning spot held by the departed Cataldi.
Despite the success this season of the Phillies and Eagles, WIP is no longer can’t-miss radio. Much like WYSP-FM faded away when Stern left, the venerable sports talk station is also in danger of becoming irrelevant.
Because the mighty mouth of the morning is mute.