Angelo Cataldi Kept Philadelphia Sports Fans Angry and Dumb for 33 Years, but at Least They Were Entertained
They say that if you have nothing nice to say, then you shouldn’t say anything at all.
Angelo Cataldi, who officially retired from 94 WIP on Friday morning, created one of the strongest and most stalwart brands this city will ever see. For 33 years his morning show pulled huge ratings and dominated sports talk radio, creating a bulletproof cash cow that more or less anchored that station over the course of decades.
When you think about how many radio hosts (and other broadcasters) have come and gone in Philadelphia over the years, the fact that Angelo stayed on top for as long as he did is insanely impressive. It’s a feat that only Preston and Steve will be able to match when we look back at terrestrial radio in this market 25 years from now. You have to respect anyone who excels at anything to the point where they become a powerhouse in their field and then walk away on top. Success stories like this one aren’t very common, especially in a fleeting industry like broadcast media.
Unfortunately, Angelo’s brand was total bullshit. Here was a Yankees fan from Rhode Island who somehow convinced a large portion of provincial Philadelphians that he spoke for them. He was the “voice of the fan” or some other such nonsense, providing an outlet for their voices to be heard, which is another way of saying that he gave a platform to the moron portion of the Eagles fan base. It depends on how you look at it. Regardless, the deception was so good that prime David Copperfield was impressed.
That was the problem with Cataldi’s show over the years. It was performative. He was playing a persona. To his credit, he understood that sports radio, especially in the morning, has to entertain or else it will fail, but over the years it largely became a blathering morning zoo that was high on histrionics and low on any kind of credible sports discourse. Angelo’s bread and butter was classic Negadelphia, always complaining that the current coach or player or team wasn’t good enough, then inviting idiots to call up and agree that:
Andy Reid is the absolute worst.
Player X didn’t run hard enough.
Coach Y should be fired.
Over and over again. Rinse and repeat. Angelo’s brand was reliant on keeping people angry and dumb in perpetuity, which is why you never found a modicum of critical thinking or measured thought on the morning show. If the program had made anyone smarter, those listeners would have realized the horse shit they were being fed and changed the dial, which explains why people with half a brain eschewed the manufactured and never-ending quest for accountability many years ago. His show simply could not survive without the fake outrage of myriad nimrod Eagles fans, who were too naive to realize that they were being taken for a ride.
Along the way, Angelo and company lodged some of the dumbest complaints and whined about some of the dumbest things you will ever hear. Recently, the morning show was very happy with the first Eagles loss of the season, asking via poll if the defensive coordinator of an 8-1 football team should be fired (spoiler: he got a head coaching job). Cataldi constantly railed against Gabe Kapler, who left Philadelphia… and went on to become National League Manager of the Year. He organized 30 mouth breathers and took them up to New York City to boo at the NFL Draft… then Donovan McNabb became a 10-year starter, a hilarious turn of events in response to the most embarrassing and childish moment in the history of Philadelphia sports fandom. His frequent flirtations with pure asininity damaged the reputation of this entire sports ecosystem, because people both in and out of market were misled to believe that Cataldi somehow represented us.
The only thing of value on Angelo’s show was the contractually-mandated coach interview, when he would turn off the shtick for 15 minutes and go back to being the journalist he was pre-radio, asking pertinent and probing questions. That was the most frustrating part though, the realization that there remained an erudite person hidden behind the acting job. We all would have benefited from seeing more of that Angelo over the years, but nevertheless, sensibility doesn’t work on Bobby from South Philadelphia, so the radio persona persisted. You can’t sell Tasty Kakes and radio ads on the strength of pragmatism.
At least Angelo was able to parlay his popularity into doing good things for the community. The Wing Bowl generated money that went to charities like the Philadelphia FOP Survivor’s Fund, which helps families of police officers who are injured or killed in the line of duty. There are many examples of Angelo and company contributing to groups like the Eagles Autism Challenge, American Heart Association, and Greater Philadelphia Coalition against Hunger. You can say whatever you want about WIP and its hosts, but they’ve always done a great job with philanthropy, and probably don’t get enough credit for it, regardless of whether it’s baked in via company initiatives or a genuine individual effort.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Cataldi you heard in recent podcast interviews was thoughtful and measured, a savvy media veteran (who told everyone straight up that he was embellishing). Co-workers tell stories of his guidance, and his work ethic and preparation, and that’s all good. You would expect nothing less from a guy who stayed on top for decades. It’s a mandatory pre-requisite for anyone who aspires to be anything at all. Ask anyone who interned for him or had anything to do with that show, and they’ll talk about a person who was always laser-focused on the product and never cut corners.
But in terms of common sense sports talk, Philadelphia could always do better than his fraudulent morning performance. He should have never spoken for the Delaware Valley in any capacity, and for a region that prides itself on authenticity, the fact that people bought into a 33-year acting job from a carpetbagger is sad. If this amounts to blaming the victim, so be it. Maybe the annoyance should be directed at the native hoagie mouths instead, or egomaniacal jabroni managers like Andy Bloom, who fostered the idiocy.
Angelo, unlike his callers, was certainly not dumb, and built an impressive brand that will never be replicated. Credit to him for doing so, and shame on everyone who fell for it.