Marc Rayfield: Boss of the Blowhards
You can call it smart, or manipulative—but it’s working. Rayfield’s hung onto the city’s most popular radio personalities and the revenue they bring. His is the largest radio group in town, with about $100 million in revenue last year and the most listeners. He’s been able to wrap up essentially all live Philadelphia sports—Phillies,- Eagles, Flyers and 76ers games—despite the criticism of the teams on WIP. His ability to juggle it all led CBS Radio to name Philadelphia its 2010 market of the year.
RAYFIELD’S FIRST STINT at WIP was a flop. He arrived in 1990 as a rising star and, at age 26, the youngest radio sales manager in the city. But he lasted just 20 months in the tornado of clashing personalities at the station. In one partly mythologized encounter, Eskin may or may not have trashed Rayfield’s office. Rayfield downplays it; he says his papers and personal effects were strewn that Friday afternoon, and yes, the company did suspend Eskin without pay, but it was a semi-trashing at best.
“I told him I would give him a letter, and he thought I’d left for the weekend,” Rayfield explains. So Eskin went into Rayfield’s office and rifled through it, sending a stray folder- or writing pad to the floor like this—and Rayfield demonstrates at his current desk, knocking his own stuff onto the carpet.
In 1992, he escaped to Grown-Up Land at all-news KYW, and in a dozen years there advanced from local sales to station manager. Roy Shapiro, who hired Rayfield, says he was a gung-ho, often-impatient pusher of ideas, like a ratings-boosting “PC Thursdays” giveaway (austere KYW had never held a contest) that’s still going today. “He wasn’t ready, aim, fire,” Shapiro recalls. “He was fire, aim, ready.” But he says Rayfield matured. During Rayfield’s tenure, KYW brought in more money than any station in the region, and its sales regularly grew faster than those of the market’s other stations. Then KYW’s parent, CBS, bought WIP and in 2003 sent Rayfield back to manage the house of flying daggers at SportsRadio 610. “I thought I was being punished,” he says.
WIP was barely profitable. There was a defamation lawsuit against Eskin that Richard Sprague had filed on behalf of Allen Iverson. And on the morning he started, Rayfield had to call Cataldi into his office to suspend him. Cataldi had proclaimed on the air that the security staff at Eagles games “should wear swastikas” for preventing fans from bringing hoagies into the stadium.
“Imagine, at 10 a.m. I have to call Angelo,” Rayfield recalls. “‘Ange, I’m the new GM. You might remember me from when I worked here in 1990. I have to suspend you.’”
Cataldi went ballistic. F-bombs. He swore he’d never sign another contract with WIP. “I was livid. It’s eight years later, and I’m still not too happy,” he says. But Rayfield—no doubt in Zelig mode—talked him down, and Cataldi, whose morning show represents about half of WIP’s revenue, has signed two contracts with Rayfield since then. “He’s done the thing that I most need him to,” Cataldi says, “and that’s to let me do my job.”