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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



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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How Should Talk Radio Use Callers in 2023?

While I wouldn’t hire a caller-driven show in most circumstances, I wouldn’t likely hire one that rarely or never took callers.

Andy Bloom



A photo of a rotary phone

I continue catching up with people I saw again or met at the BNM Summit a few weeks ago. I also am still thinking about the sessions and information shared in Nashville. One topic that came up several times over the two days was the role of callers in today’s talk radio.

It was a question I asked Chad Benson, Erick Erickson, and Tony Katz when I moderated the “Talking with Talent” panel on the first day of the Summit, which you can buy a digital ticket to view here.

It was one of only two subjects during the session where I recalled any differences of opinion. The other was about video streaming.

In this column, I review the panelist’s views on callers. Their quotes are edited for brevity and clarity. I’ll add my opinions as a programmer, something I couldn’t do as a moderator when they differed from the panelists. I am interested in other readers’ views.

Erick Erickson is the only one of the three who takes calls regularly, although he points out that his show isn’t caller-driven, saying, “I don’t take a lot of callers, and I will go some days without taking callers at all.”

Chad Benson said he “hasn’t taken a caller in seven or eight years.”

Similarly, Tony Katz says, “In an average week, I take a total of zero calls; zero point zero.” He explains, “Twitter is my caller if I’m going to use something as a way of bouncing into something else.” Katz will use a tweet to report somebody else’s viewpoint. Katz adds that he is not anti-caller and that there are times when he has taken calls.

Benson also uses Twitter and texts in place of calls. Benson does both a national and a local show. The latter includes one caller segment. He maintains, “The reality is that it’s just easier” for listeners to text the show. “People don’t want to pick up and make a phone call. They want to send a text. That’s the way they want to respond.”

Sure, some, maybe many, listeners would rather text than call. I disagree that listeners prefer to text is a valid reason to stop taking calls. I haven’t seen research showing a majority of listeners would rather text than call talk shows.

The more relevant research is from Nielsen Audio Today 2023. The data shows that radio listening remains strongest in the car.

  • This year, 65% of total radio listening is away from home, and 68% of away-from-home listening is in the car (29% at work, 3% other).
  • 73% of all radio use during morning and afternoon drives happens in the car.
  • 74% of all AM radio listening is in the car.
  • In its Share of Ear study (Q1-23), Edison Research finds that more than 60% of all time spent with audio in vehicles goes to AM/FM radio.
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average commute time in America increased by 10% between 2006 and 2019.

Since the pandemic, average commute times have fallen 4% due to a combination of more remote and hybrid work and changes in travel behavior, such as traveling at different times of the day to avoid rush hour traffic.

As Infinity Broadcasting President and CEO Mel Karmazin famously used to say, “When I see traffic, I see time spent listening.” A talk radio addendum in 2023 might be, “When I see traffic, I see talk radio listeners who can’t (or shouldn’t) text but have lots of time to call in.”

Katz explains why he doesn’t take callers. “I often discuss on-air whether I should take more callers, and the vast majority of people on social media and email is ‘No!’ If we wanted to hear from the callers, we’d have put the caller on the air and given them a show.”

I’m going to have to be a contrarian here, too. People on social media and email don’t necessarily represent the total audience. We’d likely get a totally different and equally unrepresentative result if we based our actions solely on people who call into talk radio shows.

Erickson has a two-part answer for why he takes calls: “As I’m growing nationally, a lot of local program directors love the idea that they can have (a listener) from their market call the show. It sounds more local, and there’s a connection to them.”

I relate to Erickson’s anecdote. We added an 800 number exclusively for Philadelphia listeners when we put Stern on in Philadelphia. Howard made a big deal of it when he took a caller from Philly. I think it was part of his early acceptance.

Erickson continued, “At the same time, I build great relationships, not just with the callers, but with the listeners by how you handle the callers.” True. There is a personal touch, even an intimacy created by speaking with a caller, which responding to a text or Tweet can’t achieve.

As Erickson has discovered, calls managed well in a couple of choice spots in an hour can help cement a host’s relationship with the entire audience. Angelo Cataldi, who retired from Philadelphia sports talk station 94 WIP earlier this year, used callers for this purpose, perhaps better than anybody I’ve heard.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t advocate for a caller-driven talk radio show. I largely agree with Katz. If the callers were so great, they’d have their own show, and some have—for example, the late Mike Trivisonno. I met him in 1988 at a bar in Cleveland where he was doing a trivia night. Trivisonno was a regular caller to a Cleveland sports talk show. Our meeting led to his role on the WNCX Morning Show. He eventually became a mainstay on Cleveland sports and talk radio.

Rush Limbaugh had the best explanation for the role of callers on talk shows. El Rushbo used to say, “The purpose of the caller is to make me, your humble host, look good.” Indeed.

Katz offered some opinions about how to treat callers when you take them. He said, “The caller is not adversarial even if they hate you.” Maybe this is a regional difference. In the Midwest, callers are less antagonistic toward hosts with whom they disagree. It is not the case on the East or West Coasts.

He suggests hosts “Should not be adversarial” or say things such as, “You’re just a fool. You’re stupid.” Instead, he says, “Find a way to take what they’re saying and use it against them with a smile on your face or say ‘Hey, thanks for the call, let me tell you why I think you’re wrong’, and go to your audience. I don’t get confrontational with the caller. It makes you sound like a bully-thug-jerk.”

Benson points out, “Isn’t that reality television? People like skirmishes. Nobody wants to watch a bunch of women sit down and eat dinner. They want to watch them fight, scream, and yell at each other.”

Erickson offers a “confession.” – Occasionally, I’ve got to confess; I try to find the call-in and let the one idiot come on who has a profound point. Like a woman who called once and insisted that the word ‘fairness’ was in the Constitution. I word-searched the Constitution live with her on the radio. The word ‘fair’ is not in the Constitution. It ended badly for her, but I thought it made for great radio.”

I agree with Benson and Erickson; drama draws listeners. But it depends on the specific situation. At WCCO, creating any drama between hosts, or hosts and callers, would have been ridiculous. At WIP, tension between Cataldi and Howard Eskin (and many others) brewed for years. By the way, both had no problem telling callers they were stupid. Eskin built a career around calling people “dopes, nitwits, and morons.”

Erickson praised his screener. It’s critical to have a great screener and not just someone who gets the name, location, and a brief description before putting the call on hold. While I don’t think in this environment of talk radio, it’s beneficial to be confrontational all the time, I believe having the periodic person with opposing views on to debate (whether a caller or expert) is healthy, but they can’t be stooges. They must be well-spoken and able to represent their thoughts well. Again, quoting Limbaugh, you have to “defeat them on the battlefield of ideas.”

When I came to WIP in 2007, my opinion was that callers were unnecessary. In my first six months, I had an epiphany. We had ten phone lines at WIP. One of the big revelations for me during the session was when Erickson revealed that Rush Limbaugh had only three lines. I had the screener on my desk. I could see when all the lines were lit and when they weren’t. It didn’t take long for me to realize the correlation between the phones and ratings. I learned to expect good and bad weeks and knew which dayparts were strongest and which needed help. It didn’t vary over my nine years there.

While I wouldn’t hire a caller-driven talk radio show in most circumstances, I wouldn’t likely hire one that rarely or never took callers. Somewhere between two and five an hour – depending on the daypart and what’s happening feels right to me.

What are your thoughts about callers on Talk Radio in 2023?

Below are my top rules about callers. What are yours that aren’t on this list?

Send me your thoughts and rules to [email protected] or via X (formerly known as Twitter @AndyBloomCom.

Andy Bloom Communication’s rules for callers on the air:

  • Well-screened: Avoid all the repetitive stuff (hello, how are you, first time, etc. Get to the point. Only people who sound good on the phone.
  • Discipline: Stick to one point. One attempt to reel the caller in. Afterward, it’s time to hang up.
  • Keep it entertaining and moving: Avoid caller monologues.
  • Rush’s rule: “The purpose of the caller is to make the host look good.” Ensure callers address something the host is prepared for and has an answer for.
  • Callers can also contribute empathy for the host.
  • Only one voice for several hours can drone on.
  • Callers beget callers: If you don’t take calls, you won’t get any. If you do, others will call.
  • The two-minute rule: Calls should never be more than two minutes, but no rule says they are owed two minutes.
  • The two-caller rule: In most cases, except for special segments, two callers back-to-back is enough – usually to end A-Block.

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With Nielsen, Is There Life After 54?

If the industry truly believes that Nielsen should offer more demos, it’s time to ask the relevant questions and get the answers.



A photo of a laptop displaying the Nielsen logo

There’s been some discussion of late about whether it’s time to change the standard demos that Nielsen uses for reporting radio audiences. 

Dan Mason began the debate a couple of months back with an argument for three demos: 12-19, 20-40, and 41-64. Steve Allan at Research Director has added his thoughts with the suggestion that Nielsen drop persons 6-11 and 80+. Beyond the lack of buyer interest in these demos, he sees it as a backdoor way to increase the PPM sample. Perhaps because more discussion is a good thing, I’ll offer my two cents.

There is likely no way that Nielsen will ever remove the 6-11 and 80+ PPM panelists even though the data are essentially meaningless for radio. PPM is now used for both audio and video. In the latter, PPM measures out-of-home audiences for local TV in the metro areas of DMAs. Remember that TV measures down to the age of two and while Arbitron never dropped that low (can you imagine a three-year-old with a PPM?), the design was that PPM would measure both radio and television. Because video likes a big number, the 80+ issue is probably off the table as well.

Let’s move on to Dan Mason’s suggestions. Radio has been battling with the “you’re dead at 55” issue for decades. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I was the operations manager of WSPA-FM in Spartanburg, South Carolina which ran the beautiful music/easy listening format. I clearly remember Ted Dorf at WGAY in Washington (same format) starting a 35-64 committee, the goal of which was to show the value of the older audience and bring dollars into that demo. That was more than 40 years ago and nothing much has changed. 

Even with the lack of dollars for older demos despite the incredible spending power of the boomer generation, why can’t Nielsen offer more “standard” demos? In the “old days”, there were limitations based on processing software and even the size of the printed ratings report (remember the horizontal Arbitron books?). Today, the E-book is barely used and processing power is essentially unlimited. 

The limitation may reside in the systems used by Nielsen to process the local markets. The old Arbitron processing systems were somewhat limited and rebuilding the system was usually behind other priorities. I do not know if Nielsen has updated the processing system, but if they have, it shouldn’t be hard to offer more “standard” demos, whether Dan Mason’s suggestions or others. If Nielsen has not updated the systems in the decade since the Arbitron acquisition, then we’re back to my recent column asking the paraphrased Ronald Reagan question of whether you’re better off now than you were ten years ago.

What about the third-party processors: other companies that use the Nielsen data, for example, agency buying systems? Nielsen can require certain data to be made available as part of the future licensing agreements for data access. Still, the companies would also have to make software changes that will take time.

Let’s make the generous assumption that these changes will take place. Who wins? It seems that most radio formats would do well if at least one buying demo went up to age 64. And yes, I know 35-64 has been available for decades, but let’s consider Dan’s 41-64 for the moment. News/talk will be helped along with classic rock (how many classic rock songs were recorded after the mid-80s?). 

Those of us who are older don’t act like our parents (full disclosure: I do not fall in any of Dan Mason’s new demos) so I can see Adult Contemporary, Country, Urban AC, and other formats doing well. Public radio has also been aging so it may be easier to sell underwriting and their outside offerings that can carry spots. The various commercial Christian formats should look good, too.

Where does this leave us? If the industry truly believes that Nielsen should offer more demos, it’s time to ask the relevant questions and get the answers. Assuming Nielsen can make the software changes in a reasonable period of time, it’s up to the industry to convince agencies and advertisers of the value of these new demos over the ones they’ve used literally for generations. That will be no easy task, but making the data easily and readily available will help.

Let’s meet again next week.

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The Latest Example of How to Not Produce a Debate

If there is a blueprint on how not to put on a debate, it was Wednesday evening.



A photo of the Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, and Vivek Ramaswamy in the 2nd debate
(Photo: Sachin José)

As if it couldn’t get any worse, it did. For the first time since it’s been my job to watch a Presidential debate for a living, I turned one off. After 82 minutes (9:22 p.m. CST, not that I was watching the clock or anything), I had enough. I couldn’t subject myself to the torture that became the second GOP Presidential debate on Wednesday night from the Reagan Library.

If there is a blueprint on how not to put on a debate, it was Wednesday evening, and there are multiple reasons why, beyond the usual bemoaning of “the candidates won’t stop talking over each other.”


The debate was overproduced. In the opening there were videos of Reagan (nice and well done, don’t get me wrong), each anchor had various lines they were reading between each other, which felt forced and unnatural, and as a result, it took over three minutes from the opening of a debate to a candidate finally speaking.

I understand TV isn’t radio, but in a PPM world, imagine taking three minutes to get to your content, when people are tuned in at that moment to consume the content you’ve been hyping up and promising for weeks. Time is a zero-sum game. Every minute a candidate is not speaking, because a moderator is, or a pre-produced piece is playing, can’t be gotten back.

Give people what they came for. A 15-second welcome, a 60-second introduction of the candidates, if that, and dive into the questions is a 90-second process. Keep these things moving and give the viewers what they came for. And that’s the candidates.

No Direction

The debate lacked direction and clarity. Anchors spent far too much time asking long-winded questions with ridiculous and unnecessary details. As a viewer, it came across like the anchors were trying to impress us, rather than asking a question, getting out of the way, and letting the candidates — you know, the people running for President — try to impress us. They’re the ones who I want to be impressed by because they’re the ones we’re being asked to vote for.

Also, the topic direction had little flow and was disjointed. On certain topics, only one to three candidates would get to answer questions on the issue. I’ve laid out the case for keeping the flow of a debate and moving it along, but only giving half the stage the chance to answer questions on the most pressing issues in the country is a disservice to the voter who is there to here what everyone had to say.

At one point in the debate, Chris Christie was asked about a looming government shutdown, which was followed by a childcare cost question to Tim Scott and then it was an immigration/dreamers question back to Chris Christie. And that was in a five to seven minute span. Huh?

Rather than finding the six to seven big topics and diving into them with each candidate, while letting the candidates then organically and respectfully spar, it was like watching an ADD-riddled teen try and bounce between topics with no clarity or purpose.

And Yes, the Candidates

Of course, there were plenty of these moments that typically derail debates, notably primary debates, where multiple people are talking over each other and no one is willing to give in to be the first one to shut up. Then, the debate begins to inevitably sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher and suddenly the obnoxious noise even makes your dog look at you and wonder what in the hell you’re watching.

There were too many candidates on stage and then the moderators also ended up losing control, like what happened last go around.

But as I wrote last month, this debate format is a broken system. But for some reason, we keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result. 

Ronald Reagan was rolling over in his grave watching that debacle last night. It’s too bad he’s not still here to try and help fix it. 

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