WIP management knew the pair couldn’t stand each other — and figured that would make great radio when it put them on the air together in 1999. “He was never part of a team,” Missanelli says, referring to Eskin’s lack of an athletic background. (Angry listeners call him “Waterboy,” a knock at the fact he was a team manager, not an athlete, at Northeast High.) “I don’t think Howard ever understood being a partner on the radio, the relationship, the banter.” So it’s no surprise that even though they co-hosted for three years, their relationship now is what it’s always been — nonexistent. “When those two did the show together, they didn’t look at one another for four hours,” says Gargano. “Imagine how hard that is to do. During the breaks, it was crickets.”
Missanelli doesn’t hesitate to take a few swings at Eskin — just verbal ones these days, of course: “His show is tired. It’s torturous. It’s just his personal agenda. I’ve covered sports as a journalist. Howard has to be told what’s going on, and people [who tell him] have their own agendas.” Missanelli says there’s proof Eskin’s worried — most notably, that Eskin warned NBC-10’s Sports Final, a Sunday-night show he co-hosts, that if it invites Missanelli as a guest, the Eagles will cut the show off from interviews in the future. Eskin calls that account “absolutely untrue” and declined to comment otherwise for this story.
Gamesmanship and chest-thumping aside, ESPN 950 and Missanelli don’t expect to roll that boulder to the mountaintop overnight. In April, Missanelli’s first month on the air, he drew a 1.0 rating (1,700 listeners) in sports radio’s bread-and-butter demographic of men ages 25 to 54; across the dial, Eskin dominated with a 5.5, or five and a half times as many males tuned in. In that same time, WIP was the ninth-rated station, while ESPN 950 stood at 30, just behind a Camden station whose format is described as “Spanish Tropical.”
ESPN 950 station manager Bob DeBlois says he’ll be happy with moderate ratings improvement a year from now, and adds that Missanelli is already gaining ground, albeit in baby steps. Long-term, DeBlois envisions the station catapulting past WIP into the market’s top five. Frankly, if ESPN 950 simply manages to survive, that will be an accomplishment. And if the kinder, gentler Missanelli is the one who shepherds the station to success, well, it will be more than a little ironic.
THE OLD VET Stadium brawler inside Missanelli seems to surface again on this Tuesday afternoon, just days after the Flyers’ season ended in an embarrassing 6-0 loss. Flyers coach John Stevens calls in, wounds still fresh from an ugly finish to an otherwise encouraging season. So what does Missanelli say? The one accusation you never level at an athlete or coach, especially a hockey guy, unless you’re looking for a fight.