South Philly-bred

Robert Hazard

signed a multi-album deal last week with Rykodisc - his first major contract since inking with RCA more than 20 years ago. That's when he and the Heroes broke big in local clubs and the hit he wrote for

Cyndi Lauper

, "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," exploded on the radio.

"It's just unbelievable," Hazard said of the signing by phone Friday from his winter home in Florida. "My whole career's been this way." (Rolling Stone mag discovered him in J.C. Dobbs on South Street.)

Hazard was brought to the attention of Ryko president Jim Cuomo by Philly native Gary Jay, a longtime fan and a VP for the label. Jay had seen the singer-songwriter last fall at a show at the Tin Angel.

These days, Hazard, 58, takes a folkier approach to music. His next local stops will be at Puck in Doylestown (Friday) and Steel City in Phoenixville (Saturday), and his debut Ryko album is expected this summer.

Over the years, Hazard says, the biz has changed "drastically. . . . They haven't sent any limos to my door. Those days seem to be over, but that's for the best. People spent money frivolously."

Not that Hazard, who summers in the Adirondacks, is complaining. Those royalties from "Girls" still come in handy. "I'm not rich, but I could live on it," he says. "I still have to work."

Charitably speaking

Bad news and good news for WHYY. The public TV-radio outlet got a hand-slap from Charity Navigator, which monitors the spending of nonprofits. Based on its 2005 tax filing, WHYY was listed among Charity Navigator's "10 Highly Paid CEOs at Low-Rated Charities" - groups that devote less than 60 percent of their budgets to programs and services while paying their chief executive officers more than $250,000 a year. CEO

Bill Marrazzo's

$426,173 salary, and program expense of 57.1 percent, landed WHYY in second place, behind the lowest-rated Corcoran Gallery of Art, which paid director

David Levy


WHYY should not make that list again next year. The station says its latest filing, for 2006, will show that its program expense has risen to 63 percent (and includes three new digital TV channels and HD radio). WHYY reported Marrazzo's 2006 salary as $430,786.

Local girl at the Oscars

Keep an eye out tomorrow during

Good Morning America's

Oscars coverage for Aldan's

Neveen Mahmoud

, 17, a senior at the Agnes Irwin School in Rosemont. And remember her name. "Veenie" appeared recently on


as part of a segment on the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which awarded her a full ride to any college. (No choice yet, she says.)


Chris Cuomo

was so enthralled, ABC decided to send her and her mother,


, to the Oscars this weekend. Last week, she said she didn't know what she'd be doing in Hollywood. "I'm just trying to wrap my head around it," says the only child, whose Egyptian-born father left her and her mother when she was young. Her mother has chronic health problems.

Veenie says she wants to "improve society - not just American society." And she doesn't understand all the fuss: "I'm not the only person who's faced adversity and been able to deal with it."

Media activity

Mary Mason

has bought a third hour on WWDB (860) for her nascent Saturday call-in show, which now airs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mason joined

Bill Cosby

and a few friends for a three-hour dinner Wednesday at Frederick's in South Philly. They closed the place, leaving after midnight. "I'd


do that if I was on the morning show," the WHAT alumna says.

Irv Homer left his talk-show home of WBCB (1490) this month because, he says, "I can't worry about Iraq." Not when he's caring for his wife of 53 years, Francine. Talk radio is "just not in my head right now," Homer told me at Wednesday's luncheon of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia at Bala Golf Club. The group gathered some popular talkers, including Ed Harvey, Dom Giordano, Wally Kennedy and Howard Eskin, to speak. Cocktail chat focused on Philly's Favorite Kids Show Hosts, a forthcoming WHYY (Channel 12) special produced by member Ed Cunningham with help from Pioneers president Gerry Wilkinson. They rounded up such luminaries as Jane Norman (Pixanne), W. Carter and Patricia Merbreier (Captain and Mrs. Noah), John Zacherle (Shock Theater), Bill "Wee Willie" Webber, Sally Starr and Gene London. Airs 8 p.m. March 5.

Lucy St. James, who's been in town for years as a radio production director, has left Radio One's three-station local cluster for the six Philly stations owned by Clear Channel.

Briefly noted

Tuesday's red-carpet screening of the film


is expected to bring out stars including

Terrence Howard


Bernie Mac


Tom Arnold


Evan Ross


Diana Ross

' kid), record pioneers

Kenny Gamble


Leon Huff

, and the usual gaggle of politicos to the Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St. Limos are due to disgorge about 6:30 p.m.; crowds will start mugging and cheering for TV cameras by 6.


, which opens wide March 23, is loosely based on the success story of Philly swim coach

Jim Ellis

. The 76ers will honor him at tomorrow night's game as a hometown hero.

Philly's Nicole Tranquillo says she'll "play it by ear" as she looks ahead now that she has been voted off Fox's American Idol. The 20-year-old, originally from suburban Reading, had taken a leave from the University of the Arts, where she's a vocal major. After she returns to Washington Square West, "we'll see what happens. . . . If nothing comes up really quickly, I'll go back in the fall." Big regret: Not meeting Jennifer Lopez, who is expected to join the Idol cast for a week as a mentor.

Reality TV is not dead. It will just look that way on the new series Murder, coming up from Spike TV and Real World/Road Rules creator Bunim-Murray, on which contestants will try to solve real homicides. (Producers will re-create the scenes and provide the same clues the pros had.) Philadelphia Casting is looking for smart people from 25 to 35 years old. Send an e-mail, a photo, and a brief description of your interest in the show to by March 8. Interviews will be held March 10.

Dueling celeb autograph sessions at the USAir terminal at PHL on Feb. 13: Richard Simmons vs. Paula Abdul. Both had been selling on QVC. While waiting for the same delayed 2:40 p.m. flight to LAX, they made nice to fellow passengers. When the jet's crew arrived at 3, Simmons leaped up and proclaimed: "Everyone! The crew is here. Let's give them a big round of applause!"

Contact columnist Michael Klein at 215-854-5514 or Read his recent work at