By Roy Burton
Having to wake up at 3:00 AM doesn’t sound appealing to most, but it’s standard operating procedure for Rhea Hughes, co-host of the WIP Morning Show. Hughes, a graduate of Temple University, had to put in long hours on her way up the ladder to prove that she belonged in the male-dominated world of sports-talk radio, and she continues to clock in well before the sun comes up to prepare for her 5:30-10:00 AM shift at 94WIP. Hughes has held many jobs in the sports industry (producer, engineer, play-by-by announcer and sideline reporter, among others) and that wealth of experience ultimately landed her one of the most coveted jobs in the world of sports (working with Angelo Cataldi is regarded as an acceptable occupational hazard).
As the first subject in our “A Day in the Life” series, Hughes invited a couple of members of two.one.five magazine to shadow her for a day at the WIP studios in mid-December. What follows is an unfiltered, blow-by-blow account of a typical day behind the scenes of the Morning Show.
4:05 – While waiting for Rhea to arrive, Morning Show producer Joe Weachter escorts us up to the WIP studios, which are located on the 9th floor of the 400 Market St. building. Weachter warns that it won’t take long for the mystique to wear off once we take a peek behind the curtain. He was right.
4:11 – WIP actually has six separate studios in their area of the building. In the central hallway, there’s an extremely inviting black leather couch emblazoned with the xfinity logo. However, if you happen to ever visit the WIP studios during one of Big Daddy Graham’s shifts, it would be in your best interests to avoid the couch at all costs.
If you don’t, you’ll be subjected to the unrelenting glare of Mr. Graham as he makes it clear that you have invaded his personal space. The couch is his domain during breaks – it’s where he relaxes and reads magazines, using a yellow highlighter to note important passages in articles. When it’s time to go back on the air, he merely gets up from the couch, leaves the highlighter and magazine in the middle of the floor, and goes about his business.
Graham – an accomplished comedian and WIP’s overnight host – is a dichotomy of sorts: If you know him personally, he’s probably the funniest and smartest person in your circle. If you were to walk by him on the street however, he’s that strange guy in the black trench coat whom you pray doesn’t sit next to you on the bus.
4:15 – Angelo Cataldi strolls into the studios dressed like he has a date with the District Attorney. Rarely is Cataldi this nattily attired, so he’s more boastful than usual (“When you got it, you use it,” says Cataldi). In reality, he’s actually shooting a car commercial later in the day, but that doesn’t stop Weachter from asking a general question to the room: “Does he have a job interview that we don’t know about?”
4:19 – Hughes arrives, and more than an hour before going on the air, she puts together the text for her first update while Graham works his magic in the main studio (Studio 4).
Cataldi offers to give us the goods on Hughes: “If you want some really nasty quotes about her, I’m the guy. I don’t like working with her – no respect.”
4:29 – While Hughes is busy scanning the local papers and websites looking for more stories, Cataldi and Weachter are in an adjacent room finding audio clips to use for the show. The day’s hot story is news that anabolic steroids were found in the Lehigh University dorm room where Garrett Reid died of an accidental heroin overdose during Eagles’ training camp this past summer.
Cataldi is searching the system for sound bites from Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, who held a press conference about Reid the previous day. Instead, he mostly finds audio clips of Hughes and John Gonzalez discussing Andrew Bynum’s fragile knees on CSN Philly’s Lunch Break Web show. “Why did they put Lunch Break with the Bynum thing in there?” Cataldi asks Weachter.
“Because it’s a fine program!” Hughes bellows from the next room.
4:53 – Because she’s constantly watching TV, researching on the Web, fine-tuning updates and coordinating the show’s guests, Hughes actually sits in a separate studio (Studio 3) than the one that Angelo and Al inhabit (Studio 4). An eight-foot long glass window separates the two rooms, but Hughes is still far enough away from the debauchery and carnage that occurs on a daily basis.
If you were expecting the glamour of the “NewsRadio” studios, then you’d be highly disappointed. It’s clear that WIP is still settling into their new digs: A 35-pound dumbbell keeps the door to Studio 3 propped open, and numerous jelly containers and sugar canisters are strewn about the room. However, there’s plenty of sports memorabilia adorning the walls of the main area, and there are even old seats from Veterans Stadium and the Spectrum propped up in various places.
And just in case you were wondering, there were no Tastykakes to be found in the Tastykake Studio.
5:02 – Morning Show co-host Al Morganti shows up, reads the paper, and scrolls through some pictures of what appear to be Wingettes and/or potential Wingettes on the computer, completely oblivious by all of the action going on around him.
Morganti may say less than 700 words per show, but he’s always quick to offer (and vehemently defend) his opinion, and his comedic timing is impeccable. Cataldi is clearly the coach/ringleader of the Morning Show, and Hughes is the team’s star point guard, but Morganti is the wild card that brings it all together.
5:13 – “And now is when the fun starts…” says Hughes as she slides on a pair of Behringer headphones. There’s a palpable newsroom-like buzz in the air: Cataldi is livid about the Garrett Reid situation, thoroughly convinced that the Eagles are trying to keep the lid on an even bigger story. “There’s a cover-up,” says Cataldi. “A cover-up of epic proportions.”
The Morning Show has a tendency to push the envelope a bit, and when Cataldi and Co. go too far, it typically results in a call from the offended team (the Eagles apparently have WIP on speed dial) and a lecture from the higher-ups. “We’re going to get in trouble today,” Hughes says.
5:32 – Weachter brings Hughes her ad reads for the day’s show. One of the ads (mistakenly) was for Dollar Shave Club. That probably wasn’t going to end well if that actually made it to air.
5:43 – Hughes does her first update of the day: She covers the Garrett Reid situation (which included audio from Morganelli), recaps the results from Monday Night Football (Titans 14, Jets 10), previews the upcoming Sixers’ game vs. the Dallas Mavericks, relays the score of the previous night’s Temple basketball contest (a 63-46 win over Alcorn State), and gives a brief weather forecast, all in a relatively compact 60-second burst. Writing for radio is extraordinarily difficult, but Hughes rolls through her script with ease. It would be the first of nine updates she would do that morning.
6:01 – One minute after 6, and the show is already in full gear as Cataldi continues his full-throated rant against the Eagles. Cataldi: “When you can determine a cover-up, there’s always a great story behind it.”
Hughes chimes in when appropriate, but spends most of the time dealing with everything on her desk: newspapers, an iPhone, a stack full of updates/ad reads, and a dual-monitor computer setup.
6:14 – At the show’s first official break, Cataldi does a read for breast enhancement surgery. The new fad these days is something called “cohesive gel implants” which you can get from one Dr. Robert Skalicky, who, if nothing else, knows how to reach his target market.
“Yeah, how ’bout it?” says Hughes, as she puts her microphone on mute. “Let’s get some boobs for Christmas!”
6:37 – During the next break in the action, Hughes gives us a rundown of her usual day: radio show, post-show meeting, taping of CSN Philly’s Lunch Break, a brief pit stop at home to walk the dog, a trip to the gym, about an hour of “downtime” (which typically includes several phone calls to/from Cataldi as they prepare for the next day’s show), a run to pick up her son from daycare, and then more show prep/game watching before she calls it a night. There are probably a few spare minutes in there for meals, but not very many.
6:48 – Cataldi laments that he’s “socially awkward” and doesn’t know how to interact with people in today’s society.
Hughes: “You came up with ‘Leave It to Beaver.'”
Cataldi: “Do you know you can’t even have a TV show called that anymore?”
6:56 – Before the 7:00 update, Hughes mentions how keeping up with Twitter during breaks is vital to her job. “There are people who tweet you about every sentence you say,” says Hughes. “But it’s good… some of them let you know about breaking news.”
7:01 – As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk calls in to discuss possible replacements for Andy Reid, Hughes explains some of the quirks among their guests. Most notably, there are some who absolutely do not like to wait on hold. Hughes serves as the primary booker for the Morning Show, and it’s clearly a job where catering to each individual’s personal preferences is a must.
7:16 – If it wasn’t obvious that Hughes is treated just like everyone else in the testosterone-filled WIP studios, Morganti offers up this non-sequitur during a commercial break: “Did Rhea tell you about the radio show that she had in jail? It was awesome!”
7:31 – Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell is set to call into the Morning Show in about 90 minutes, but he’s actually in studio across the street at Fox 29 talking about gun control measures in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. Hughes explains the constant juggling act as she tries to get this gist of Rendell’s interview: “You listen to the caller, you listen to Angelo, you listen to the TV… you gotta have three ears.”
7:45 – Cataldi fishes for compliments because of the outfit that he’s wearing for the commercial shoot later. He claims that he’s too self-conscious to look at himself on TV, an assessment that Hughes can relate to as well. Cataldi is especially unnerved by seeing his face on an advertisement for Ponzio’s Diner that appears in bus shelters around the Cherry Hill area. He even noticed that someone took the time to deface one sign by drawing a penis near his open mouth.
Morganti: “That’s not on the menu!”
7:56 – Damaging Doug (who was 6’1″, 335 pounds as a 12-year-old) shows up with his entourage and pounds of random meat (beef, ribs, pulled pork, etc.) in an attempt to earn entry into WIP’s annual bacchanalia eating contest known as Wing Bowl. Doug and Morganti agree that eating 2.5 pounds of beef brisket and jalapeños is a worthy challenge, but they can’t seem to settle on a time.
7:58 – The topic of hate mail/tweets comes up during a break, and Hughes tells of a time where she once received an e-mail from someone who threatened Allen Iverson’s daughter. Hughes forwarded the message to the Sixers, who subsequently alerted the FBI. Hughes’ computer was seized, and the man who sent the threat – Jay Charles, a retired teacher from Leola, Pa. – received three years’ probation, was fined $5,000 and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service.
8:04 – After NFL analyst Ross Tucker calls in to the Morning Show to talk about Andy Reid, Doug and a few members of his entourage begin shooting a promo video in the hallway, and the rest engage in an impromptu foosball game. Random moments like these occur 58 times during the course of the Morning Show, yet listeners have no idea that they’re going on.
8:15 – Cataldi welcomes Damaging Doug into the studio, and then proceeds to call him a “has-been.” Morganti and Doug still haven’t decided on a time for the eating stunt – Doug says that he needs more time than usual since brisket is tougher than most meats. “I don’t know brisket,” says Morganti. “I’m not Jewish.”
8:23 – Before he begins, Doug boasts that he was up to 505 at one point, but he’s since lost 120 pounds. “He’s lost me (in body weight)!” says Hughes. Morganti reluctantly gives Doug 4.5 minutes, and multiple cameras and cell phones start recording a 385-pound man eating an obscene amount of food. I’m sure these videos will wind up in the archives of the Library of Congress at some point.
8:26 – On cue (read: when it becomes clear that he won’t make it), Doug complains that the brisket is too chewy. Meanwhile, award-winning columnist Stu Bykofsky of the Philadelphia Daily News is resigned to hanging around outside the studio while an obese semi-professional eater tries to valiantly stuff his face full of meat. When Doug fails to finish in time, he offers to eat ribs and jalapenos instead, but is quickly rebuffed.
8:32 – Bykofsky comes into the main studio and makes it a point to sit far away from the destruction left in Doug’s wake. Cataldi is almost apologetic, explaining that this is what happens during Wing Bowl season. “I know it’s Wing Bowl season,” Bykofsky replies. “There’s a stripper outside!”
8:37 – Hughes gets a call during a break that Lunch Break is canceled for the day: Eagles’ RB LeSean McCoy was scheduled to be a guest on the show, but he backed out at the last minute. (Later that morning, Hughes would be called in to host Lunch Break with CSN Philly’s John Boruk.)
8:42 – While Cataldi, Morganti and Bykofsky discuss the latter’s newest book, “Cats are Supermodels” (Morganti: “I had a cat… I don’t like animals that are pissed off when you come home”), Doug is just outside of the main studio, barking at anyone who will listen: “They’ve gotta put me in the f—ing Wing Bowl!”
8:49 – A woman named Bri (which is sort for Bridiculous… seriously) is now in the studio and is asked if she would date a guy who was into cats. “I’m 23 – I want to party!” says Bri, who apparently believes that’s a sufficient answer to the question. Much to everyone’s surprise, Bri (who is compared to a young Yasmine Bleeth by someone who is terrible at making comparisons) is actually not a Wingette, but merely the friend of a guy who is about to attempt an eating stunt in 20 minutes. Someone determines that having a Wing Bowl without her would be somewhat Bridiculous, so Bri gets an official invite as a Wingette.
9:02 – As Rendell calls in to explain how easy it is to acquire guns in America, Bri is now standing just outside of the studio wearing a military-themed outfit (with fake bullets!!) that covers less than Nnamdi Asomugha. Damaging Doug, meanwhile, is still roaming the hallways demanding one last audience with Angelo so that he can plead his case to be part of the Wing Bowl field.
9:16 – For the second eating stunt of the day, some guy who goes by the name Elmer Fudd (friend of Bridiculous) begins to eat three pounds of London Broil in 15 minutes. Sitting across from Fudd (and next to Cataldi) is a woman named Melinda, who won the first Wingette search contest at SugarHouse Casino (and, less importantly, a trip for two to Punta Cana).
Cataldi typically flirts with women in a way that would make Brent Musburger blush, but he tones it down quite a bit for Melinda, in part because he butchers her name by calling her Miranda on several occasions. “We don’t have Asian wingettes that often,” says Cataldi. “We’re very happy to have you.”
9:22 – Former Philadelphia Eagles’ linebacker (and co-host of the WIP mid-day show) Ike Reese shows up to prepare for his shift. Despite the presence of both Bri and Melinda, Reese is intrigued only by Fudd’s attempt to put down the London Broil. Ike Reese: Radio professional.
9:26 – While Fudd struggles with the London Broil, Cataldi asks Bridiculous what she typically eats. Bri states that she’s only a fish and chicken girl, but she also makes it a point to note that she doesn’t have a boyfriend.
“Well, maybe you should start eating meat!” says Morganti.
9:27 – “I want to watch him either throw up or win,” says Melinda, who is still in the studio for some unknown reason. And after she explains why it’s important for Fudd to pour water on the London Broil (“sometimes, you need a lubricant”), Melinda effortlessly shifts into third-person mode when asked why she wants to be a Wingette: “This just seems to be next on the list of random things that Melinda does.”
9:32 – Fudd fails, but Morganti says that he’ll give Fudd 90 more seconds if Bri helps him finish the London Broil. She objects. “It’s covered in blood!”
(It’s important to note that there were no fewer than 15 people inside of the main studio while Fudd was attempting his eating stunt. Many were filming with video cameras and/or iPhones, but others were simply watching in amazement. There is an infinite level of “organized chaos” that goes on during the course of the Morning Show that simply can’t be transmitted over the radio airwaves.)
9:36 – During the break, Bri agrees, but ONLY if she has a beer first. She promptly shotguns a can of beer (don’t ask how or why she has one handy before 10:00 in the morning, but she did), but is still utterly disgusted at the thought at eating the meat.
9:44 – With the help of Bridiculous, Fudd finishes the London Broil and earns a spot in Wing Bowl. He’s probably the worst contestant ever, and his goal for Wing Bowl 21 is to finish second-to-last. Way to set the bar high, Elmer.
9:48 – Now that all of the updates are in the can, Hughes’ show-related duties are pretty much done for the day. She tells us to enjoy the rest of the show in the main area. But what would normally be a welcome invitation doesn’t seem terribly appealing today.
There’s a bloody tray sitting in front of one of the microphones, the remnants of Elmer Fudd’s eating stunt. So perhaps it was fitting that a ShopVac and a bottle of Fantastik were tucked away underneath one of the tables – one can only imagine the effort it takes to clean that studio every day.
Hughes has been a member of the Morning Show for the better part of 16 years now, and things that may seem crazy to others are just part of her daily routine. She’s known Morganti and Cataldi for so long that the three are “like family”, and the chemistry between the trio is completely natural.
Apart from the brutal waking hour, working on the WIP Morning Show seems like so much fun that it feels inherently unfair to those who hold traditional office jobs. Talking about sports all day for a few hours and yelling personal insults at your co-workers during the time in between? Not a bad gig, IF you can get it.
Of course, the job isn’t as easy as it may appear to be on the surface. There are plenty of hours of work that go on behind the scenes in order to create the finished product that is broadcast over the airwaves every weekday morning. And it’s because of the tireless efforts of Hughes and the rest of the Morning Show team that Sports Radio 94 WIP is consistently regarded as one of the best sports radio stations in America.