I’m an early riser, but 4 a.m. is a pretty rough alarm shrill, even for me. But within 20 minutes I was wide awake as a guest on 900am WURD, with host Phil Allen. He’s lively that early in the morning — as drive time radio jocks have to be — but more importantly, he is thoughtful, provocative and damn entertaining.
The good news is he let me contribute to the conversation. We talked civil rights and the death of former Jackson, Miss. Mayor Chowke Lumumba (a story I wrote for yourblackworld.net).
In the immediate days after his sudden death from “natural causes” the same day he was working on city business, his close ally Councilman Kenny Stokes went live with his suspicion. The mayor was murdered Stokes said, demanding an independent autopsy (but Stokes hasn’t returned follow-up emails and calls to me about the autopsy). The talk faded, but not for Phil Allen. It was the first question he asked me about, stemming from my story that I wrote. It led to a lively conversation about politics, civil rights and the economic plight of urban areas — all topics that I have written about and studied for decades, dating back to my graduate school days and then later as a political columnist.
The time flew and by 5 a.m. when I was off-air, I was wide awake. He’s that type of host. I’m looking forward to my next guest appearance on WURD.
Read more about Phil’s unlikely rise from sports radio caller to featured talk show host. Since this story came out, Allen has become the full-time morning host for WURD. It’s quite a rise for a talented, thoughtful and creative talent:
“It’s been almost 20 years since Allen placed his first call to WIP to complain about then-Phillies manager Jim Fregosi. Host Howard Eskin called him a moron and an imbecile and told him never to call back. Undeterred, Allen eventually became the station’s most distinctive and celebrated caller, thanks to his wit, charisma, sports knowledge, prodigious rants and polarizing opinions. Hosts like Anthony Gargano and Mike Missanelli often let him speak his piece longer than the usual one-minute-40-seconds allotted to callers.
By 2006, Allen says, he was in talks with WIP to become a host but nothing came of it. And then, when Missanelli signed on with WIP rival The Fanatic in 2008, Allen switched call-in allegiances and—with the help of Missanelli, one of Allen’s biggest champions—he convinced Fanatic program director Matt Nahigian to hire him. “Part of [joining the Fanatic] was because [WIP] spurned me,” says Allen, “and now my job is to kick [WIP’s] ass.”
After more than a year of early Saturday morning shows with various co-hosts, Allen’s got two solo shows now—he’s on Saturday afternoons from 3 to 7 p.m., and he’s got a Sunday night sports wrap-up show at 6—in addition to occasional fill-in work during the week. He also does a Saturday morning show on WURD 900AM. Though he’s used to his hosting duties by now, he still gets hyped up before every show.
“When I’m in there, it’s on. I didn’t even sit down for my first year and a half. I threw things. If I had a wireless microphone, I woulda paced that room like I’m on fire.” He still rants about the Eagles front office or how badly the Sixers need to trade Andre Iguodala, but he’s learned to dial it back. “You can’t be over the top all the time. But to this day, being on the radio for four hours is intense. It’s just like sex—when you’re done, it’s like, ‘Damn, where’s my cigarette?’”
Allen’s garnered a loyal following; like any good sports-talk radio host, he’s got listeners who think he’s the shit, and others who think he’s full of shit. He’s rarely hard-up for callers, the lifeblood of any sports-talk station.
“I love my guys,” he says of such regulars as “Mike the Weasel,” “Guido from Ambler” and even “Mitch from East Windsor,” who Allen laughs “drives me crazy, he’s so fuckin’ annoying.
“They’re the guys I tailgated with, the guys I went to the Vet with, we’re the denizens of the fucking darkness,” he continues. “I know what it’s like when you sit on hold for 40 minutes just to get your minute-40. It’s hard for me to hang up on people.”
With more than two years as a Fanatic host under his belt, Allen’s hoping for a more prominent role at the station someday, ideally a daily gig. “I think I’m as talented and know my sports as well as anyone at The Fanatic,” he says. “I think I could do any time slot.”
Even his good pal Missanelli’s top-rated, highly coveted weekday afternoon slot? “If something ever happened to him, I’d step over his dead body right up to that mic in a heartbeat!” Allen shouts, bursting out of his chair and doubling over laughing.
“I love [Missanelli],” he says after catching his breath. “But I’m a competitive guy. I would love a shot at that drive-time show. This is my life, man. It’s radio or die!”