This is your typical father-and-son tale. That may not sound like a convincing way to begin a story, but when the father is Howard Eskin—Fox 29 sports director, longtime WIP host, all-around loudmouth—and you’re talking about something the professional talker never talks about—his family—the typical becomes extraordinary. The very existence of Eskin’s wife and five children has been a mystery, even to those who’ve worked with him for years. (“I think he has a daughter,” says WIP veteran Rhea Hughes. “I know very little about his family.”)
Here, on the late-night shift at the WIP studios in Old City, at the end of a slow sports-news day, is living proof that Howard is indeed human—CBS Radio’s man of many hats and Howard-spawn, Brett “Spike” Eskin. It’s almost 11:30 p.m., and callers are in short supply. Suddenly there’s commotion in the producer’s booth, and a glimpse of a fur-lined parka. It’s Howard, fresh off the 10 o’clock news at the Fox studios next door and here for some paternal bonding—on the air, of course. He straps on a set of headphones and casually steps up to the mic. It’s something he’s done thousands of times, an act as natural as breathing or belittling a caller. When he’s beside his son, though, something old takes on new life.
“Joined in the studio by Fox 29 and WIP’s Howard Eskin,” says Spike. “How are you?”
“Absolutely sensational. Never had a bad day in my life.”
“I have a new feature at midnight that I think you’ll think is a really terrible idea.”
“What—you on the air?” Howard lets out a staccato chuckle.
“We’re long past that,” Spike says with the ease of someone who’s deflected Howard’s barbs for three decades and counting. He explains his plan for “Made-Up Trade Hour”: Call in with a deal you’d like to see any of the four major Philadelphia teams pull off.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Howard says.
“Really?” Spike knows there can’t be a compliment without a catch.
“Because these people will come up with things that are just so ridiculous and so
ludicrous—that’s what will make it terrific.”
Howard can’t pass up a chance to needle the audience, and soon the phone lines light up. There’s a playful energy as he banters with Spike, a mischief in his voice that strips it of its usual venom. After decades as “The King” of Philadelphia’s sports media, Howard left his daily WIP show in September 2011 as his ratings declined. Though he’s not slowing down—sideline reporting on the Eagles for WIP, on television at least six days a week and on the radio Saturday mornings—Howard, at 62, is in the twilight of his career, while his son is on the rise. What’s far more compelling than talk about the Eagles is listening for even the slightest insight into the relationship of the pair, for any clues to solve the riddle that everyone, from Howard’s colleagues to Spike’s callers, ponders.
“What would it be like to grow up as Howard Eskin’s son?” asks WIP morning-show host and longtime Howard foil Angelo Cataldi. “You say to yourself: It must have been tough.”