I sat in the passenger seat of the convertible, with the warmth of the sun beating down on me, taking in the scenery. The weather was perfect. I had just had a delightful brunch, so I was satiated. Meanwhile my family at home was hunkering down under nearly a foot of snow and below freezing temperatures.

The thing is, they were dealing with a lot less stress than I was.

While the setting was idyllic, the situation was not. See, we were lost. We were cruising around Western Florida, in the small town of Dunedin, searching for the Spring Training home of the Toronto Blue Jays.

This was in the days prior having smartphones with easy access to maps and directions. The plan for us was to try to follow the directions given us by the waiter at the restaurant where we had eaten breakfast, but we also had someone in the back seat who had an actual map of the area that they were supposed to be tracking to make sure we got it right.

One problem. The guy who was responsible for following the map had fallen asleep. He was young. The night before, while fun and entertaining, was a rough one – by his own doing mind you – and the alcohol consumed to minutes slept ratio was definitely way out of whack.

Looking back on this, 23 years later, it’s easy to have sympathy for my hungover friend. However, in the moment, the driver was not so understanding.

No, he was losing his freaking mind.

For a good 15 minutes, while I unbuckled, reached into the back seat and tugged the map from under my still-drunk friend’s slumped over body to try and figure out where the hell we were, the driver called him every name under the sun, with as colorful language as you would ever hear.

I couldn’t help but laugh uncontrollably as he was ranting. I was trying so hard to follow the map but each verbal dart was landing perfectly, only to fall on deaf ears as the hangover slumber was a deep one.

Finally, the vitriol turned toward me, because I was struggling to hold down the map with the wind blowing hard. It was in this moment that I realized for the first time that the person yelling at me wasn’t just flipping out to be funny. He wasn’t just putting on an act. He was, in fact, an actual curmudgeon. He was, in fact, the kind of person who always had these annoying little life incidents happen to him, and then was willing to share them openly, knowing there are plenty of people who would either share in his angst or revel in it, experiencing what the Germans like to call schadenfreude.

The guy yelling at me from behind that wheel was Angelo Cataldi.

I was in Florida with the WIP Morning Show as part of their annual trip to Spring Training. At the time, with the interwebs in their relative infancy, CBS Radio, which owned WIP at the time, didn’t believe in having a web site or sharing their content online.

But Angelo, Al Morganti, Rhea Hughes and Joe Weachter were ahead of the curve. They saw great value in having an internet presence. So they decided to have their own web site and entrusted me, of all people, with making it come to fruition. And for two years, I was in charge of MorningGuys.net, providing supplemental content for the Morning show.

And while we weren’t allowed to share audio or video, I was able to do show recaps and upload photos from the studio or remote broadcast location to the site. Plus, Angelo, Rhea, and Joe would write occasional blog posts.

It was very rudimentary, but in the era prior to social media, this served as a way of engaging the public online. And although we had some rocky moments and it eventually ended abruptly in 2001 because Tom Bigby decided to fire me from the station, (Apparently I had “overstepped my role as a producer” when Glen Macnow told me that he was planning on talking about St. Joe’s basketball on his show one day and I had warned him that Bigby had flipped out on Mike Missanelli the day prior during a commercial break for discussing the Hawks), the Morning Show website was wildly successful.

Our site was so popular that it crashed from crazy traffic three times – the first time during the Miss WIP pageant. Once during Wing Bowl, and another on Angelo’s birthday celebration when we were joined by Captain and Mrs. Noah. 

So, in the moment, I knew how popular Angelo and his show were. And up until this car ride (we had tickets to see the Yankees and Blue Jays in a Spring Training game and Angelo, a Yankees fan, didn’t want to be late because he wanted to see the Yankees starters), I, much like my colleague Kevin Kinkead, and the rest of the cognoscenti in the infamous and completely off-record Crossing Broad Slack chat, thought Angelo played a character on the radio and really wasn’t like that in real life.

After all, this guy was a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist who went to Columbia and taught journalism on the side at La Salle University. You don’t have those credentials if you are on the lower half of the intelligence scale.

He couldn’t always be like the character he played on the radio, right? I mean, I’m a theatre guy. I’ve acted on stage. I’ve played other people. I know that it’s not that hard to turn it on and then turn it back off when there isn’t an audience.

But for the first time – aside for some off-air meetings, and some full-team social events like holiday parties or lunches – I was interacting with Angelo the person and not Angelo the radio host. And that’s when it dawned on me that they are one in the same.

I mean, sure, I’m not naïve to the fact that when you perform for an audience with the intent to entertain, you have to embellish emotion a little bit. But embellishment is one thing. Being phony is something else entirely. And, yes, the difference is noticeable.

I already knew what happened on the show wasn’t staged or fake or any of the other mistaken narratives you may have heard about it over the years. Yeah, there were a handful of staged promotions that happened from time-to-time, but nothing with the actual construct of the show. I can say this with 100 percent certainty. I used to sit in on post-show meetings and discuss what the plan was for the next day and the rest of the week, and it was never once plotted out that anyone would be “fake angry” or blow a sports angle out of proportion. It was never that specific.

Angelo was meticulous in his preparation – as were Rhea and Weachter. Conklin was more of a spontaneous creative, which is what made his stuff so successful as well, and Al was really the business brains behind the operation. He never had to prep and plan because he knew he was the second fiddle to Angelo, but he was the captain of the ship whenever something had to be decided for the Morning Show brand. It was such a brilliant and unique relationship between Angelo and Al. If you know anything about Penn and Teller, it was quite similar.

In their magic act, Penn is the guy who does all the talking and is the big personality who garners your attention while Teller, whose schtick is that he doesn’t speak in performance, is the guy doing all the hard work to make the magic tricks come to life. This was Angelo and Al.

When it came time to prep for the show, Angelo would map it out into segments – but not as in – “I’m going to get really mad here”, or “I’m going to say something outrageous there,” rather, he knew when his guests were slotted, he scheduled when Conklin bits would take place, and he had a preferred outline of when to introduce specific talking points, but truly would let the callers dictate how much time was spent discussing a certain topic and the tenor of that conversation.

If they wanted to complain about the Eagles coaches for four hours, then they complained about the Eagles coaches for four hours. That’s it. It didn’t matter if there was a more compelling angle, or a better sports story from an intellectual perspective. If the fans wanted to gripe, then Angelo gave them the platform to gripe, and he molded his show around that.


To really do talk radio right, the people that are listening are the only people that matter. And I think that’s where Kinkead and other Angelo detractors really miss the boat. As a host, the only person you should be concerned about is the person who turns on the radio to hear what you have to say. They’re your priority. No one else.

So if Kinkead, or anyone else doesn’t like the conversation, then that’s OK. It’s not for them. There are other outlets that offer a different kind of conversation. Dozens in fact. Find the voices you align with most and listen to them. But that doesn’t mean that what Angelo was offering for the past 33 years was disingenuous or fraudulent. Quite the contrary. It was real. It was raw. Because that’s what most Philadelphia fans are.

I’m not trying to disparage Kinkead – or anyone else for that matter. They’re entitled to their opinions. But if I’m going to use a detractor as an example, I think its best to use a guy I know well who also has the same platform to offer opinion that I do.

So, if we’re being honest, Kinkead grew up in a Philadelphia suburb that was a bit further out than most (Boyertown). He’s really into soccer and college football (specifically, the Big 12, as a West Virginia alum). There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s actually pretty cool to be as well-versed sports-wise as he is. More often than not I find myself aligning with Kevin on his sports opinions and it’s not like he doesn’t know his pro football or basketball either. Kev’s one of the smarter and more even-keeled football and basketball analysts I know. His common take of “two things can be true” is always right.

But I point this out to say that Kevin is not the demographic for Philadelphia sports talk radio. He might be the right gender and in the sweet spot age-wise for advertisers, but he’s not more emotional than analytic, which most Philadelphia sports fans are – especially when it comes to the Eagles. He doesn’t have a sports inferiority complex. And really, if we had to poll the sports radio listening audience, how many of them have soccer and college football at or near the top of the sports they follow or care deeply about? That’s what I thought.

So, to me, it’s easy to see why a guy like Kinkead wouldn’t appreciate the brilliance of what the WIP Morning show has been for the past 33 years – because it was never intended for a guy like him.

Instead, it’s been intended for the longer form of the word “fans” of the Philadelphia sports teams – fanatics. And by the true definition of that word.

Philadelphia sports is their religion, and more specifically, their faith. That’s because there is a lot they don’t know, but they just want to believe. In their heart. In their soul. And why? Because that’s what makes them feel good. It’s what makes them feel alive. It’s what makes Philadelphia sports fans both the best and the most frustrating at the same time.

Two things can be true.

Of course there’ve been times when I’ve tuned in to the Morning Show and thought Angelo’s stance was ridiculous. But there’s also been times when his takes have been spot on. I’ve learned to accept the ridiculous because that’s what Philadelphia is when it comes to sports.

Yeah, I can have a good, intellectual sports conversation with someone about the Eagles defense, or Rob Thomson’s use of the Phillies bullpen, but does that make for entertaining radio? Not necessarily. I was once given a chance to host a show at WIP by former program director Andy Bloom. When we talked about it afterwards, he compared me to Ray Didinger. I took that as a compliment, that he recognized my ease and knowledge of the topics, but, from an audition perspective, I also took it as him saying I would be best as a second person to a more dynamic host on a weekend show.

That was constructive criticism. Something I’ve tried to take with me into the world of podcasting here with Snow the Goalie and Crossed Up. But the reality is, I could never be that person who embodies how most Philadelphia sports fans react in the moment – like Angelo.

I’m too measured. I probably think of myself a bit too professorially. I see that in how I react with Flyers fans on Twitter. Rather than share in their passion, I often try to educate, or reason with them, or try to provide information gleaned from conversations I’ve had from more than two decades of access to the world of professional hockey. It’s likely why there are some people out there (hopefully a minority) who think I can come across as “smug” or “arrogant” when talking about hockey. I get it. You’re never going to please everyone.

But it’s also because, when working, I purposely separate myself from being a fan. I’ve been a strong believer that credibility is earned and that in order to maintain it, objectivity is essential.

I’m also not a morning radio host. I’m not being paid handsomely to entertain the masses on the microphone. Angelo used to be like me back in his newspaper days. But once he jumped to radio and realized what was necessary to be successful there, he made the flip and was the most successful to ever do it in this town, and frankly, with only maybe one or two other possibilities nationwide, he arguably could be the most successful to ever do it in sports talk radio in America.

And it’s all because he was fearless in going down a road that no one had gone before – and let the people of Philadelphia, specifically the ones who listened to and called his show – have a common place to commiserate, complain, suffer and celebrate together about sports. All he had to do was embody their spirt and then serve as the master of ceremonies for their gatherings five mornings a week.

You may have groaned when many of his frequent callers would call in. You may have rolled your eyes on some of the misguided outrage. You may have grown increasingly tired of the flip-flopping of thought and feeling week-to-week in football or day-to-day in baseball. Heck, there were times I did too.

But that’s what this city is when it comes to sports. Most fans don’t want a PhD-level lecture when it comes to their teams. They just want a place to express how they feel. To vent. To cheer. To find commonality among their community. Whether wealthy or low-income. Regardless of race or gender. They just want a place where they can convene, even for a short time, with like-minded individuals, no matter if their perspective is 100 percent accurate or wildly askew.

Angelo Cataldi provided that place for 33 years. Some people would never want to venture there. But those that did – and there were a lot of them based on the ratings – mostly found what they needed – and that’s why Angelo was so good at what he did for so long.

After I finally was able to get that map settled, and figured out where we were, we finally made it to the stadium. We were late. There was nowhere to park and we ended up on some grass field a few blocks from the stadium and had to walk. Angelo bitched about that too. We made it into the stadium in the bottom of the second inning. We grabbed a beer and went to our seats down the first base line.

The Yankees batted in the top of the third. In the bottom of third, Yankees manager Joe Torre started making substitutions in the field. By the top of the fourth, all of the Yankees best players had subbed out.

Angelo looked at me and said, “Let’s go, we’re leaving.”

We were back outside before the Yankees even finished batting in the fourth. The walk back to the car was quiet. When we got in and pulled away, Angelo finally broke the awkward silence.

“Just so you know, we left because I was an unsatisfied customer,” he said. “I wanted to see certain players and I didn’t get to see them.”

I said, “It’s Spring Training and it’s not even a Yankees home game, what did you expect?”

He said, “It doesn’t matter. The customer is always right. Even if the Yankees did it right and I’m a know-nothing asshole, they didn’t do their job in entertaining me today. Always remember that.”

It wasn’t until years later, well after my days at WIP were long over, that I thought about that experience and realized that in his own weird way, Angelo was using that as a mentoring moment. That in one of those rare occasions where he allowed himself to be in a private social setting with an erstwhile yet impressionable colleague, he was sharing a small example of what made him a success.

A morning show that was the best in the business for more than three decades was never about Angelo Cataldi. Yes, he was demanding. He was a perfectionist. And yes, he practically always got what he wanted, because he had such gravitas. But, it was never about him.

It was always about his audience. And as long as they were fulfilled, that’s all that mattered. If that happened five mornings a week, then no matter what happened in sports, or in radio, everything would be great for him.

The detractors would always be there. In the age of social media, the cacophony of opposition voices was ever-present.

But like him or not, this city was damn lucky to have him as long as it did. And I don’t think it’ll be long before it realizes just how much it will miss him.