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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

The departures this week of two legendary Philadelphia media personalities got BNM’s Andy Bloom thinking about different ways hosts end their tenures.

Andy Bloom

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The departures this week of two legendary Philadelphia media personalities got me thinking about different ways hosts end their tenures. So what’s the best way to deal with changes in on-air talent who have commanded a large audience for decades? 

Audiences often feel like they go through a break-up when stations and personalities separate.

“Think of all that we’ve been through and breaking up is hard to do,” Neil Sedaka said.

This week’s events and the pending retirement of one of the market’s most prominent personalities provide opportunities to investigate the mindset as they walk away. So let’s start by looking at personalities who chose to walk away – how they decided and how it’s worked. 

Ray Didinger was the first to leave Philadelphia media this week. He retired from 94.1 WIP, where he was a vital part of the station since it went All Sports. He was a cohost and made numerous appearances on WIP shows throughout the week. Simultaneously, Didinger stepped away from NBC Sports Philadelphia, where he was a fixture during Eagles coverage. 

Didinger was a Philadelphia sportswriter for over five decades.

If you are unfamiliar with Philly, this information unquestionably fails to demonstrate the extent of the adoration for Didinger. As Operations Manager of WIP (2008 – 2016), I found Didinger’s non-polarizing, universal appeal unparalleled. 

Didinger, never the hippest guy on the air, was also lovingly known as “Ray-Diddy.” His unrivaled NFL expertise earned him the nickname “The Godfather.” 

As his radio partner of over 20 years, Glen Macnow, explains,” During one Eagles pre-game show, Ray said something brilliant, and Ike Reese (nine NFL seasons, seven with Eagles, current WIP PM drive) said, That’s why you’re the Godfather of football in this town.’ Ray’s the highest authority on football in Philadelphia.” 

I wondered how difficult it was to walk away. Ray told me he knew when the moment arrived.

“A few times during the last Eagles season, I was headed to the stadium and thought I’d rather be doing something else,” Didinger said. 

“For the first time, it felt like work. I never had that feeling before. That’s when I realized something had changed, and it was probably time to leave.” This information would have stunned anybody who knew Didinger, listened to, or watched him on-air.

I wondered if Didinger worried about being asked to leave. He replied, “That was part of it. I’ve seen many good friends in media shoved out the door. They weren’t exactly fired but offered a buyout. They took the package and ‘retired’ even though they wanted to continue working. After 53 years, I didn’t want to leave with that bad taste in my mouth.”

Family played a significant role in Didinger’s decision. “He has four grandchildren, all in the area,” Macnow said. “His nine-year-old grandson plans to teach him to play Madden, which I think will be hysterical.”

Didinger told Macnow in February of his plans to retire when his contract expired at the end of May. Soon after, he alerted WIP management. Then came the discussion of how to inform an audience that had been loyal for decades.

“Ray’s instinct was to tell listeners just one day before his final show,” Macnow recalled. “He had no idea that people would have so many good feelings about him. Ray just wanted to say goodbye and walk out the door. I said, ‘You can’t do that. It would be unfair to listeners to deny them the opportunity to say goodbye.’”

“Eventually, under what Didinger called “much duress,” he agreed to announce his retirement at the start of May. Macnow planned out retrospectives and features about Didinger to fill the final eight shows. 

“I squirmed through the whole thing,” Didinger said, “but Glen kept it from becoming too maudlin.”

For the final two shows (Saturday and Sunday, May 28 – 29), Macnow planned out every break. The station held a party in the Audacy’s Performance Center on Saturday. Macnow & Didinger simultaneously did their show with a live audience of about 50 people. 

The assembled included some of the show’s best callers and co-workers, including Dick Vermeil, Seth Joyner, Phil Martelli, and Ed Rendell (who each mean a lot in Philadelphia) and three generations of Didinger’s family. The station provided a cake in the shape of a yellow legal pad – Didinger famously made copious notes on stacks of such tablets.

After Saturday’s big sendoff, Sunday’s show was the opposite — just Glen and Ray in the studio one last time. “Saturday was the stadium concert,” Macnow explained. “Sunday was the cozy unplugged version.”

They took just a handful of callers on Sunday. Since the pandemic, the two have done a feature called “Tell Us Your Story” (a long-form biographical interview with a prominent athlete, coach, or broadcaster). Sunday Didinger told his story, recounting his fascinating and accomplished life.

The final 15 minutes were emotional and powerful. The two shared memories and stories of their partnership, accomplishments, and friendship. Didinger also spoke of the connection built with the community over more than a half-century.

Asked if they would have done anything differently, both Macnow and Didinger commented they wished their voices hadn’t cracked at the end. I found their quivering voices: poignant, raw, and authentic as I listened. 

Didinger concluded that giving the audience one month’s notice before retiring “was just about right. I didn’t want a ‘Victory Tour.’ I wanted something respectful but not over-the-top. I think we accomplished that.”

The phrase “Victory Tour” brings us to an upcoming retirement. Angelo Cataldi will finish an incredibly successful 30-year run as WIP’s morning man at the end of the year. In a profile piece, the Philadelphia Inquirer once said, “Every morning, Cataldi sets the agenda for the region’s sports fans while making them laugh.”

After working with Angelo for eight years, I feel obligated to tell you about him. Initially, one of the most complex people to learn to coach, but ultimately one of the easiest. His preparation and intelligence are second to none. 

Here’s an example of Angelo’s character and loyalty. He was ready to retire at the end of 2021 but was convinced to do one more year after a few management concessions. One was to reinstate a marketing employee laid off because of budget reductions at the start of the pandemic. 

The woman had been with the cluster for 28 years before being cut. Angelo thought her release unfair. He also recognized the value she could bring to his show. She got back to work on the morning show for his final year. That’s who Angelo is.

Cataldi’s retirement was a long time coming. “The decision to retire has been weighing on me for at least six years,” he told me. After all the years, like most morning show people, he’s never grown accustomed to the hours.

What keeps Cataldi motivated, especially if he’s been thinking about retiring for six years? Always honest, Angelo admits, “Two things have kept me going at 71: The first is ego. People care what I have to say. It is not easy to give that up. And second is fear. I look forward to shedding the burden of doing a show every day but be careful what you wish for. How will I occupy my days when the mic is turned off? It is present in my thoughts every day.”

For years, I’ve told those I coach that they aren’t doing it right if they aren’t exhausted at the end of a show. I’ve commented on Angelo’s preparation and devotion to his craft. I’ve NEVER heard him “phone-in” a show. When it comes to work ethic, he is uncompromising and aware of the price he pays for this standard. 

“Giving my all every day is not negotiable, so the toll becomes greater every year. Often, at the end of shows now, I am not clear-headed. The fatigue is so much more incapacitating now,” said Cataldi.

Like Didinger, grandchildren factored in Cataldi’s plans. He used to talk about moving to California, but that’s changed. “There was a time when I pondered a move to the West Coast to finish out my days in the splendor of sunshine and In’ n Out burgers. Then I met my three newest grandkids, and that plan changed dramatically. With age comes wisdom, I guess.”

Cataldi’s impending retirement comes up frequently on his show. If it’s not a “Victory Tour,” it’s at least a “Goodbye Tour.” He says he has no regrets, “at least not yet.” He is, however, introspective about his legacy: “How do I want to be remembered? Watching the outpouring of adoration for (Jim) Gardner (longtime ABC-6 TV news anchor who recently announced plans to retire) and Didinger has me wishing for a far different sendoff. 

I never really aspired for love from our listeners. Loyalty and respect are far more important to me. I want to walk out the door with just one lasting impression. I worked hard every day, as hard as I could. I never took a segment off, let alone a show. I earned the audience I had right up to the end.”

There are the stories of two unique and outstanding talents, Ray Didinger, who just walked away on his terms, and Angelo Cataldi, scheduled to do so at the end of the year. Next week, we’ll continue the topic with the end of Mike Missanelli’s run on 97.5 The Fanatic and the more difficult instance of when personalities don’t choose to leave on their own. 

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BNM Writers

Michael Berry Doesn’t Want to Be All Serious All the Time

“I get to entertain everyday and people come and listen to me. That really — more than anything else — is the thrill.”

Garrett Searight

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A photo of Michael Berry

There are plenty of nationally syndicated radio shows that began as local shows. Not many hosts, however, have both a local radio show and a nationally syndicated show each weekday. But Michael Berry isn’t your average radio talk show host.

In addition to hosting a local show on NewsRadio 740 KTRH, Berry hosts The Michael Berry Show on more than 40 stations throughout the nation. And he believes having a local show in his hometown market — Houston — while still getting to talk about national topics on his afternoon show is the ideal situation for him.

“It lets me sort of keep my hand in two very different pies and do two very different shows. And that fulfills me,” Berry said. “I wouldn’t want to do just one or just the other. And I think part of it — I was the Mayor Pro Tem of the city of Houston, so I got very involved and very entrenched in the political world. I know a lot of the restaurant owners, I know a lot of business owners, and I really enjoy making the fourth-largest city into a tiny town for our listeners.

“But I also want to be able to talk to a national audience on a national level. I get to do both of those. I think that’s ideal for me.”

Michael Berry served on the City Council in Houston from 2002-2008, which gives him a unique perspective about both local and national politics that many others in the format don’t have.

“I think the experience of how bills are made and the backroom deals and how they’re done, I think that informs my opinions in a way that if you haven’t done that, it makes it harder to understand,” said Berry. “Also the blocking and tackling of how you get bills passed and how you win elections and those sorts of things.

“It just gives you that experience and it also helps you understand when a politician or an elected official says something that seems to go against what he believes or what he promised. You have a better sense of ‘Ok, who did he sell out to? Why did he do that? Where is the pressure point?’

“Because I think listeners want to understand not just why is Mitch McConnell doing something that feels like it’s against what the base is doing. The better question is, what’s the pressure point? What’s driving him? Who’s pushing him into that corner? And I think when you’re in the process, you get a very good sense of that.”

One could refer to Michael Berry as an almost new-age news/talk host. While one of the large criticisms of conservative talk radio today is the vitriol and anger most hosts present on the air, Berry is often presenting the opposite. Oftentimes, his show isn’t centered on conservative political viewpoints at all. A constant presentation of hope, admiration, and excitement not just about politics but about culture and the conservative lifestyle is the backbone of Berry’s program.

And while he has an affinity for those inside the conservative talk radio format, he simply believes he’s filling a different, virtually unoccupied, lane.

“There are some brilliant people out there on the radio. Sean Hannity has access to every elected official. Clay (Travis) and Buck (Sexton) are getting access to anybody they want as a guest. Mark Levin is a brilliant mind, a brilliant legal mind. (Glenn) Beck has a great perspective from decades of experience. Dan Bongino’s a really smart guy. There’s some really, really clever, smart, experienced broadcasters. I don’t need to be a lighter version of them, which is all I could ever hope to be. I want to be who I am,” admitted Berry.

“And I don’t see myself as competing with them. I wouldn’t want to. They’re all wonderful. We can all coexist, but I don’t want to watch the same show 24 hours a day. I want to create content that is different than other people are doing,” Berry continued. “Not because I’m better or they’re not good, but because I don’t think I can do it as well as they can. So I want to do what I do well.”

Michael Berry free admits he’d get bored simply sticking to the conservative political script for two separate shows each day. That’s why weaving other topics into his program continues to excite him.

“If all you do is what I call angry, old white man radio, you can’t build an audience and you can’t keep an audience. And the reason is that it becomes tedious. It becomes a chore to listen to. And everybody has heard that type of program that never laughs at anything and especially not that itself. We want to make people laugh. We want to talk about real life things, as well. We don’t have to talk politics 24/7.

“When I think about the influence in this country, on the culture, comedians have always had such an influence. The reason is that when you’re laughing, you’re thinking, and you’re engaging and you’re building your bond. I think that one of the great barriers to success in radio and success for the conservative movement is the inability to bond on the deeper level of let’s share a laugh.

“I think there is a great joy when I find that I’m making a point that I consider to be important, and yet in the middle of it, we can all laugh.”

Ultimately, Michael Berry doesn’t view his role in talk radio as a political pontificator, conservative advocate, or a preacher from behind the Republican pulpit. He views his craft from a completely different angle.

“I view myself as an entertainer. The hardcore conservative listeners don’t like me to say that because that means you must not mean what you say, or you’re not serious. I mean every word I say. And I’m very serious,” Berry stated. “But I’m serious in the way Dave Chappelle is serious. And make no mistake, Dave Chappelle is having a huge influence in America today on how we view the First Amendment or the concepts of freedom of thought…the reason is, is because he’s dead serious while making you laugh.

“When I was really deciding that this was a career I wanted to pursue…I went and studied stand-up comics, because I felt like that was the place. Otherwise, I would just mimic the guys that were already successful, and I didn’t want to do that,” Berry continued. “I felt dishonest about that.

“So what I did, instead, is I went and studied comedians, and delivery and how you engage an audience and how you hold an audience and how you make a point without beating the audience over the head with it. And how you go from point to point, how you pivot, how you make it fun. A lot of these are sort of back porch conversation tricks, you know, parlor games of, of how we keep a conversation going except it’s a one one man conversation without it feeling like I’m lecturing you.”

During our conversation, Michael Berry admitted he can hear hosts around the country who have lost the will to create compelling content, who say things they don’t believe, and are no longer in love with the format that once enticed them to join the industry.

However, he’s made a vow to never lose the excitement that comes with working in a format he still thoroughly enjoys.

“I view it as I get to wake up every day excited to go to the studio. My dad worked for 40 years at a plant in the maintenance unit and he hated every day of it. But he had all us kids to take care of. I get to entertain every day and people come and listen to me,” he shared. “That really, more than anything else, that is the thrill. I know that sounds hokey, but it’s true.

“I think that most people probably don’t love what they do…I’m a megalomaniac. We all have to be to have the audacity to think that you can talk every day and people want to hear you, but I love it. It’s a thrill. I love to talk and I love to create stories and I love to create entertainment and create content. And when I hear from people that in some way they enjoyed it. It’s more rewarding than you can imagine, in the way that it would be for a pastor, or a comedian, or a songwriter, or a singer. It is incredibly rewarding.

“We live in an abundance of riches when it comes to content…but for them to choose to come and say I’m gonna let you entertain me,” Michael Berry concluded. “That is the ultimate compliment.”

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Do Radio Hosts Actually Care About What They’re Talking About?

So many shows do topics because they feel like they have to. Maybe the topic’s trending. Maybe it’s leading the news. But if you don’t care, listeners will notice.

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If you don’t care, why should anyone else care about what you do?

That’s one reason why I didn’t watch the NBA All-Star Game Sunday night. You don’t get a 211-186 final if anyone is remotely making any effort at all. It’s an extended version of the pre-game warmup. Everyone’s throwing up threes with no defense. They might as well break into a layup drill. Nobody wants to get injured in a meaningless game. I’ve endured a lot of All-Star games among the major sports leagues, and I stopped bothering to watch years ago. I haven’t missed much.

That translates to other realms as well. This column focuses on the media, so if you’re, say, a talk radio host, you should be asking yourself whether you really care about what you’re talking about. That’s the threshold question: Do you care? Because if you don’t, are you really going to put in the effort to make the topic entertaining so that other people – your listeners – care enough to listen and stay with you for the whole segment?

So many shows do topics because they feel like they have to. Maybe the topic’s trending. Maybe it’s leading the news. But if you don’t care, listeners will notice. And “I don’t care about it” isn’t a particularly compelling talk radio topic, is it?

It’s easier for local sports talk – it’s a given that whatever you’re ranting about and whatever take you have, listeners care because, well, who listens to sports radio and doesn’t care about what’s going on (All-Star Games notwithstanding)?

News organizations, on the other hand, have a different goal: If it’s news that on the surface is dry and boring but still matters, it’s the reporters’ and editors’ job to explain why a viewer or reader should care. Ukraine or Gaza might seem remote to a lot of people, but their importance to a typical U.S. citizen can’t be understated, and it’s important (and often forgotten) to emphasize why they matter and what impact they have on everyone.

The simple fact is that the energy you project on anything you talk about or report upon is a reflection of what you have invested in the story. You can fake enthusiasm, but if you just truly don’t care about Taylor and Travis, you’ll just be going through the motions and that’s what the audience perceives.

On the other hand, if you’ve invested a lot of time digging into an arcane financial story and you know that what seems like a remote, inscrutable radio topic may have profound consequences for many consumers, emphasize that and make clear why the viewer or reader should care, and do it right out of the gate to grab their attention.

Here, a digression: Why do they even bother with the actual All-Star Game anymore? Take the NBA All-Star Weekend: Nobody will remember anything about the game (other than that one team scored over 200 points) but everyone will remember the Steph Curry-Sabrina Ionescu shootout. They may remember Mac McClung’s repeat dunk contest win or the celebrity game or Rising Stars games.

Why not just do the skills and challenges, which are usually entertaining, and skip the All-Star Game itself, which isn’t? Maybe add some contests and honors for past greats. Most of the people who trek to the All-Star venue are there for the parties anyway. And with baseball now doing interleague play all season, none of the All-Star Games involve getting to see players who don’t normally face each other in the regular season face off. They don’t need a game nobody in it wants to play. I recognize this will never happen.

But the main takeaway here is that it’s less true that you can’t make someone care about a thing they don’t care about themselves than it is true that if you don’t care, you have zero chance making anyone else care. Your poker face isn’t that good.

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Radio Was Built For Charity and Volunteer Work

Your charitable activities build a better world. Your radio show and station make a real difference.

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A photo of a volunteer

Art Bell once said, “We are all here for a Cosmic Blink. Use your time wisely.”  The wisest man in all of history, a fellow named Solomon said, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” All of us are drawn to radio for usually a basic human impulse…it is a narcissistic rage that exists in every baby. Look at me! Listen to me! My opinions are important!

Unless you are a completely narcissistic fool, you have looked in the mirror and wondered about why we are here. What is your worth in the cosmic blink? Ok, let old Uncle Peter (Yes, I went full third person) explain.

We have all been given an amazing platform. Not only to spout our beliefs, biases, and humor, but to touch our communities. Does your show have a charity? Why not? Does your station have a charity or a “Day of Action” to support local causes? The answer should be yes. Radio shows and stations raise millions of dollars to improve our society. We raise awareness of issues that create change. It is why we are here. 

Before I give you some random idea starters for your show/station, let’s talk about the charities that you personally support. Do you give a portion of your income to religious, humanitarian, or conservation projects that you believe in? You should if you don’t make these donations. I don’t know what floats your boat, but I think it is important psychologically to donate to organizations that do good things in our world. 

These donations allow a portion of the cosmic blink of our lives to pay it forward. Even if you don’t make a lot of money, a small donation helps you feel connected to our world. If you are particularly blessed by the fruits of your hard work, make that donation bigger. Investing in the charities and religious organizations of our choice gives us significance. Instead of the narcissistic screaming for change, it is an action step.

Your show can unify your community through service. There was a movement that is still going on today by some churches that take a Sunday off from a religious service to spend their day serving their communities. This can be painting an elderly widow’s home, cleaning a park, feeding the homeless, or other things. If you speak to homeless shelters, lots of people want to volunteer on Thanksgiving morning, but not so much in the middle of February. 

So how about a day of service for your radio show? Reach out to a local charity that needs volunteers and make it an all-day affair. Perhaps you can do your show from the homeless shelter. Interview the people who serve the downtrodden every day or interview listeners who donated their day with you? Make it big and use your platform to make someone’s life better.

For those of you who have been doing radio for a decade or less, I have had listeners reach out to me about something that I said on the air 25 years ago. It’s very humbling. Every day you get on the air trying to perform. Heck, have you ever wanted to scream “Is anyone listening?” I have. I had someone reach out to me on Twitter to share a moment that meant so much to him. When those moments happen, I thank them for listening and what an honor it was to impact their memories in such a way. You are making a difference for people every day. 

Your station may broadcast a big charitable event each year. Be involved in every aspect of the planning process. Buy in 100%. When you take full ownership of the station event, your interest will take this fundraiser to the next level. Talk about a way to build goodwill in the community. 

Do you want to create an unbreakable bond? Help a local charity. You will go viral. Take selfies with all of the volunteers and organizers. Put this on your social media. Make it big. Do something that makes a difference. Go to their events and volunteer to do anything. Likely, you will be an emcee, but, if they want you to wrap presents, shovel up some stuff do it. Be a servant. 

In our post-COVID world, I keep reading about disconnection. Civic groups and religious organizations are experiencing a crisis of participation. This is terrible. Our society’s drift into solitude is damaging. Census figures show that the average household size in the USA is about 2.5 people. This means there are a lot of people sitting in a home or apartment alone. These people are disconnected from society. They go to work, go home, and live their solitary life online. Humans are not built for this. Your radio show is a connection for them. By the way: Your community’s average age is probably around 37 years. Think of this. You are a lynchpin for building community. Your station’s charitable events help people belong to something greater than themselves.

You are an influencer. Be a leader. Build a community. Create belonging.

Your charitable activities build a better world. Your radio show and station make a real difference.

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