TAWK RADIO: Q&A With WIP’s Anthony Gargano

[Illustration by ALEX FINE]

PREVIOUSLY: “Just wanted to give a little positive feedback — amazing blog! I stumbled on to the site a little while back, and it’s very well done. I think the site is thoroughly enjoyable, creative and rich! I enjoy something that will make people think or explore, that will reach them on another level. I’ve always tought if you truly want to reach people and express yourself, why settle for the topical? Reach them in a place where you force them to think. I’m not talking negatively or positively — I’m talking both, talking inspiration, whether it’s making them rethink a position they’ve had or showing them a route to something beautiful — literally or viscerally.” –Anthony Gargano, WIP

PHAWKER: Why, in your opinion, is WIP so frickin’ popular?

GARGANO: WIP is the town hall of Philadelphia. It’s loud, obnoxious, petulant, passionate, honest, sentimental and — believe it or not — smart, though not in an erudite, NPR way. Very rarely do you find a media outlet that reflects its town the way WIP does Philadelphia. I think it’s due to two reasons: Most of the shows are caller-driven, so our muddy patois — that I am also blessed with — is quite pronounced, and most of the hosts are originally from the area, even the dear departed (Mike Missanelli, Steve Martorano, Steve Fredericks). And Angelo Cataldi, well, talk about an accident of birth. If anybody SHOULD have been born here, it’s him. So basically it’s the colonial days and we’re the ones on the corner standing on a crate in front of a huge gathering of people calling Ben Franklin a dope.

PHAWKER: During the Eagles season, you don’t go to the Monday morning press conference and ask questions. Why is it that talk radio second-guesses so much, but rarely does its own reporting or break any stories, then criticizes the people who do break stories or write about them. (This question came from an embittered newspaper sports editor, obviously, as did this follow-up.) Your shtick is all Yo Cuz, etc. When does that get old and interfere with the substance, or is it all about shtick?

GARGANO: Well, I’d like to debate that embittered sports editor on a couple of those points. One, I’m on the air during Andy Reid’s news conference so I cannot go down there. Two, where in the hell did he get that “we” don’t break stories or do reporting? That’s positively absurd. While we may not be pure journalists anymore, we certainly gather information. On WIP. In the past year, I’ve had the Eagles taking Kevin Kolb (I said it in March), the Eagles signing Takeo Spikes and then releasing him a year later, by the way; the Sixers trying to trade up in the draft to Milwaukee to try to get Yi and then to Chicago to try to get Noah; the Eagles cutting Jeremiah Trotter (yes, that was easy, I did a show with him), and countless other things like guys missing flights, injuries and free agents in town, etc. And I rarely rip other media, especially print media, because I’m sensitive about it because I’ve been there and I know how much of a grind it is — and some of the difficult dynamics, like how your world shrinks when you cover a team. Your world is basically these people that you cover and they become in many ways like either your family or your captors.

Know what’s funny about that “Cuz schtick?” I don’t even play it up. “Yo Cuz” is simply my personality. Half the Mets team from 1994 still call me Cuz, as well as Bobby Bowden, Tom Izzo and a million other guys I’ve covered or [who] have been the subject of my profiles. I really do enjoy people and I’m warm and colloquial on the air, so maybe that’s what they construe as “Cuz schtick,” as well as probably the format of WIP, where we touch on some subjects outside of sports. I know it’s the big criticism — and listen, I came from doing a more national type of job and I’m a stone sports geek so I would love to talk to all of the coaches at the Final Four or every manager in MLB. But the dirty little secret is that nobody truly wants to “hear” that — most get bored. There are times when I really want to talk, say, college football and I toss it out and there are crickets on the phone line until I start talking about some game we made up as kids.

Look, when you’re on for five hours, you divulge EVERYTHING about your life and your life’s history, because you’re looking to fill content. People need you to be creative or entertaining or stimulating, and not just by some keen sports point. You have to hit them at home, too. So it happens that my childhood meshes with a lot of peoples’ here and there’s a Cuz connection, which means that Philadelphia is a small big town where the inhabitants are lot more like extended family. It’s what I love about Philadelphia — along with East Delancey Street between Second and Fifth, a beer at Monks, a tequila at Tequila’s and dinner at Mr. Tony’s (La Veranda).

PHAWKER: Tell us about your tenure at the New York Post. We hear sports editor Greg Gallo is a maniac? Can you confirm or deny?

GARGANO: Greg Gallo equals total, complete lunatic — and you know what? I fucking love him. To this day, I love him. I don’t want hear about how hard Tom Coughlin is. Try working for GG. He was relentless. When you’re a beat writer for him, he calls you every morning and says in this ol’ school New York accent: “Get me a fucking back page!” He’d send me all over the country and tell me to go knock on somebody’s door. I did more stakeouts than some cop friends I have. I spent days in a rental car in St. Pete down the street from Doc Gooden’s house, then peering through the palm trees to see if anyone was home. So Jordan retires and I’m in Chicago and he says drive to his house, knock on his door and buy him a sandwich. That’s his line, “Buy him a sandwich.”

I learned how to be a reporter under Greg Gallo, and I bought a lot of guys sandwiches — though not Jordan that time, though I wound up getting an exclusive interview. I’ve always loved the art of writing — and granted, I probably went overboard crafting sentences and paragraphs and Gallo used to break my balls about it once a week. When I would file my story he would say, “You’re wearing your pink panties again! Take your gawd-damn pink panties off. This is sports.”

PHAWKER: People are saying you guys have officially drunk the Kool-Aid for Obama. Your thoughts? In a lot of ways, it will fall to WIP to vouch for Obama’s candidacy to leery white male voters in the region. Again, your thoughts on this?

GARGANO: I liked Obama before he came on WIP. I find him bright and charismatic and, politically speaking, unsullied, though of course I say that with the huge qualifier of “politically speaking.” There’s something appealing about his freshness. Obviously there are concerns about whether there’s true substance beneath the exterior, and whether or his relative inexperience will impede what he can accomplish, but he connotes that notion of “change.” I don’t think it’s WIP’s place to vouch for anyone. If you qualify someone as a leery white voter, they probably won’t vote for him. Regardless, it’s not up to the station to make them feel more at ease with their own viewpoint. Obviously, getting Obama on the station was a coup but I cringe when I hear the station enter a political discussion. Stick to who you are: We’re a sports station with some general talk and humor mixed in. It’s not the format and we’re not experts in the political arena. If we were, we would be on MSNBC and came from the front of the newspaper — not the back.

Tell me some things that nobody is supposed to know about Anthony Gargano. You are secretly a woman’s figure skating fan, you think pro sports is overrated, etc.

GARGANO: I’m addicted to “Project Runway” — I think it’s fierce — and “Top Chef.” I plan my night around the shows to watch them with my girl. I know way too much about Nina Garcia. I want to move to Spain and write novels. There’s a movie I love called Sexy Beast and the protagonist — a thief from London — has retired to a cliffside villa in Spain. The opening scene shows him baking in the sun by the pool, drinking a Heineken and smoking a cigarette — I want to do that! Instead of going to Pat’s or Geno’s at 3 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday night, I go to Chinatown to David Oh’s joint.

PHAWKER: Have you ever killed a man just to watch him die?

GARGANO: No, but I’m pretty sure my grandfather did. Or maybe he was really just a bookmaker for Angelo Bruno.

PHAWKER: Have you ever been to jail?

GARGANO: Yes, to see Mike Tyson. And when the nightclub Scruples on South Street got raided and I was 15.

What is the most heroic thing you have ever done?

Probably getting my ass kicked for intervening when a group of guys were hassling another kid on the subway while going to class at Temple.

PHAWKER: What is your most shameful moment? If you could do ANYTHING over differently, what would it be?

GARGANO: Lots and lots of shame — I’m Catholic and I’m on the air for five hours a day. You can’t imagine how many stupid things I’ve said. If I could do anything different, I would have went away to college, which is not a swipe against Temple. But I would have received a different view of the world at that age. I also wonder what it would have been like had I stayed in New York.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

GARGANO: I wish I could add compassion to the world. Instead of viewing life singularly, I believe there’s empowerment in masses and the greatest thing in the world is lifting someone else. That, and making sure the Eagles got a No. 1 wide receiver.

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