One man’s obsession with Philly sports turns into a weekly radio gig.
When Phil from Mount Airy first appeared on these pages two years ago, he was mocking Donovan McNabb for throwing up at the Super Bowl. He was bashing the Phillies brain trust for not locking down Ryan Howard. Generally speaking, he was agonizing over the city’s quarter-century pro-sports championship drought. He felt like Philadelphia’s most obsessed and most frustrated fan. For therapy, he routinely violated 610 WIP’s one-call-per-week-and-one-per-weekend protocol. “I have to call (more than that),” Phil told PW in February 2008. “Sometimes I just can’t take it anymore and I have to call.”
Alas, the silky-toned, street-savvy book wholesaler, known outside sports-talk radio circles as Phil Allen, has ceased calling WIP—but not because McNabb has been traded, Howard has been paid and the Phillies have been thanked enough for winning it all.
Allen’s WIP cord-cutting stems rather from rival sports-talker and ESPN affiliate The Fanatic (97.5 FM/950 AM) giving him a spot on a local show. His debut on the “Jon Marks Show with Mount Airy Phil” was on April 10. A Saturday morning gig, the show is open-forum-style, and runs from 8 to 11 a.m., although Allen wishes he could stay on all day.
“I swear to God I do,” he gushes. “The three hours go by like that (snapping his fingers).”
Munching on a salad inside a Germantown Avenue pizza shop, the married father of five and grandfather of three concedes he’s keeping his day job for now. But he’s more than a little excited about his budding radio career, in part because he believes he’s helping to fill a void. “I’ve always felt there should be an African-American voice (on local sports-talk radio),” he says. “WIP hired (former Eagles) Hugh Douglas and Ike Reese, but why is it that black people can only get jobs in this business if they’re ex-players? I think that’s a slap in the face.”
Shifting back to sports on this first Saturday in May, the slight but wiry 48-year-old, who sports a salt-and-pepper beard and a royal-blue Mount Airy youth baseball cap (he coaches his 9-year-old son Philip’s team), says that last Saturday’s show was supposed to feature his diatribe on why the Sixers shouldn’t rehire ex-coach Larry Brown.
“We talk about whatever’s hot, and that’s what I wanted to talk about,” he says. “Larry Brown was a great coach but he was a horrible personnel guy. I couldn’t get to it, though. Everybody wanted to talk Eagles. So we did, and it was cool.”
Allen says he hasn’t seen any ratings yet, but he’s getting good feedback on the street, where strangers have for years “recognized” him the instant he starts talking.
“I can’t order food without somebody saying, ‘Yo, you that dude be calling up the radio all the time, right?’” he says, laughing. “I love these people. I’m not about calling them morons or dopes or idiots (an obvious reference to longtime WIP rudeboy Howard Eskin). They’re my people.”
Veteran sports-talk jock Mike Missanelli, who hosts The Fanatic’s afternoon drivetime program opposite Eskin and Reese on WIP, thinks Allen has the makings of a good jock.
“He’s not afraid,” Missanelli says. “I think that’s a real key when it comes to sports-talk radio, that you can’t be afraid. You can’t be crazy but you have to have a strong opinion that’s based in logic and facts for people to accept it. And I think he’s pretty good that way. Sometimes he gets a little carried away, but most of the time he’s pretty plugged in.”
Allen, who recalls taking up street hockey after the Flyers thrilled the city by winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in the mid-’70s and writhing in Jacksonville while the Eagles were blowing the ’05 Super Bowl, has not-so-secretly coveted a radio job for years. And he seems a natural considering his wit, exuberant nature and wide-ranging sports knowledge. “I think it’ll be a good outlet for him,” says his wife, Valerie, who earned a doctorate in social work from Penn last week. “He has sports-trivia books all over the house because he’s one of those people who has to know everything. And we hear all of it.”
Now, anyone who cares to can hear Allen’s minutia—and his opinions. Boy, does he have the latter. Consider his take on McNabb, whom the Eagles jettisoned to the Washington Redskins on Easter Sunday: “There’s a huge disconnect between his talent and his balls,” Allen says. “He don’t have ’em. He’s a woman. He don’t have the mentality of a killer. He’d rather discuss it than just pull the trigger.”
On a positive note, Allen predicts new quarterback Kevin Kolb will surprise Eagles fans. “I think he’s gonna be a revelation, I think people are gonna be shocked by this dude. I think he’s gonna light it up.” Although a Super Bowl win has always topped Allen’s wish list, the Phillies ’08 World Series triumph delighted him. Nonetheless, he’s miffed that they traded stud lefty Cliff Lee last winter on the same day they acquired Roy Halladay, ostensibly the best pitcher in baseball.
“We would’ve been the odds-on favorite to win the World Series if we’d kept Lee,” he says. “How could you possibly beat us four times when Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are making four starts? The bottom line with the Phillies is still their bottom line.”
Complaints notwithstanding, Allen’s bottom line is that rooting for the home team is fun. “Having fun is what it’s all about,” he says. “Everybody has an opinion, and I have lots of them. But I’m not about lecturing anybody. The sports fans of this city are my squad. They’re my squad, man.”