Wing_Bowl_2007_overview
Jasen Miller via Wikimedia Commons

Competing with Wing Bowl: How Philly’s other morning shows will handle Friday

If only any of them would talk on the record.

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Nobody wants to talk about Wing Bowl.

Oh, sure, when you talk to the employees and on-air talent at Sports Radio WIP, they’re glad to talk about their annual signature annual event, being held for the 25th time this Friday morning at the Wells Fargo Center. From a contest that was once literally just a couple of dudes in a hotel room eating chicken wings to amuse radio listeners (and hosts) during another NFL playoff season ending without a sniff of the Super Bowl for the Eagles, Wing Bowl has evolved into something beyond comprehensible.

Think about if this event started now. How in the world, even in Philly, could a radio station fill a 20,000-seat arena to watch a few dozen people eat wings at 7 o’clock in the morning? The WIP Morning Show, led by — let’s call him what he is — Philly radio legend Angelo Cataldi, has spent a quarter century turning this from a silly radio gimmick to an annual city-defining event — one covered by national media, one where a former Eagles coach made his introduction to the city and one where other local media outlets have no choice but to cover it.

WIP teased with a tweet this week that Wing Bowl 25 may its last — something they’ve floated in years past as well — but the event is a cash cow for the station, not just on the day of the contest but with all the promotion and satellite events they run at local restaurants (read: sponsors) leading up to Friday. It’s hard to imagine Philly sports talk radio in the winter without it, or, for some, without that need to turn the radio dial at least once an hour if the kids are in the car.

“Daddy, why is that old man talking about breasts and thighs again? I thought they ate wings?”

“Let’s turn to Radio Disney for a little bit, kids.”

WIP hammers the audience with Wing Bowl promotion over months and months — less ball-peen and more sledge, pounding a block of wood — to the point where it has, for some listeners, driven them away. It’s one thing to have a single day where frivolity meets debauchery and drunken sports fans pack an arena to cheer just as loudly for an exotic dancer flashing the crowd as a wing-eating contestant barfs into a bucket. It’s another to listen to a 65-year old man gawk over 20 somethings pining to be a part of the show — the Wingettes get as much attention (and nearly as many prizes) as the wing eaters — in lieu of actual Philadelphia sports talk.

The Flyers stink! The Sixers are awesome! Except last night when they stunk! Should the Eagles draft a receiver or a defensive back?! Or both?!

These are topics that often take a back seat to Wing Bowl promotion, especially as the show gets closer to the event. And so, we sought to talk to the people who might benefit from that hot sauce-soaked distraction from Philly sports, as there are undoubtedly WIP listeners who tune in on their morning commute because they care about our local teams, but couldn’t care less about people watching eating contests and staring at women in bikinis…on radio.

That’s why my first call to find some counter-programming of Wing Bowl was to rival sports station 97.5 The Fanatic, the clear beneficiary of less sports talk on WIP. Only…they wouldn’t talk about Wing Bowl.

Former longtime WIP afternoon yapper Anthony Gargano is the host of the Fanatic morning show — one of the many moves between stations the last few years, as dominoes fell in the wake of the (failed) Josh Innes experiment at WIP — and when I reached out to see what they were planning for Friday to counter-program Wing Bowl, the response was, essentially, “sports.”

Nobody at the Fanatic morning show wanted to talk about it, or me, and neither did 97.5 program director Matt Nahigian, who declined to be quoted directly, but did reiterate several times that general interest in sports radio by other media in the city is good for everyone. So…you’re welcome? As for Wing Bowl, nobody at 97.5 seemed all that concerned, or at least nobody was willing to talk about how concerned they might be.

The same goes for other local media outlets. Nobody wanted to talk on the record. But they all seemed happy to talk.

Breakfast on Broad is a television show geared toward sports fans, so while there is a potential for crossover sports-fan interest, the WIP morning radio show isn’t exactly direct competition. Last year, BOB had Barrett Brooks, one of the four daily co-hosts, out of the floor of the event giving updates during the show. That won’t happen this year, we were told by a source, because Friday is BOB’s last day. TCN and CSNPhilly have decided to cancel the daily talk show, first reported by Crossing Broad, and this week’s shows will oddly get re-broadcast next week, so doing something live from Wing Bowl seems off the table for the final episode.

(Side commentary that, admittedly, hits close to home: Breakfast on Broad’s last show being the same day in the same building as a sold-out Wing Bowl, all happening the same week PhillyMag parted ways with the best NBA writer in the city to shutter sports coverage entirely, says a lot about the Philly sports landscape in 2017.)

This is a chicken wing. Many hundred of them will be eaten on Friday.

This is a chicken wing. Many hundred of them will be eaten on Friday.

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Wing Bowl will surely get other TV coverage this year, as it has in the past. One local morning host told me, again off the record, that they aren’t sure if the network will show footage this year, but they’ve often had someone there in the past, albeit filing taped pieces to “make sure it’s ok for TV.”

Other Philly talk radio stations won’t be there, obviously, though that doesn’t stop people from asking them. One morning radio source — again off the record — said they don’t think everyone around the city even knows Wing Bowl is even a WIP-run event. “We have been asked for years if we are going to be there,” they said.

It’s interesting, really, that an event that has become so synonymous with Philly — Wing Bowl has to be on the Mount Rushmore of Philly sports fandom alongside snowballs at Santa, batteries at JD Drew and the old Vet jail when it comes to fans behaving boorishly — is just another Friday before the Super Bowl for much of the other local morning media. And while none of them would speak on the record about it, one did joke that the ratings for Wing Bowl probably aren’t that good because “their whole audience is inside the arena.”

And, to be fair, in the parking lot getting drunk at 7 a.m. because they couldn’t get a ticket.