Next week, many Philadelphians will start waking up with somebody new.
On Friday, February 17th, the curtain will come down on Angelo Cataldi’s morning show for the final time, ending a brilliant 33-year run waking up Philadelphia sports fans.
Philadelphia media is going through a generational sea change. Ray Didinger retired last spring, although the city was fortunate to have Ray return for the Eagles Super Bowl run this past month. The “big story” on Action News last December was Jim Gardner’s final newscast as he retired. “The Geator with the Heater,” Jerry Blavat, died on January 20th. Now, Angelo Cataldi is retiring.
It’s hard to describe what Angelo Cataldi has meant to the Delaware Valley. It’s not just rare for somebody to hold mornings on one station for over 30 years. It’s practically unheard of. To call Angelo powerful is like saying Mike Schmidt was a power hitter. True, but an understatement. Angelo Cataldi set the agenda for Philadelphia sports fans. We’re more likely to see somebody hit 500 homers in a Phillies uniform than any one single person exert as much influence on Philadelphia sports fans, let alone a radio personality.
As Angelo Cataldi has been winding down these past few months, I’ve been thinking about the characteristics that make him great. I’m not talking about skills, not his ability to paint a picture, or whether he’s funny, can tell a story, or knows sports – but what’s in his character?
I’ve been fortunate to have a front-row seat for some of the greatest performers in the history of radio, including eight years with Angelo Cataldi as Operations Manager of WIP (2007-2015) and a twelve-year association with Howard Stern (1986-1998).
The two are different, as are the shows they did, but they share some common characteristics that have made them the GOATs.
Work ethic: Both had insane work ethics. Both seemed to have little other life other than gathering material and prepping for their shows. Both shunned their celebrity and opted to remain homebodies with early bedtimes. Believe it or not, not all morning personalities stick to 8:00 p.m. bedtime routines.
Fearless: They say what they think, and it’s remarkably in tune with what their audience thinks. It’s an innate gift. They also don’t censor themselves, which has gotten both in trouble over the years. I was there in the years Stern was wracking up hefty FCC fines. Eventually, his company did the censoring for him. It became the single most determining factor that drove Stern to satellite radio.
Authenticity: Even though they both play a bit of a character, they always remain true to who they are and won’t do anything inconsistent with that personality. I have this great picture on my phone that I took in 2013.
It’s vintage Angelo. I don’t remember if he is holding peanut butter or caramel, or why he’s doing it, but it still cracks me up. Angelo says he’s not that good of an actor. Although I think he sells himself short, he generally isn’t acting. The outrage isn’t fake. He just gets a little louder when he’s on the air.
Loyalty: Both demonstrated extraordinary loyalty to their people. Stern’s dedication to Robin Quivers is shown in his semi-autobiographical movie, “Private Parts.” Angelo was going to retire at the end of 2022. He agreed to do one more year primarily to help his supporting cast. In particular, Marketing Director Cindy Webster, a 30-year CBS/Entercom veteran laid off during the Covid cuts. One of Angelo’s conditions was bringing her back to work exclusively with the morning show during his final year. Cindy is out of WIP again with Angelo. Somebody smart will hire her for marketing, promotions, or communications, I am sure.
They’re complicated: Both made life very easy because they required very little maintenance, were the most reliable member of the airstaff, and had the highest ratings book in and book out. On the other hand, on the rare occasion when you needed a concession or to give them “bad news,” it could be a very difficult day.
When Stern had his ratings victory party in Philadelphia at the last minute, he wanted to parade around Rittenhouse Square. After I told him he could do what he wanted, the Philadelphia Police Department forbade it due to security concerns, and I had to tell Stern it couldn’t happen. It was one of the few off-air verbal lashings I ever took from him (I learned early on not to worry about the on-air ones). Stern mentions the one time I suggested what he shouldn’t say in his book “Private Parts.”
The incident I regret most with Cataldi happened on my first day at WIP. The Eagles had just installed new turf at the Linc. For reasons I can’t recall, the Eagles anticipated that conditions might be tenuous (maybe the same person was responsible for the turf in Super Bowl LVII?). I was put in the awkward position of telling Cataldi, who I had spoken with on the phone only once, and never met, not to talk about the turf – something I shouldn’t have done. It led to a first meeting shouting match, which became more about authority than the actual issue. It probably took over a year for Angelo to trust me after that incident. I was wrong and should have known better. You don’t tell Cataldi or Stern what to or not to say.
Know what they want: A lesson I learned with Stern that served me well with Cataldi was helping them get what they want to achieve their visions. You can find old audio floating on the internet where Stern gives me a list of things he wants in his hotel room for an upcoming trip to Los Angeles. It gets pretty ridiculous, but I never break stride, continuing to say okay and yes to all his demands, no matter how outrageous.
While Cataldi never did anything of that nature, I learned to ask him what would help the show and did my best to get it for him. One year, in the height of “Jersey Shore” mania, he wanted Snookie at Wing Bowl. It took a lot of work and aggravation, but we got her there. It took two years to woo the great Japanese eater Takeru Kobayashi to participate, but we made that happen too.
Perfectionists: Both can be tough taskmasters. I’ve taken verbal pummelings from both on and off-air for mistakes, real and perceived. They have both called much higher levels of managers incompetent on the air. I’ve seen them reduce salespeople, other air talents, and interns to tears for lousy copy, messing up promotions, what they perceived as being lazy, or taking too long. They’re not jerks. How often have you seen Tom Brady screaming at teammates on the sidelines? The GOATs play at high levels and expect it from those around them.
They’re not just sales-friendly; they’re sales enthusiasts: Cataldi is most charming during a client meeting (whether it’s the first or an annual meeting for a long-time client).
During our introductory call, I recall thinking that Stern had hypnotized the Los Angeles sales staff.
I enjoy working with talented people. I’ve been fortunate to work with many highly talented people, but these are the two GOATs. For many Philadelphians, it will be strange to wake up with somebody new next week. Good luck to you. Change is hard.
Good luck to Angelo and his lovely wife, Gail Cataldi, in retirement.
Andy Bloom is president of Andy Bloom Communications. He specializes in media training and political communications. He has programmed legendary stations including WIP, WPHT and WYSP/Philadelphia, KLSX, Los Angeles and WCCO Minneapolis. He was Vice President Programming for Emmis International, Greater Media Inc. and Coleman Research. Andy also served as communications director for Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio). He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.