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Friday, December 5, 2008

ESPN 950 vs. WIP 610

A Thanksgiving night game for the Eagles was nice, but the 10 days in-between games hasn’t left much to get excited about. With the Giants coming up on Sunday and one of their starting wide receivers being done for the year after he was carted away in handcuffs, Philadelphia would normally be frothing at the mouth.

Instead, a fair amount of fans, including yours truly, are actually worried that the Birds might win. The last thing I want to see is this team once again get hot, win out, squeak into the playoffs, and lose some time in mid-January. That would give the front office yet another chance to trot out their ridiculous notions that they are a championship caliber team, which will likely happen even if the Eagles lose out. They simply are not a championship caliber team. They’re not even good, mostly because Andy Reid’s play calling is absurd, but I’m sure that all will get rehashed Sunday night into Monday.

So, I thought I’d look at the two most popular venues Philadelphia fans use to complain about their favorite teams – sports talk radio. That basically boils down to ESPN 950 versus 610 WIP.

From the dearth of news I’ve been able to find on the subject, ESPN (which still uses WPEN at times) has made modest ratings gains on WIP in recent months. Mike Missanelli constantly claims to be gaining on Howard Eskin in the drive-time slot, but I can’t find anything in the news on it. (Granted, my efforts amounts to a quick Google and search.)

I made the switch fairly permanently to 950 after they booted Jim Rome, so I admit I’m not completely up to date on WIP. That was mostly their own doing though, as the station had become more guy talk than sports talk. However, they have clearly felt ESPN’s presence as the interviews that they once shunned as boring now seem to be a regular part of their programs when I check in.

Show for show, I think ESPN wins out as the better station, though they are slipping a bit lately – or maybe they’re just wearing on me a bit. The rare occasions that I’m up early enough to catch something before 9 AM, I take Mike & Mike over Angelo Cataldi every time. This may have changed, but even before 950 bounced their hideous morning team that included the former NY Jets quarterback Glenn Foley, Cataldi just wasn’t tolerable any more.

He was clearly trying to emulate Howard Stern and just couldn’t pull it off. His penchant for talking about his own life or the “inside radio” stuff about how the show evolved was just mind numbing. And when the Eagles Super Bowl appearance didn’t put Wing Bowl on the back burner, well, not much was left to be said. Self-promotion had clearly usurped everything else.

It’s not even that Mike & Mike is a great show. Along with the Mike Tirico and Scott Van Pelt show on mid-days, the ESPN “we invented sports” mentality can get draining. Van Pelt is the worst offender. It’s not necessarily what he says, but how he says it. He just goes too in-depth on how guys feel leading up to the big game or the like, as if he has personal knowledge via the ESPN mountain top. Or they – meaning all of the ESPN national guys – also do a lot of the inside radio garbage that just seems self-serving.

That said, I do like the national perspective that WIP wasn’t even attempting to offer, including games that you can now actually find on Philly radio if you’re stuck in the car. There really are big games and stories outside of Philadelphia that matter to many people. Sports fans in this city are often criticized for having no interest in sports outside of our teams. I’ve never really bought that we were any worse in our hometown bias than any other town. And, bottom line, there was never an outlet for those fans that wanted more than WIP offered.

ESPN backed into a good situation when they paired Harry Mayes with Jody MacDonald after the latter returned from a heart attack. Alone, MacDonald was still better than the end of Cataldi and the first half of 610’s mid-day show, currently Glen Macnow and Anthony Gargano. But Jody Mac could get a little too into being the radio personality, or, maybe a better way of putting it, the sports aficionado. It never got too bad, but Mayes adds just enough levity and other opinions to keep MacDonald away from the rare trek into the obnoxious. Mayes also offers just a little bit of room for the younger viewpoint in my opinion.

I’ve always liked Macnow, and he makes Gargano almost tolerable. In fact, I’m listening just a little bit now when Tirico is on, but I’m always waiting for Anthony to go off on how he authored some book or to try to sound profound while maintaining the South Philly mentality. He was probably one of the biggest reasons I tuned WIP out, and I just don’t trust that he won’t eventually irritate the hell out of me so I never last long.

Finally – since I rarely listen at night – there’s Eskin versus Missanelli. Mikey Miss seems to be much more mellow than he was on WIP, except for his disdain for his former partner Eskin. Sometimes he’s actually too mellow, and it was a relief when the station squashed his weekly call from his other former partner – Steve Fredericks – after the old guy proved he just couldn’t sensor himself.

Overall, Missanelli’s just better than what Eskin was when I bailed on him. Seeing him weekly on NBC10’s Sports Final, I doubt Eskin’s changed much. When he does talk sports its all about what his sources told him, and he clearly allows what he says to be dictated by those sources. I can remember commuting home from my old job for 40 minutes and not hearing a word from Eskin on sports. Missanelli keeps it moving, rarely goes off on his former tangents, and does real interviews. He would hate hearing it, but he’s what Eskin was at his best. He’s doing a little too much promotional stuff lately and needs to give up his favorite “he can’t play” line about players he dislikes, but he is definitely the better choice.

I guess this reads like a 950 love fest, but I welcome other opinions. For me, 950 simply offers better sports talk than WIP.


Anonymous said...

glad someone else is at 3,couldn't take to much more of eskin/950 is a more entertaining than listining to eskin

Anonymous said...

love the mieky miss show

The Pattison Pundit said...

Can't talk too much about the morning program - I'm a Preston and Steve guy all the way. Though, when they commercial, I flip to Angelo. In doses, he's bearable. Plus, Hugh Douglas is the man. It's all Jody Mac and Mayes for me in the midday - I really just don't like the WIP scene any longer. Gargano and Macknow can get a bit boring to me, and I will never, ever tune in for Eskin's program. Can't stand the guy. Have to disagree with you on one front - I'm a Scott Van Pelt fan. I can see how he can seem a bit presumptious at times, but he's seems to have a genuine passion for sports, does his homework, and doses any rants he may have with self-deprecating humor and his nerdy-guy-trying-to-act-cool shtick. The interplay between him and the slightly dorky yet always professional Tirico is solid, especially when Tirico seems to be a bit smitten with Scott and his humor. Solid post, really liked the topic because I spend a good deal of my day driving and listening to sports radio, and my apologies for turning the comments section into my own personal post.

Rob said...

Glad to have the input from all of you -- no need to apologize for length. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

People still listen to terrestrial radio?

Rob said...

"Anonymous said...People still listen to terrestrial radio?"

Guffaw! Oh, how witty of you. Yes, much better to PAY for it. Zzzzzzz....

Anonymous said...

Every time I would have hear one of those incessant "GAINT" local commercials whether it be for GIANT CARS or GIANT savings somewhere I feel that I lost part of my soul. Local radio blows.

Jim Rome was the best part of that lineup

Listening to Mike and Mike is like having your scissors shoved in your ears.

Rob said...

Jim Rome calls his own fans "Drones," no? It's something like that. Kinda says it all!

Anonymous said...

i was glad to listen to someone else at 3:00 p.m. BUT i live in west chester and at dusk, they turn down the power and two or three more powerful stations interfere with 950. if they had a more powerful station or didn't cut the power, i could listen past 4:45 ( in the winter )from only 20 miles away !!!
any one else have this problem ?

Bob Wright said...

I am glad to see many people coming around to 950. I started listening when they first came on the air. I used to occassionaly listen to Macnow but now I am completely 950ESPN. Cataldi is just dreadful and I would listen to dead air before I ever tune him in again. I forget who said it but I also can't listen to Ike Reese. I lasted about 15 minutes last summer and it was like listening to nails on the blackboard. Horrendous! Maybe he could be a sidekick or analyst during football season but nothing more. He is a big reason why I can't tune in to Monday Night Live on Comcast. I agree that Mike Tirico is a bit boring but it still beats the alternative. I also noticed when I was listening to 610 that they were doing more interviews, which they always stayed away from before. A little pressure from 950? They definitely can't laugh at 950 anymore. WIP may still be ahead in the ratings but the quality is definitely with 950. I think some people just tune to 610 out of habit. A bad habit. It wouldn't bother me at all if 610 just went off the air. I haven't tuned in in over 2 years and I don't plan on it either. They can take their Wing Bowl and flush it with all of the other drunks that listen to that station.

Anonymous said...

Since this piece was written, it is clear that Mike's ratings have increased dramatically. Mike's statement that he is regulary beating Eskin in the 18-34 male demographic rings true especially since WIP and Eskin have not publicly refuted the statement.

It is clear that Eskin still has many more overall viewers but the gap has closed considerably. Having said all of this, it is also obvious that Mikey Miss is the only bright spot for 950. They need to raid some of the 2nd tier guys at WIP (Reuben Frank would be a good start) and build more on the local connection. Mike and Mike may be a good show but in Philly, no one will listen to national radio. I also understand that they have to carry a certain amount of ESPN programming per their contract so there may be nothing they can do about it at the moment.