“Let me just say it for the record—the Eagles will win the Super Bowl this year,” says Phil Allen, a sly smile creeping across his face as he leans into his microphone in 97.5 The Fanatic’s Bala Cynwyd studios on a recent Sunday evening. Training camp has barely gotten under way and Allen’s already sniffing total victory. “13-and-3 regular season, a zip through the playoffs, and I’ll be on Broad and Federal [for the parade] and you can come drink with me ’cause I told you so.”
“Andy Reid is the best coach in the NFL,” he throws in for good measure.
But caller “Ed from Lansdale” isn’t having it. “I don’t see where the Eagles even make the playoffs—you’re being ridiculous,” says Ed. “Same quarterback, same coach, same dumbass defensive coordinator. Let’s wait for the first game before we start handing out spots on Broad Street.”
And on a computer screen in front of Allen, the texts flowing into the station are more brutal. “Phil you blow, nobody listens to your predictions. You’re an annoying idiot,” reads one.
Allen—a fit 50, he looks like he could be Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins’ older brother—leans back, barely stifling a laugh. He lives for this. It’s his job to stir up the callers, and he knows what gets them going because he used to be one of them. After all, he’s the one and only “Phil From Mt. Airy”—the former king of Philadelphia sports-talk radio callers. Why did he surrender his throne in April 2010? To become a weekend Fanatic host.
“It’s still like a dream come true,” Allen says of the transition from caller to host. He’s giving up his long-time bookselling business to focus all his energy on radio and keep this dream a reality.
It’s been almost 20 years since Allen placed his first call to WIP to complain about then-Phillies manager Jim Fregosi. Host Howard Eskin called him a moron and an imbecile and told him never to call back. Undeterred, Allen eventually became the station’s most distinctive and celebrated caller, thanks to his wit, charisma, sports knowledge, prodigious rants and polarizing opinions. Hosts like Anthony Gargano and Mike Missanelli often let him speak his piece longer than the usual one-minute-40-seconds allotted to callers.
By 2006, Allen says, he was in talks with WIP to become a host but nothing came of it. And then, when Missanelli signed on with WIP rival The Fanatic in 2008, Allen switched call-in allegiances and—with the help of Missanelli, one of Allen’s biggest champions—he convinced Fanatic program director Matt Nahigian to hire him. “Part of [joining the Fanatic] was because [WIP] spurned me,” says Allen, “and now my job is to kick [WIP’s] ass.”
After more than a year of early Saturday morning shows with various co-hosts, Allen’s got two solo shows now—he’s on Saturday afternoons from 3 to 7 p.m., and he’s got a Sunday night sports wrap-up show at 6—in addition to occasional fill-in work during the week. He also does a Saturday morning show on WURD 900AM. Though he’s used to his hosting duties by now, he still gets hyped up before every show.
“When I’m in there, it’s on. I didn’t even sit down for my first year and a half. I threw things. If I had a wireless microphone, I woulda paced that room like I’m on fire.” He still rants about the Eagles front office or how badly the Sixers need to trade Andre Iguodala, but he’s learned to dial it back. “You can’t be over the top all the time. But to this day, being on the radio for four hours is intense. It’s just like sex—when you’re done, it’s like, ‘Damn, where’s my cigarette?’”
Allen’s garnered a loyal following; like any good sports-talk radio host, he’s got listeners who think he’s the shit, and others who think he’s full of shit. He’s rarely hard-up for callers, the lifeblood of any sports-talk station.
“I love my guys,” he says of such regulars as “Mike the Weasel,” “Guido from Ambler” and even “Mitch from East Windsor,” who Allen laughs “drives me crazy, he’s so fuckin’ annoying.
“They’re the guys I tailgated with, the guys I went to the Vet with, we’re the denizens of the fucking darkness,” he continues. “I know what it’s like when you sit on hold for 40 minutes just to get your minute-40. It’s hard for me to hang up on people.”
With more than two years as a Fanatic host under his belt, Allen’s hoping for a more prominent role at the station someday, ideally a daily gig. “I think I’m as talented and know my sports as well as anyone at The Fanatic,” he says. “I think I could do any time slot.”
Even his good pal Missanelli’s top-rated, highly coveted weekday afternoon slot? “If something ever happened to him, I’d step over his dead body right up to that mic in a heartbeat!” Allen shouts, bursting out of his chair and doubling over laughing.
“I love [Missanelli],” he says after catching his breath. “But I’m a competitive guy. I would love a shot at that drive-time show. This is my life, man. It’s radio or die!”
Workin’ It is written by staff writer Michael Alan Goldberg, who peeks into the lives of working professionals each week.