Marc Rayfield: Boss of the Blowhards

If you think it's tough listening to radio loudmouths like Danny Bonaduce, Michael Smerconish and Angelo Cataldi, imagine being the guy who has to manage them

I quizzed Rayfield strenuously about this condition, but found it difficult to make an accurate diagnosis. Frustrated, I offered him an unscientific theory: Maybe he needed to numb part of his brain to be unpained by the disconnect between knowing one thing and paying a guy to say the opposite. The fact that he answered me politely told me more about his approach than his answers did.

“Listen, I don’t necessarily like all the music we play,” he said.

Rayfield’s ability to submerge his own ego in order to thrive in rooms full of even bigger and sometimes disagreeable ones is a strategy, an adaptation. Like that of fish species scientists still discover at the bottom of the sea that have little legs, or flashlights on their foreheads. I came to understand it not as a character flaw, not as a moral failing, but as the secret to Marc Rayfield’s success.

AT 47, RAYFIELD’S HAIR has gone almost fully gray. He wears it combed straight back and a little long. He’s quiet, but a gadfly. Though he’s 6-foot-2, he doesn’t instantly fill a room with his presence. He makes his impact by knowing everyone.

Rayfield is Senior Vice President and Philadelphia Market Manager for CBS Radio. Essentially, he’s the CEO of one of the city’s biggest media companies. His cluster includes KYW (the city’s biggest news station), WIP (the sports powerhouse), WPHT (tops in talk), and FM music stations WYSP and WOGL. As such, he’s ringmaster of perhaps the most bombastic super-team of personalities in the city—Smerconish at WPHT, Danny Bonaduce at WYSP, Angelo Cataldi and Howard Eskin at WIP—talented men who are paid to be the loudest, strongest and never-wrongest voices in the room. One might be tempted to try to tamp down the egos, show them who’s boss; Rayfield gets exactly what he wants in another way—by a sort of intrapersonal judo.

“I think one of the most important things in life is to sort of take on a chameleonlike approach to the way you treat people,” he says. “There’s a movie that I’ve made most of my employees over the years watch, and it describes who I think I am. It’s Woody Allen, before he became a complete dirtball.” He’s talking about Zelig, the one where a nebbish cipher changes his appearance to thrive in any scene.

“Danny Bonaduce is playful, and I’ll joust with him,” Rayfield says. “Michael Smerconish, he’s not playful. That’s just not the word. So my sarcasm is very minimal with him. He might say I’m too intense. Angelo is somewhere in between. Howard doesn’t really have a sense of humor. He doesn’t get jokes. So I do believe that I have to take on their characteristics. It’s a genuine response. It kind of is who I am.”