After cutting ties with afternoon firebrand Josh Innes, WIP went in a different direction to fill the vacant chair of the station's popular afternoon slot. It's not an understatement to say that Chris Carlin, now in his second week at WIP, was an unlikely choice.
But Carlin, who grew up in North Jersey and who worked for the last 20 years covering New York City's sports scene, said fans had been warm and receptive to Carlin & Reese, his new show with cohost Ike Reese that airs from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on WIP.
That alone is no small feat: Philadelphia fans can be very territorial when an out-of-towner's loyalty to local sports teams comes into question.
"I felt like you can't walk in and expect to pretend you know this stuff better than they do," Carlin said of the station's listeners. "What I'm here to do is be a conduit for them and a sounding board, and someone with opinions that may or may not disagree with what they're seeing."
That was not exactly Innes' style.
Carlin came up in radio on New York's popular WFAN sports radio station, but he has spent the last eight years on television, hosting the New York sports debate show Loud Mouths on SportsNet New York. He also has served as the play-by-play announcer for Rutgers football for the last 13 years, and only recently gave up calling the university's men's basketball games.
Why would someone want to leave a comfy television gig in the largest media market in the country to host afternoon radio in Philadelphia?
"It took me a long time, but the one thing I really learned about myself is being a talk show host in radio is ultimately what I really wanted," Carlin said. He purposefully scaled back his TV duties when his contract was up so he could pursue his passion in radio. Along the way, he picked up some work at Sirius XM and other gigs.
Then in August, Innes was fired.
When the afternoon spot suddenly became open at WIP, Carlin sent a note to Mark Chernoff, his former boss at WFAN, which, like WIP, is owned by CBS Radio. Carlin was interested in the job but didn't think he had much of a shot, considering his deep New York sports roots. He didn't expect WIP program director Spike Eskin to give him a call.
"I was surprised [Carlin] was even available," Eskin said. "He didn't even cross my mind as a potential candidate.
Eskin has reshaped WIP's lineup. In addition to Innes' firing, longtime midday host Michael Barkann was pushed out, in part due to his busy schedule hosting shows on Comcast SportsNet. Eskin shifted Barkann's cohost, Ike Reese, to the afternoon. Barkann and Reese were replaced by ex-Eagles fullback Jon Ritchie and former Fanatic evening host Joe DeCamara.
Eskin set up a meeting with Carlin in a South Jersey diner, where the two shared a nearly three-hour lunch, discussing successful sports talk radio and what it could be. Carlin left the meeting sold on the gig, and when the job was offered to him, he didn't hesitate to accept.
There has been some speculation that taking the job in Philadelphia is just a stopgap for Carlin until WFAN's Mike Francesa retires; the longtime New York sports host said he's planning on leaving when his contract expires at the end of 2017. Carlin, whose first full-time job in radio was working under Francesca, said the high-profile gig wasn't even on his radar.
"No one brought up the idea when I decided to go for the job in Philly," Carlin said. "Mike is Mike. Mike may leave, but I'm not convinced he'll go. For me, this is my time."
It's an opportunity that might never have happened if he hadn't gotten the flu.
Carlin's first hosting job was an overnight show on WFAN, but he wasn't there long before he was plucked to replace a fired Sid Rosenberg as the sports guy on Imus in the Morning.
The role on Imus offered Carlin the largest audience of his career and the show's MSNBC telecast gave him his first taste of television. But he hated every minute of it.
"I was miserable," Carlin said, admitting he simply wasn't a good fit for the show. "They wanted a more prepared type of humor, and I'm not a comedian. I'm a little goofy, but I'm not a comedic writer, and he was rough on me for it."
Host Don Imus regularly abused Carlin. During one show in 2007, Imus fired (and then quickly rehired) Carlin on the air for not mentioning the score of a North Carolina/Duke women's basketball game. Imus called Carlin "a fat, misogynistic half-a-unfunny loaf of a sportscaster," and told him "no more pizza for you, fatso."
"That one follows me around, because it's the first thing that comes up when you google my name," Carlin said.
But later that year, everything changed. Carlin became violently ill with the flu toward the end of a Tuesday show, and he called in sick the rest of the week.
On Wednesday, he was temporarily replaced by Sid Rosenberg, whose job he had taken. Rosenberg was reporting on a women's basketball game between Rugters and Tennessee that prompted Imus to refer to the team as "nappy-headed hos."
"I certainly wasn't in a hurry to support him, because of other comments he made. It wasn't that out of character for him," said Carlin, who also had his working relationship with Rutgers to consider.
Imus was suspended and eventually fired over his comments, and Carlin was moved to the Boomer & Carton morning show, where he continued his sports reporting duties until 2008, when he left radio to launch Loud Mouths on SNY. To this day, Carlin wonders whether things would have gone differently if he hadn't gotten the flu and was on as the show's sports reporter that day.
"You want to believe you'd handle it the right way," Carlin said. "I think I would've, but you never know."
He already seems to be handling things better than his predecessor might have. He had just started his second week when he received an on-air call from someone claiming to be Sixers great Julius Erving.
Carlin grew up a fan of Erving and fellow Sixers star Charles Barkley. But he quickly realized something wasn't right when the caller awkwardly greeted him and Reese.
"I wondered if someone was handing him the phone," Carlin said. "As soon as he said something, Ike quickly said, 'That's not him.'"
If it had happened to Innes, he likely would have blasted the caller as a "jamoke" and spent the next hour belittling Philadelphia sports fans. But Carlin just laughed off the harmless prank and moved on to the next caller.
"I need to keep my focus laser-centered," Carlin said. "No doubt this show is one of those chances most people don't often get, and that's not lost on me."