For all his bluster, all his rants against the movers, shakers, and athletes of professional and sometimes college sports, Angelo Cataldi has always operated under a simple notion: He is there for the fans.
Never has this been more noticed, or more important, during these most unsettling of times.
Since mid-March, Cataldi has continued to host a four-hour morning sports talk show on 94WIP despite there being basically no sports to talk about. In that time, the pandemic that engulfed the world also hit close to home for the 69-year-old Cataldi: His mother contracted the coronavirus, seemingly recovered, then died on May 21 at age 98 from what her obituary said were complications from COVID-19.
The next week brought the horrific killing of George Floyd, followed by protests that turned many cities, including Philadelphia, upside down.
Though it all, Cataldi, part of the highly successful morning team on 94WIP, has continued to entertain, inform, and, in these difficult times, make his listeners think about society’s important issues.
Cataldi says he takes his job seriously, but not himself. The formula is one that’s worked, earning his show a 14.9 share among the coveted male 25-54 group, finishing second overall in recent ratings.
Still, doing a sports show with little to no sports has had its challenges, he admits.
“During these times, it has really been a wake-up call for us that what we do isn’t that important, but what’s wrong with having a little fun in a day,” he said. “And that’s really what we’re trying to do, is say, ‘Let’s have some fun.’”
Of course, not every moment can be joyous, and listeners experienced that alongside Cataldi last month when he took some days off after his mom died. His return to the air proved cathartic, he said.
“The first two days back were the best therapy since I lost my mom.”
Cataldi has always placed himself on the same level as the sports fans he speaks to each day. That started when he was a sportswriter for The Inquirer. Covering the Eagles, Cataldi was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 1986.
“When I was working for the newspaper, I only wrote for the reader,” he said. “It’s a simple equation: Who is really paying you to do the job? What determines whether you are successful is whether the reader or listeners are supporting what you are doing.”
The fact that he is so transparent with listeners adds to his appeal. There is very little about his private life that Cataldi doesn’t mention on the show.
“He was Facebook Live before Facebook Live,” said his good friend and one of the morning show cohosts, Al Morganti. “He has had procedures he has talked about on the air. He hides nothing.”
That includes his email address. About a year ago, Cataldi decided to give it out, yet another connection with the fans.
“It allows me to have a dialogue with the fan, at least to acknowledge that their opinion matters,” he said.
Cataldi estimates that 92% of the e-mails are great, but … hey, nothing is perfect.
Writing for the fans worked when he was in print media, and putting himself in their shoes has continued during his time at 94WIP, dating to 1989.
Even when he returned to the air after his mother’s death, Cataldi was able to be serious and gracious when the callers would offer their condolences, and then able to deftly turn into one of his rants or one-liners.
Among his current targets is former NBA superstar Michael Jordan; the state of Rhode Island, where he is from; and Major League Baseball owners and players. There are plenty of others. His loathing of the Dallas Cowboys is legendary.
As angry as he gets, there is usually humor also added in.
And Cataldi never minds when he is the butt of the jokes, which often happens with the rest of the morning team, including Rhea Hughes and other guest cohosts, jumping in.
“All he hears is how the audience hears things,” Morganti said. “To him, if the audience is laughing [at him], it is worth it.”
One of the people who will hurl one-liners at Cataldi’s expense is former Flyer Keith Jones, who is a cohost on the show a few days a week.
“There are a lot of very good radio hosts in this business, but most of them can’t laugh at themselves,” Jones said. “And that’s the one thing that separates Angelo from so many other people in this industry.”
Cataldi is more than just a person who is quick with a quip. He’s highly intelligent. People don’t get nominated for Pulitzers if they aren’t, but he doesn’t have a need to let people know about his intellect.
“The real genius is that it’s not that easy for smart people not to want to be the smartest person in the room,” Morganti said. “He realizes if you try to be the smartest person in the room, you look around and realize you are the only person in the room. That ain’t going to be good radio.”
Cataldi can react off the cuff, but so much of the show is planned out, and that comes from detailed preparation.
“Once people get to know him, they see the work ethic that gets unnoticed,” Morganti said. “He doesn’t just get up in the mornings and throw it together.”
The past few months have been challenging on the emotions. There have been callers who have told him of loved ones who have died of COVID-19. That obviously hits home.
“This place always felt like home for me and never more than the past week,” said Cataldi, who lives in Chestnut Hill.
The Monday after a turbulent weekend of protests in Philadelphia, he devoted the entire show to discussing the Floyd situation and racial inequities.