Philly talk radio appears to be in a state of upheaval right now.
Yes, in Philly as in the rest of the country talk radio means conservative talk radio. And in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans seven to one, that's a decided niche market that would seem to war against the whole concept of mass communication. But people like the late Rush Limbaugh (who single-handedly saved AM radio) proved that it didn't have to be that way. He showed that a right-leaning broadcast could not only pack a big wallop but could build a big wallet as well.
Still, Rush was 70 years old when he passed away and the fact that no clear successor to Rush has emerged in the nearly three years since his passing shows that talk radio is facing a decided generational shift as well as other challenges. And if you haven't noticed that the format's audience is grayer every year just listen to the ads on the talk stations and the aging demographic will become obvious.
In Philly, the two talk radio stations have been busy shifting programs, hosts, sidekicks and concepts so frequently that it takes a scorecard to keep track of it all. So, let's take a look at the current personalities and their teams reviewed roughly in their order of longevity:
Dom Giordano - Dom is the undisputed Dean of Philly talkers. At WPHT/1210 AM he's held just about every daytime spot and is currently heard in the 12 to 3 PM bracket that used to be Limbaugh's domain. Nobody in the city knows more about the format; no talk jockey is more respected and no one knows Philadelphia better than Dom. His institutional knowledge is legendary. Midday Dom is paired with a young sidekick, Dan Borowski and the two of them seem to work well together. Dom is fearless and insightful. He's been on the radio for nearly 40 years and has proved to be resourceful, adaptable and (most important to Philly audiences) reliably steadfast. What happens to this spot if and when Dom is no longer there? Philadelphians are creatures of habit and they don't like to contemplate such matters. We don't blame them. But you can bet the station (now owned by corporate giant Audacy) has at least a tentative plan in place.
Chris Stigall - Until a few years ago Chris was the morning drive guy at PHT/1210. He's smart, quick, funny, engaging and brings a welcome midwestern sensibility (he's originally from Missouri) to Philly. Plus, he's a genuine principled conservative who's built a significant following. After he and PHT "parted ways" (station parlance for non-renewal of contract) Stigall showed up at WNTP/990 AM in the same drive time spot. At NTP Stigall seems to have found real sweet spot. Paired with the likable (and again, younger) "Fast Eddie" Caiazzo, Stigall attracts big time guests (most recently he chatted with President Donald Trump), handles listener call ins adeptly and tackles real issues thoughtfully. In fact, Stigall gives us what is probably the most substantial, issue-based show in the market and he makes it interesting because it's all done with a human touch that's authentic.
Rich Zeoli - The irrepressible Zeoli is in a class by himself. He's intense, frenetic, bombastic, quick-witted, shrewd and seemingly unpredictable. All of these characteristics made this Joizee Guy perfect for morning drive when Stigall left PHT for NTP. And Zeoli held that spot (with sidekicks Dawn Stensland and Greg Stocker) until recently when Zeoli went to the afternoon drive spot (3 PM to 7 PM) as part of a shakeup. Zeoli said he didn't want to get up so early in the morning anymore. Whatever the reason, the station touts Zeoli as the "next generation of talk radio." But even Zeoli is paired with a still younger sidekick. None of this seems to matter to Zeoli once he gets wound up and it doesn't seem to take much for that to happen. Zeoli comes closest to Limbaugh in this sense -- he could easily do several hours with no guests and no co-hosts and still keep you entertained. Yes, Zeoli's a political junkie but he's not a policy wonk. He's a happy warrior and the funniest guy on local talk radio.
Dawn Stensland - Broadcast veteran Dawn Stensland now has her own show from 10 AM till noon on PHT sandwiched between her stint with Nick Kayal (see below) and the Girodano Show. This makes her the hardest working person in local radio and she handles it with aplomb. She obviously loves Philadelphia (she's a big cheerleader for the city) and she brings a non-idealogical, graceful common sense (something that's often rare on talk stations) to her own program. She really listens to callers and addresses their concerns with tact and understanding. But don't try to pull her chain as you (literally!) have to get up pretty early in the morning to fool her.
Nick Kayal - Nick Kayal (pronounced kale) is a graduate of Temple University who started at a Philly sports/talk station and then gained experience at sports stations in Nashville and Atlanta. Audacy brought him to Philly last September to take over morning drive at PHT after Zeoli moved to the afternoon spot. Kayal inherited Zeoli's morning pals (Stensland and Stocker) and added younger semi-sidekicks Daniel Valdez and Anthony DiRenzo to the mix to create something called "Kayal & Company" which seems to have been put together by Kayal and Stocker who is also WPHT's brand manager (translation, the station's overall program director). They appear to envision a sort of "morning zoo" of talk radio, mixing politics, sports, pop culture and anything else that comes to mind. The show is short on live guests and call-ins and long on aggregated sound bites from other media and plugs for podcasts and similar social media links including Twitter, facebook and a live You Tube feed. Hey, the challenges to radio are real. So, it seems that Stocker may be attempting to turn the station's morning drive program into a laboratory for what may work as terrestrial radio (and AM radio in particular) face accelerated dissolution. What can radio latch onto to survive or will it have to morph into something else and what will that something else be? That's what Kayal & Co. is grappling with. But in the middle of all this the Kayal show seems awfully crowded with five personalities. Maybe the host might benefit by having just one primary sidekick. That would clearly be Stensland, a congenial media pro who brings needed gravitas to the proceedings, not to mention the distaff view. That would also free up Stocker to do what he was presumably hired to do which is run the station. After less than a year, this is still a work in progress.
And let's not forget our friend Matt Rooney and Christine Flowers. Matt, who appears to be a real rising star at WPHT, is heard every Sunday evening from 7 to 10 PM. Matt will also join Kayal & Company this Friday morning (6/2) from 6 to 10 AM to fill in for one of Nick's sidekicks. As for Christine, she often fills in for Chris Stigall at NTP and she always delivers a smart, opinionated, quick-paced show.
A caveat: The world of broadcasting is notoriously secretive. What you see and hear is not necessarily what's going on behind the scenes. Careers can be cut short in a split second. Since it all comes down to market share, ratings, advertising and money it can be quite cutthroat.