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Angelo Cataldi Still Loud After All These Years

For 33 years, Angelo Cataldi set the Philadelphia-regions sports agenda and ruled the morning airwaves. Nine months after hanging up the headphones, Cataldi gives birth to an autobiographical book called “Loud.”

Because Angelo’s roots are in journalism, it isn’t surprising that the book is a good read and highly instructional for anybody interested in building audiences or creating content.

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The story begins with Cataldi, the son of a toolmaker and a housewife, growing up in Providence, Rhode Island. He describes himself as “the quintessential dork,” something he professes without a wink and nod. Throughout the book, Cataldi frequently uses authorial intrusion, where he steps out of his role, narrating his story to tell the reader his current thoughts. It works in “Loud.”

Cataldi goes from hustling his way through the University of Rhode Island in three years to applying for admission to the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, “eliciting a snort” from his professor. All these years later, he still isn’t sure how he got in, but it became the basis for his long and successful career in newspapers and radio.

At Columbia, Cataldi meets Norman Isaacs, who he credits with changing his life. He convinces Isaacs to allow him to create a program on sports. Sports wasn’t considered true journalism at the time. However, there are conditions, some of which became life-long credos for Cataldi. He had to ask the toughest questions and hold people in power accountable. The rule was no hero worshipping; you are not friends with the people you cover. It’s something Cataldi learned and demonstrated throughout his career.

At Columbia, he also learned to tape his interviews. He returned to Providence after graduation and endured a year of consumer reporting before covering the Celtics. His first big assignment is an interview with the newly signed Larry Bird. Cataldi ends up with a scoop that Bird then denies saying. However, Cataldi taped the interview. Cataldi ends the chapter with “Gotcha.”

In “Loud,” Cataldi takes readers through the many stunts, events, highlights, and lowlights of his life and career, including bouts with depression and anxiety—the end of his first marriage, becoming an adjunct professor (and an excellent stunt he performs while teaching) and meeting Gail, his wife of over 20 years now.

Cataldi devotes pages to his teammates on the show, especially his longtime on-air partner, Al Morganti, who is both hero and anti-hero. Cataldi writes an intriguing portrayal of Al, including his run-in with the late actor Ray Liotta.

He writes with good humor about the many athletes, celebrities, and politicians he has interviewed on the air or dealt with in other settings with enough detail to quench the reader’s appetite.

It’s a little surprising to learn the depth of Cataldi’s personal relationships with listeners off the air. He writes, “One thing I definitely got right was acknowledging from the very beginning that they (the listeners) would be the ultimate judge of my work, not the sports teams and not even my bosses.” On this, he was almost always on point.

The book includes details of road trips with listeners, a listener dying during a broadcast, his own near-death experience, a chainsaw-related injury, and, on a happier note, a kidney donation from one listener to another, among other stories.

Then there are his bosses, including me. When Angelo retired last February, I wrote a column comparing him and Howard Stern.

Stern had Pig Virus (the real-life Kevin Metheny, WNBC PD) portrayed brilliantly in the movie “Private Parts” by Paul Giamatti as Pig Vomit – Kenny Rushton. Angelo had the late Tom Bigby. The two clashed to the point that eventually, Cataldi insisted on and was granted a clause in his contract that prevented Bigby from criticizing or sanctioning him.

The book is personal to me. I was the operations manager at WIP for eight of Angelo’s 33 years (2007-2015). Cataldi had no clause preventing me from such interactions. When I learned he was writing a book, I wondered how he would portray me. The answer: barely. I’m mentioned mostly surrounding an unfortunate incident during Cataldi’s 2008 Phillies championship parade remote broadcast.

Back at the station, people not named by Cataldi were jamming an unmerciful number of commercials into his show. Some of the details aren’t totally correct, but the overall point of the story is true. Throughout the book, I found minor points to correct, but they are all picayune, and none change the material points Cataldi makes.

After Stern, Cataldi is the most talented and successful air personality I have worked with. Reading “Loud” taught me much more about Angelo than I knew. I wish I had all this knowledge on the first day of our relationship.

I’ve previously written about our rocky start. The Eagles decided to test me and pushed me to reign in Angelo literally on my first day at WIP. It caused us to go nose to nose. Only after our shouting match did I realize I’d been set up, and I backed down.

Cataldi writes about me, “He was not Bigby. From that point on, our relationship improved dramatically. For most of his eight years with us, Andy became our loudest and proudest advocate in management.” That’s actually high praise from Cataldi. If I had handled the Eagles first test better, Angelo and I would have accomplished much more.

“Loud” demonstrates that Cataldi misread some of my actions and motives. It’s tough to earn his trust, but ultimately, I didn’t communicate with him well enough.

“Loud” contains much about Cataldi and the Eagles, including owner Jeff Lurie, former President/GM Joe Banner, and his nemesis – Andy Reid. For the book, Cataldi asked former WIP GM Butch Forester if Lurie ever tried to have him fired. Forester answered the question the same way I would: I am unaware that anybody in the Eagles organization ever asked for his firing, but they did not like him.

Contrary to popular belief, Angelo was not wholly unreasonable. I never again told him what opinion to have or topics he could or couldn’t have on the air; never suggested which callers or how long they should be on.

That’s not to suggest I agreed with everything he did, but he had the highest ratings on WIP each month over eight years, with rare exceptions. Commonsense dictated to worry about the other shows and leave the morning show alone.

Over the years, I reasoned with Cataldi to keep his opinions based on performance, not personal. I think Angelo inherently understood this, but we navigated the line together. At some point, he realized it had become too intensely personal between Banner and him beyond the point of being in the listeners’ best interest.

Whether Cataldi agrees or not, my assessment is he toned down the personal attacks after my first couple of years. That made it easier not to go crazy when he occasionally crossed that line.

For those who never attended a Wing Bowl, you missed something spectacular. The days and weeks surrounding Wing Bowl were some of the most intense periods for everybody at WIP. Cataldi writes about the history of the dazzling event.

Cataldi denounces some of his past work, particularly Wing Bowl (much like Stern has done of his past work). However, he understood the value of doing a final Wing Bowl instead of retroactively announcing there would be no future Wing Bowls after the Eagles won their first Super Bowl in 2018.

He writes, “For most of 2018, I argued in vain to hold one final Wing Bowl and to bill it as our last hurrah. What do you say, guys? Let’s do this for the fans. Let’s give our listeners closure. Other than me, the vote was unanimous: No. Wing Bowl was dead.”

Wrong! One programmer would have vociferously argued that doing exactly what you imagined was vital. The idea for the prize for the finale was brilliant! (We had a lot more to accomplish, Ang).

The part that made working with Angelo easy was that he understood it was all about the audience and almost always got it right. He wasn’t there to make friends. He admires listeners and a handful of people – mainly Tom Brookshier.

Early on, when Brookshier had the temperamental Bobby Knight on, Cataldi learned another lesson: “Don’t change the tone of the show to serve your own needs.” When I thought this had happened, was the only time I would speak to Cataldi about content. He would push back but, upon reflection, often back down without saying anything further to me.

What made Cataldi difficult was that his logic didn’t always make sense. Nothing makes that more straightforward than his feelings about Buddy Ryan and Charlie Manuel.

He writes Buddy Ryan was “Heavy, loud, brash, and uninterested in how other people (beyond the customers) saw him.” Remove “heavy” and substitute “listeners” for “customers,” and that sentence would be a fair description of Angelo Cataldi.

Forgetting whether Ryan was a good or bad coach, Buddy understood and played to the fans. It seems after all these years, Angelo looks back at him more forgivingly. Ryan could have served as Cataldi’s inspiration.

His case against Manuel comes down to two things: 1) Charlie’s stammering southern accent (Cataldi calls him a “country bumpkin.” 2) The team’s failure to win more than one World Series. It’s a great sports conversation; should the 2007-2011 Phillies have more than one championship? Angelo can make a good case.

The shame is that Cataldi never spoke with Manuel. My thoughts were like Cataldi’s – until I had a couple of opportunities to talk with Manuel. I’m not friends with Charlie Manuel. I haven’t spoken to him in years and don’t have his contact info, but he’s smart – like a fox.

“Loud” is intriguing, as is its author, Angelo Cataldi. The hardest part about writing this column was deciding – to quote a Bob Seger song – “what to leave in and what to leave out.” I enjoyed the book. Cataldi writes well and is an excellent storyteller. There are many surprises that I have left out but are worth reading.

Further, Cataldi was a master at building an audience-focused product that consistently finished in the top two men 25-54 and top five adults 25-54 for several decades in the competitive Philadelphia market. For anybody looking to create content that builds large audiences, “Loud” is an excellent primer.

Andy Bloom
Andy Bloom
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 [email protected] or you can follow him on Twitter @AndyBloomCom.

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