We won't really know how well 97.5 The Fanatic's new lineup is doing from a ratings perspective for several months, but if the numbers in the most recent quarterly ratings book are any indication, Marc Farzetta, William "Tra" Thomas, and company have a long way to climb back to present a serious challenge to 94.1 WIP and his former boss, Angelo Cataldi.
Cataldi, the veteran morning show host who is in his 29th year at WIP and shows no signs of retiring, nearly doubled former morning show host Anthony Gargano's ratings among men ages 25 to 54 in the summer ratings book, according to Nielsen numbers obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News (all numbers in this story are for men 25 to 54, the most important listening demographic for both radio stations).
As for middays, WIP's duo of Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie came in fourth place, once again defeating The Fanatic's midday team of Harry Mayes and Jason Myrtetus. The Fanatic managed to narrow the ratings gap a bit over the summer, but with Mayes walking away from The Fanatic rather than accepting a role on the station's morning show, Myrtetus will have to hope Gargano can help keep that trend going.
Mike Missanelli remains the only constant at The Fanatic, once again defeating WIP's duo of Jon Marks and Ike Reese. It was a narrow victory for Missanelli, but a win is a win, and it appears his simulcast on NBC Sports Philadelphia hasn't had much of an impact on his radio ratings.
Q&A with The Fanatic program director Eric Johnson
Eric Johnson, who became program director at 97.5 The Fanatic last November, knew he had a problem in his lineup about three to four months into his tenure.
Despite a strong start when his morning show launched on the Fanatic in April 2015, Gargano was continuing to get badly defeated in the ratings by Cataldi (a trend that continued well into the summer, where Cataldi managed to grow his already high ratings by about 37 percent compared to last year). So late last month, with the Eagles' season underway, Johnson finally pulled the trigger and upended his lineup.
Johnson replaced Gargano with Farzetta, an NBC Sports Philadelphia host and former WIP talker, and paired him with Thomas, a former Eagles offensive lineman. He kept former Daily News reporter Bob Cooney and producer Jamie Lynch on the morning show, and shifted Gargano to middays alongside co-host Jason Myrtetus.
"Some people were built to be leaders of morning shows, and other people were built to host midday shows," Johnson said. "It's dependent on the skill set."
We spoke with Johnson about the new lineup, how Gargano was adapting to middays, and the loss of longtime host Harry Mayes. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you end up stealing Farzetta from WIP to lead your new morning show?
I first became aware of Farzetta during the early 2000s during my commute to NJ 101.5. … I just enjoyed hearing his sports updates and stuff on WIP over the years, and then when my daughter was going to Temple University, I'd go to basketball games and Marc was performing in-between the action during timeouts and stuff on the floor, and I thought, 'This guy is really talented.'
I called him pretty much on a whim. He didn't seem to have a regular shift on WIP, so I just reached out to him and said, 'I think you're great. Let's talk.' I have a really strong belief in Marc's abilities and talent, and I think he's in the position he wants to be in, and that we want him in.
Why did you decide to pair Farzetta with Thomas?
The thing that's most surprising about Tra is his drive to be a radio personality. He would show up at our pre-game shows last year unannounced, and he would just hang with us because he wanted to get on the air.
Tra sounds great on the air. I mean, he's got the knowledge, but he also has a great delivery. It's very engaging delivery, and when he talks, it's not monotone, like a lot of players that aren't trained announcers or radio personalities.
How has the new show gone two weeks in?
Marc is a great planner. When he hits the show at 6 a.m. he knows where he's going at every quarter hour. They're ready to react to breaking news, but in the morning it's so important to go in with a plan. They meet at 4 a.m. to talk about the show and go over ideas, which gives you a sense of their work ethic.
I mean, sometimes Tra is the first one in the building at 3 a.m. He treats every show and the prep for every show as he would before any game day when he played football. I've never seen anything like it … he's relatively new to daily radio, but he's all in.
How is Gargano adapting to the move from the morning show to middays?
I think Anthony's in a good place. He's having fun with it. … I think he and Jason are so different sounding on the air that they compliment each other.
You know, Anthony is all about passion. I don't know many people with deeper Philadelphia sports knowledge, especially when it comes to football and basketball.
Of course, moving Gargano to middays meant losing Harry Mayes, who had been at the station since 2005.
Yeah. Harry was a great part of the station for a long time. We would have liked him to be part of the station in a different role going forward. … We were sorry to see him leave, but changes were necessary at the station. We wanted to find a place for him, but it didn't work out. So I wish him all the best, he's a really good guy.