Angelo Cataldi still has plenty to say

Angelo Cataldi hasn’t run out of things to say.

The voice that launched a thousand imitators, that propped up an entire industry, that spoke for entire generations of Philadelphia sports fans remains as outspoken as ever, even as his retirement from the largest, most influential soapbox in Philadelphia sports continues.

On Nov. 28, Triumph Books released Cataldi’s memoir LOUD: How a Shy Nerd Came to Philadelphia and Turned Up the Volume in the Most Passionate Sports City in America. Over nearly 300 pages of reminiscences, stories and seemingly tall tales, Cataldi chronicles his own role in transforming the media landscape of the country’s most misunderstood, most passionate, most fiercely loyal sports fanbase.

Cataldi’s influence is so pervasive, so total, that it’s hard to remember a time before near-24/7 coverage of our local professional sports teams was a thing.

Cataldi came to Philadelphia in a time when newspapers ruled the sports world. It was time when every driveway, every doorstep had its choice of the best sportswriters in the country to read every single day. Cataldi came to Philly after working his way from his native Rhode Island by way of the Columbia School of Journalism to the Philadelphia Inquirer.  

At the Inquirer, Cataldi was a finalist for a 1987 Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the early days of Buddy Ryan’s tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles. Cataldi spent a season cataloguing the “lies” and bluster that made Ryan a folk hero among Eagles fans.

It is that theme that became the blueprint for every success Cataldi would have while reshaping the narrative of Philadelphia sports and sports journalism across the country. Put simply, Cataldi demanded honesty and accountability from Philadelphia’s sports figures.

Cataldi recounts the early days of the sports radio experiment, when former national sportscaster and former Eagles great Tom Brookshier brought the sports talk format to sleepy AM radio station 610 WIP. Cataldi and a rotating cast of newspaper writers were part of the early cast of characters on a station that was making up the rules as it went along.

As Cataldi crafted his on-air persona, Brookshier eventually handed over the keys to his protégé. The rest is radio history.

Fittingly, the book begins with a behind-the-scenes retelling of one of WIP’s most iconic moments, the 1999 NFL Draft. With the Eagles expected to pick University of Texas Heisman Trophy-winning running back Ricky Williams, WIP sent a hand-picked group of 30 fans to New York to celebrate the pick. When Syracuse quarterback Donovan McNabb was chosen by the Eagles with the second pick instead, the so-called Dirty 30 rained down a hail of boos on the pick.

Depending on your perspective, those boos were either the best or worst example of Philly sportsdom. McNabb has never recovered from the perceived slight. No event outside of Santa’s snowballs has followed a fan base more. Ultimately, though, it is the ultimate expression of how completely WIP and Cataldi capture the imagination of the Philly sports fan. 

Whether booing the McNabb pick was right or wrong can be debated for all time. There can be no debate about the power Philly fans hold over their sports teams.

Cataldi understood that unquestioningly.

That’s how an eating contest stunt for the off week before the Super Bowl turned into a yearly celebration of gluttony, debauchery and unadulterated Phillyness that was the Wing Bowl. It’s how a sleepy little radio station became a trendsetter for every televised sports talk show on cable TV. It’s how the sports radio format became the savior of an entire industry, from New York’s WFAN, to both Philly sports-talkers, to every small-town radio station across the country.

Cataldi shares the behind-the-scenes stories of how the sports world has changed through the force of his will and his absolute adherence to his primary mission, getting answers for the fans of Philly’s sports teams. 

Cataldi may have retired from the largest megaphone in the Philadelphia sports world but he still has plenty to say.