When the pandemic hit in March 2020 – and sports were immediately shut down – my radio partner, Ray Didinger, and I joined all the sports talkers in America asking, ‘What are we going to talk about now?
We really didn’t want to do any flashing back shows – despite being two veterans who have been around since the advent of 24 hour sports talk radio. We didn’t have a stomach for Mount Rushmores. , not for teams of all time, or any other familiar crutch that, hey, I admit I have used in my career.
So we opted for another tactic: let our favorite sports legends tell us their stories. In detail and at length. From childhood to the present day.
We launched “Tell Us Your Story” (smart name, huh?) On 94-WIP on the second weekend of the shutdown spending 45 minutes each with Philadelphia legends Merrill Reese (the Eagles broadcaster since 1977) and Charlie Manuel (director of the 2008 Phillies champions).
Manuel, one of 12 siblings, told a fascinating story from his youth. His sick father committed suicide when Charlie was in high school, leaving a note asking his oldest son to take care of the family. So Charlie turned down a college scholarship to Penn to embark on a baseball career that spanned five decades.
It was the kind of story that is impossible to fit into the standard 10-minute radio interview. And told to Charlie’s relaxed southern beat (with the two radio hosts practically silent), it was captivating.
One advantage of closing: It just got a lot easier to book big names because, well, our guests had a lot of free time. Who was going somewhere?
So we heard the life stories of Philadelphia Hall of Fame members like Dick Vermeil, Bernie Parent and Jay Wright. We turned to national figures. George Foreman told us how he started boxing as a kid because he was being bullied in the neighborhood. Herschel Walker choked on recounting his battles to overcome stuttering.
One of my favorites was the hero of the 1980 Olympics, Mike Eruzione, who told us how he got to play hockey on his older sister’s figure skates. “So I learned to play hockey and to fight at the same time,” he said.
To be fair, Ray and I have a big advantage over many other hosts. At this point in our career, we’re only on the air on weekends. So we only have to fill six to eight hours of programming per week, against more than 20 hours by many of our colleagues.
And, being the weekend, we know our audience is a little different from MF. It’s more about guys listening while working in their backyard or shopping, rather than people rushing to get to work. In other words, they’re more likely to stay with us for longer functionality.
Ray and I thought last year that we would continue “Tell Us Your Story” until sports reopened last fall. We also expected to run out of interview-worthy captions.
But our audience has let us know how much they love the feature through positive reviews, as well as through the number of listeners that show up when our show is podcast. So we’re still there, using it as a permanent feature every Saturday at noon.
Over the past few months, we’ve been chatting with Brian Dawkins, Al Michaels and the Phillie Phanatic. Bob Clarke was far more enthusiastic than I have ever heard when he spoke of fears that a diagnosis of diabetes would prevent him from pursuing a professional career. Franco Harris has broken down the “immaculate reception” in detail although, alas, he still has not revealed if he actually caught the ball. Super Bowl LII Chief Referee Gene Steratore lived every moment of this game from his perspective, including the “Philly Special,” the biggest game in our city’s history.
We are now at 77 interviews. Most of our stories are from the Big Four Professional Sports, but we’ve featured stars from college basketball and football, boxing, and broadcasting.
It’s long-running radio, basically a podcast that we can bring to FM, and Ray and I know how lucky we are that WIP management gives us the opportunity. I think a lot of program managers might decide that their audience doesn’t have the attention span to stick to an in-depth interview that lasts almost an hour.
So thank you, Spike Eskin – even as you walk through the door.
I have a list of names that I hope to get for Tell Us Your Story – local and national, Hall of Fame members and one-time heroes. As long as they keep saying “yes” and our audience continues to listen, Ray and I will continue.
Glen Macnow has spent nearly thirty years talking about sports in Philadelphia for 94WIP. He is also a former sports writer and bestselling author. To contact him, find him on Twitter @RealGlenMacnow.