97.5 the Fanatic let go of Hunter Brody and Eric “Coach” Camille on Monday afternoon, naturally kickstarting another round of discussion about what exactly is going on over there.

Over the past year or two, 94 WIP has really distanced itself from a once-formidable competitor, clobbering the Fanatic in the key demographic of men in the 25-54 age range. It’s the widest gap since Crossing Broad began writing about sports talk radio more than 10 years ago.

That said, you have to ask yourself a simple question –

Do Nielsen ratings matter?

Not necessarily. The Fanatic can lose and still be profitable. You can have hosts who build strong client relationships and make your station or cluster profitable despite what the meters say and despite what the streaming numbers say. In that sense, Beasley executives might not give two shits about the latest ratings book if Bradford White sells 250 water heaters to Fanatic listeners in Q3, 2023.

What we should really ask ourselves is a separate question –

Why does the Fanatic lose to 94 WIP, and badly?

I’ve got five thoughts on that:

 

1. the signal

First and foremost, 94 WIP reaches a much larger portion of the tri-state region, and even down into Maryland. You go to the shore and can pick up the WIP signal. Drive up to Allentown? You can get WIP in the hinterlands along 476 north. No offense to anyone in Macungie or Limeport.

Try the same with 97.5 and you’ll lose the signal on the Garden State Parkway and in the Pennsylvania exurbs. It just doesn’t reach as far, which puts the Fanatic at a disadvantage.

Keep in mind, this wasn’t initially the case, with 97.5 launching while WIP was still broadcasting on 610 AM. That was one of the reasons for the format flip of 2010, which saw WYSP go away forever, and sports talk radio move to 94.1 on the FM dial.

2. flagship status

94 WIP has the Eagles and Phillies broadcast rights, making them the flagship radio station for the two biggest teams in Philadelphia. Guys like Merrill Reese, Scott Franzke, and Larry Andersen are heard only on 94 WIP, which leverages that connection with exclusive interviews and on-site presence at NovaCare, Citizens Bank Park, and BayCare. When Jason Kelce was chugging beers and playing flip cup in Sea Isle City, he was doing it with WIP talent, not 97.5 talent.

The Fanatic has the radio contracts for the Sixers, Flyers, and Union, i.e. teams three through five on the pecking order. They’ve done an okay job of using their Sixers connections, with Doc Rivers and Daryl Morey appearing occasionally on 97.5, then staffing the radio broadcasts with respected guys like Tom McGinnis and Devon Givens. But the Flyers are in a rebuild and the Union are small beans on the radio, so as long as WIP holds the football and baseball rights, 97.5 is going to be behind the eight ball, perpetually.

3. talent churn

Over the last 10 years or so, the following people have departed 97.5 –

  • Mike Missanelli
  • Tony Bruno
  • Harry Mayes
  • Jason Myrtetus
  • Jon Marks
  • Joe DeCamara
  • Sean Brace
  • Nick Kayal
  • Tom Byrne
  • Dan Schwartzman
  • Matt Nahigian, Eric Johnson, Coach Camille
  • Jamie Lynch (let go, later returned)
  • Hunter Brody
  • Natalie Egenolf
  • Marc Farzetta
  • Tra Thomas
  • James Seltzer
  • Phil from Mount Airy
  • Vai Sikahema
  • John Gonzalez
  • Rob Ellis
  • Jody Mac
  • Pat Gallen
  • Eytan Shander
  • Matt Lombardo
  • Sam Wilson
  • Joe Staszak
  • Kevin McAlpin
  • Rob Maaddi
  • Tyler Zulli

You can also put some asterisk cases on there as well. Devan Kaney appeared on Missanelli’s show before being scooped up by WIP. They had Krystle Rich and Alexa Ross filling in after Natalie left. There are some “cup of coffee” examples where you think about what might have been workable.

But yeah, it’s a long list, just too much turnabout in general. A lack of consistency. WIP has lost its share of talent as well, but ever since Andy Bloom and Josh Innes departed, there’s been much more stability throughout that lineup. Angelo retired, Mike Barkann moved on, and Chris Carlin went back to New York, sure, but Reese, Marks, Giglio, Rhea Hughes, Al Morganti, etc – there’s a main group of talent that’s been in place for some time now. There’s much less churn at WIP, more promotion from within (Jack Fritz, etc), and those personnel changes have been handled mostly in-house. There’s also little sloppiness, nothing like we saw with the Mikey Miss situation.

4. institutional knowledge and a clear identity

When you flip on WIP or even just look at the lineup on paper, you know exactly what you’re getting. Eagles, Eagles, and more Eagles with baseball and basketball thrown in seasonally. Yeah, it’s banal and repetitive at times, but it works.

This strategy of “playing the hits” is reflected in the way WIP has built its roster. Every Monday-to-Friday day part features a former Philadelphia Eagle, with Jon Ritchie on mornings, Hugh Douglas on middays, and Ike Reese hosting from 2 to 6. Having former professionals in these roles adds instant credibility, because those guys have been there, done that, and know what they’re talking about. The only real downside is that they’re sometimes out of their element when asked to talk about other sports, but that’s handled by Joe DeCamara, Joe Giglio, and Jon Marks, plus their respective supporting casts.

When you look at the Fanatic’s roster, there are a couple of radio veterans in John Kincade and Anthony Gargano. Two guys who have been in this industry for a while and paid their dues, worked as writers or were in locker rooms. Ricky Bo is a former baseball pro and Bob Cooney was a legit journo. Kevin Cooney, Dei Lynam, and some of night/weekend people have the experience, but there’s also a significant crop of young and green talent as well.

WIP wins in the institutional knowledge department. They employ radio and print veterans like Glen Macnow, Mike Sielski, Morganti, Rob Ellis, and Jody Mac. Ray Didinger is still around. Reuben Frank and Rickie Ricardo get the occasional shift. Eliot Shorr-Parks, say what you will about him, goes down to the Eagles practices and games and actually does work in the field. Then you add the three former NFL players and that shuts the door.

5. web, social, and demographics

WIP generally appeals to an older demographic of Philadelphia sports fans. The station has been around much longer than 97.5, and it’s the Phillies flagship, so that 50+ crowd has been locked in for some time.

If there’s a hypothetical advantage for the Fanatic, it would be going younger, attacking social, and trying to appeal to that next wave of Philly sports fans. That’s not exactly what advertisers want, men and women ages 18 to 34, but that group will age into the 25-54 demo and hopefully stick with the station when a portion of their income becomes disposable.

That said, WIP wins in social and on the web. They have dedicated writers pushing content on other platforms while the Fanatic asks employees to put together articles for the website. WIP has more audio and video cut for social and doubles the Fanatic in Twitter and Instagram followers. They do a much better job at taking their radio content, packaging it, and dispersing it through various other channels.

The one area where 97.5 does perform well is YouTube, where some of the shows are simulcast. They have a good collection of reels/shorts or whatever YT calls them. It was always a smart move by them, to embrace YT and put their shows on secondary platforms, but with the youth on that staff and a number of digital natives in the ranks, they really should be leveraging social much better.

We talked about all of this on Crossing Broadcast: