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

Baseball was always gigantic for Rayfield. When he was 10, during a summer respite at an aunt’s in San Francisco, he met Joe DiMaggio, his father’s idol, and their series of meetings was emotional enough to Rayfield that he’s writing a memoir about it. The last time Rayfield cried, he says, was at the funeral for Phillies announcer Harry Kalas. Rayfield remains giddy about the connections he’s made with athletes and teams. And even now, he arrives at contract meetings with the Phillies carrying memorabilia.

“He pulls out this big old box,” says Dave Buck, the Phillies’s head of marketing. “And there were old Inquirers and Bulletins from 1980, and a card set from a local gas station … Larry Bowa, Terry Harmon.”

WPHT’S CONTRACT WITH the Phillies was due to expire at the end of last season, and Rayfield didn’t take for granted that the team would renew. The divisive politics leading into game broadcasts has never been a cozy fit. For the Phillies, Buck admits, “it was an issue.”

Rayfield pitched a change they could all believe in: making PHT more local. The station had been running a marathon of syndicated talkers following Smerconish every morning: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity. But Beck and Hannity’s ratings were flat. Smerconish was wearying of rising at 3 a.m. for the early shift. Local advertisers prefer local shows.

So it was time for the double switch: Rayfield canned Beck and Hannity. Smerconish now does afternoons, still nationally but with dedicated Philly time, and local staple Dom Giordano went from evenings to the nine-to-noon slot. No major radio market had dropped Beck or Hannity. Rayfield says he ran into Beck outside Fox headquarters in New York just after the decision. As Rayfield tells it, Beck saw him, ducked his head under his hand and slinked away.

The move not only helped Rayfield re-sign the Phillies, but kept WPHT’s franchise player on the team. “We both got what we wanted,” Smerconish says. To fill the morning slot, Rayfield and program director Andy Bloom handed the ball to Chris Stigall, a former writer for David Letterman, who arrived in January and has been trying to become local as fast as he can.

“Marc told me, ‘I don’t agree with a lot of what you say, but I believe you’re the best guy for the job,’” Stigall says. Early returns on Stigall: His January audience share was 20 percent higher than what Smerconish’s national morning show got in January 2010.

ON A RECENT FRIDAY morning, Rayfield summons Bonaduce to his office, and WYSP’s morning man gets upstairs quickly.

“You’re the guy in Philly who can fire me without calling New York. What do you need?” Bonaduce asks, kissing up only semi-sarcastically. Bonaduce may be famous as a self-destructive wiseass, but he’s really an eager-to-please corporate soldier.

Rayfield explains that the ad-agency honcho for Acme Markets, who’s in Minneapolis, is a giant Bonaduce fan. She promised to give Rayfield a baseball signed by Twins catcher Joe Mauer, and Rayfield promised her a phone call from Bonaduce.

“Baseball—that’s the small white ball?” Bonaduce jokes.

“Not the small white ball you know,” Rayfield zings back. A drug reference.

They decide to make it a prank-y call. Bonaduce leans into the speakerphone.

“Hello, Miss Grothem? This is Steve Retton from the Minnesota Twins,” he ad-libs. “Have you been promising autographed merchandise to people?”

The client on the phone laughs. Grinning, Rayfield rolls back in his chair to watch Danny work. The king of Philly radio is getting exactly what he wants, for this moment fully Zelig-ed into goofball mode.