Philly AM Station Raptured By Family Radio

WPEN-AM in Philadelphia, the one-time “950 ESPN,” has been sold by Greater Media to Family Stations, Inc. Greater Media’s sports radio format will now exclusively be heard on sister station WPEN-FM, “97.5 The Fanatic,” which celebrates its fourth anniversary next month.

Once upon a time, the Philadelphia Flyers announced that they would be relocating from the market’s established sports radio station, WIP (610 AM/94.1 FM) to rival WPEN-FM (97.5 The Fanatic), with games simulcast on WPEN-AM 950, which was station owner Greater Media’s original frequency on the Philly radio dial for sports talk until they flipped 97.5 to “Philly’s first FM sports station” in the fall of 2009. This move came roughly one month after the 76ers abruptly shifted from WIP-AM/FM to WPEN-AM/FM as their flagship, effective with broadcasts of their 2012 postseason run. Up until then, WIP-AM/FM held the monopoly on radio play-by-play rights (sister station WPHT-AM is also the Phillies flagship). So the field is now split between Greater Media and CBS Radio, owner of WIP/WPHT.

And very soon, the programming between the AM and FM sides of both WIP and WPEN will be radically different. We already know that WIP-AM is going to become a 24/7 outlet for the new CBS Sports Radio network on January 2 of next year.

Now comes word that WPEN-AM, the one-time flagship station of the Phillies, has been sold to Family Stations, Inc. for an undisclosed price. For years, Family Radio had been heard in Philly via Camden-licensed WKDN-FM 106.9, but was sold earlier this year to Merlin Media. The sale of this station plus another in Washington, D.C. may have been brought on by the negative publicity Family Radio president Harold Camping received in 2011, when he predicted not one, but two raptures – May 21 and October 21 – that never came into fruition. (And for what it’s worth, the date of Family Radio’s acquisition of WPEN-AM is September 21.)

While Greater Media had planned to simulcast Flyers and Sixers games on both 950 AM and 97.5 FM, it would have been ideal for both frequencies to air both teams’ games in the event of a conflict (though upon the announcement of their new deal with Greater Media, the Flyers announced that some overflow games would be heard on sister station WMMR/93.3 FM). But with the NHL currently in lockout mode, thus no Flyers/Sixers conflicts to be concerned about, Greater Media likely decided that now would be the best time to unload AM 950. And at a time where the AM band is all but being phased out in favor of FM and smartphones, you’ll want to unload those AM sticks as soon as someone has a reasonable offer.

It’s likely that once the NHL lockout ends, Flyers games will be heard on WMMR by default, should a Sixers game be played at the same time (and heard on WPEN-FM – which would become simply WPEN once Family Radio receives a new callsign for AM 950).

But whither WFME in New York? The frequency, at 94.7 FM – which at one point Family Radio applied for the status of its license to be changed from its current non-commercial status to commercial – once rumored to be purchased by ESPN (which eventually turned out to be 98.7 FM in an LMA deal with Emmis Communications)? Does Family Radio’s buying back into the Philadelphia market mean Harold Camping’s got his groove back?

Well, the deal was made exactly three months before the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar

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Sports Media Gone Wild! Philly Radio Host Not Famous Enough For Free Ride, Assaults Cabdriver

Alleged "celebrity" sports radio host Tom Byrne thought he was above paying a cab fare. He would proceed to achieve a different kind of fame by assaulting the cab driver he had stiffed.

(This is the first in a rolling series of articles on sports media figures getting into trouble with the law. Big trouble. For our sake, hopefully, the series won’t be too long.)

Not since “the punch” from Mike Missanelli has there been a senseless incident in Philadelphia involving a local sports radio host.

This time, it involves a relatively nameless sports radio personality – just don’t tell him that.

Especially if you say, “That’ll be $5.00.”

In the early morning hours of Monday, January 16, 97.5 The Fanatic (WPEN-FM) host Tom Byrne, hailed a taxi. When he reached his destination after a mile or so, he exited the taxi – neglecting to pay the driver.

When the driver demanded Byrne pay the fare, here’s what he came back with: “I’m a celebrity. This is my neighborhood. What are you gonna do about it?”

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen: Tom Byrne, starring in: “I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of This Cab Fare!”

Let’s just take a closer look at this so-called “celebrity,” shall we? According to the bio posted on the Fanatic web site (while it’s still available – more on that later), Byrne’s sports radio career began when he became the play-by-play announcer of the Scranton Royals – the Division III basketball team from Scranton College. “He also worked in the television studio of Phonebet TV,” reads his bio. Phonebet TV – I know. a channel that’s just as famous as Tom Byrne… made for each other! Phonebet actually aired in the Philadelphia area – but even if you live in Philly, the reason you may not have heard of it, is because it’s been off the air for the last two years. Byrne’s bio also boasts his writing talent “for The Sports Network” – no, not the mighty TSN network out of Canada, but a sports news website based out of Hatboro, PA. (We won’t link them, since they’re competition.)

But you haven’t read anything until you read this gem from his bio page: “Tom’s rise in the broadcasting industry is a testament to how bad he wanted to flourish in sports and to the talent he possesses as a broadcaster.”

Whatever talents Tom Byrne possesses as a broadcaster, he lacks as a negotiator.

Back to 6th and Pine Streets in Philadelphia, where the self-described “celebrity” sports radio host Tom Byrne asked a cabbie – and even though we weren’t there, we will assume he wasn’t asking nicely – what he was “gonna do about” evading a cab fare. According to an arrest report – yep, this can’t have a happy ending, now that I’ve belted out those two magic words – the cabbie proceeded to follow the uber-famous radio host down the street (usually you would need a few security guards in tow if you’re a celebrity) when Byrne knocked the cabbie’s glasses off his face, then allegedly punched the cabbie in the face, and dragged him across the street.

Fame. Ain’t it a bitch.

Police caught up to the megastar sports radio host about a block away from where he was dropped off and started his challenge with the cabdriver. He would spent most of the rest of the day in jail, before being bailed out by his girlfriend (I bet those two are a real power couple) to the tune of $500 – or $100 for each dollar Byrne denied paying the taxi driver. The charges against Tom Byrne, in no particular order: Simple assault (I guess that’s when he knocked the cabbie’s glasses off), aggravated assault (that’s probably the punching and dragging parts), recklessly endangering another person (ditto), and of course, robbery and theft of services.

I believe this is where Tom Byrne hires Mark Geragos to fight the charges.

You would think a $5 cab fare wouldn’t be a problem for a big-time celebrity like Tom Byrne.

Instead, he just bought himself a bigger problem, with the new charges brought against him following that “case of the Mondays”.

Byrne has been hosting the evening shift on weeknights starting at 7 PM (you would think a celebrity would be beneath hosting a time slot normally pre-empted by live sports play-by-play, or perhaps a Scranton Royals game). When he showed up Tuesday for his airshift, the program director decided about a half-hour before 7 PM that Byrne would not be on the air. And it appears that he’s been suspended indefinitely – at the very least, he’s been off the air the entire week of the incident (as recent as Friday night, Sean Brace had been hosting in the timeslot). Though 97.5 The Fanatic GM Matt Nahigian would neither confirm nor deny Byrne was suspended. Nor did he confirm or deny if Byrne was a celebrity.

But given Byrne’s brush with the law, you’d have to wonder if he’ll ever be back on the air at the station.

Six years ago, WIP midday co-host Mike Missanelli punched a producer at a live remote broadcast, and was subsequently fired.

Two years later, he was hired by rival sports station 97.5 The Fanatic for their afternoon drive program, which he continues hosting today.

You figure there’s probably no room for two brawling talk show hosts on their roster. If Byrne is indeed dismissed following this incident, he has to concentrate on vanquishing his personal demons before looking to return to the radio.

Or he can always double down and wait for a reality show producer to give him a call.

Don’t all obnoxious celebrities end up going that route?

Or even celebrities in their own mind, like Tom Byrne?

And Tom, if you’re reading this article: What are you gonna do about it?

Auld Lang Sigh: Sexual Harassment Lawsuit Against WIP Bigwig Another Black Eye For Sports Radio

A lawsuit filed against Marc Rayfield, who oversees several Philadelphia radio stations, including sports WIP-AM/FM, is yet another blow to sports radio in a year that has been totally out of bounds.

The former director of marketing communications for a Philadelphia news station is taking her former boss to court on grounds of sexual harassment.

Attorneys Samuel First and Christopher Wagner have filed a lawsuit against CBS Radio’s entities in New York and Philadelphia on behalf of their client, Shelley Kanther, who claims she endured a “highly offensive, discriminatory environment and culture at CBS Philly.” Kanther was fired from her position at KYW Newsradio 1060 in Philadelphia, an action that she thinks is “in retaliation for… complaints” about the “degrading and extremely upsetting” atmosphere that she and co-workers experienced while working at the top-rated all-news station in Market No. 7. “No remedial action of any kind was ever taken” at KYW, according to the lawsuit, “despite Ms. Kanther’s repeated complaints.”

Specifically identified in the lawsuit by Kanther is CBS Radio Philadelphia Senior Vice President and Market Manager Marc Rayfield, whom Kanther dubbed “one of the worst offenders” during her tenure at KYW.

In addition to KYW, Rayfield also oversees five other radio stations in the cluster, including WIP, which has been broadcasting a sports format on AM 610 for close to a quarter-century – and just this past fall, added a simulcast on 94.1 FM; the station now brands itself as “SportsRadio 94 WIP.” This is actually Rayfield’s second go-round working at WIP: in the early 1990’s, he had previously served as the station’s local sales manager when it was owned by Spectacor Broadcasting. He was hired in the same capacity by KYW in 1992, and worked his way up to station manager. Later, KYW owner CBS Radio merged with subsequent WIP owner Infinity Broadcasting, and Rayfield had assumed responsibilites for WIP.

I could go into detail about some of the graphic “locker room behavior” that is described in Kanther’s lawsuit, but I won’t. I’ll actually direct readers here. And when you read the alleged comments and actions depicted in the lawsuit, consider this quote from the same lawsuit picked up by this source:

“… Kanther once complained about the discriminatory treatment to another female employee, who in turn told Kanther that the harassment was par for the course, and that ‘that’s always how it has been here’…”

One wonders if WIP employees experienced the same “highly offensive” environment that Kanther has while at KYW. I myself am not alleging, nor confirming, that a similar workplace exists or has existed at WIP. But knowing that Rayfield manages five radio stations – actually, four, when legendary rock station WYSP flipped to a simulcast of what was then known as “Sports Radio 610” and is now known as WIP-FM, though AM 610 occasionally airs programming different from 94.1 FM at times – the immediate thought is whether or not the same behavior can be found in the work environments of all of the radio stations under Rayfield’s watch.

Not to single out WIP specifically, but when you read about the alleged tawdry goings-on at KYW, anyone familiar with Philadelphia radio may immediately ask themselves, “Is this business as usual at WIP?”

In fact, we are coming off of a year in which sports radio personalities have engaged in regrettable behavior, on and off the air. This past spring, former ESPN Radio 1000/Chicago personality Jay Mariotti, who is also seen on ESPN, was arrested in Los Angeles for assaulting his girlfriend. In August, nationally syndicated host Tony Bruno referred to Giants pitcher Ramon Ramirez on Twitter as an “illegal alien pitcher” after a pitch hit a Philles player, ensuing in a benches-clearing brawl. Just this week, we witnessed another lesson in how not to use Twitter as a sports radio personality, as Pittsburgh’s Mark Madden took an unwarranted shot at all women by instructing a female listener to “get in the kitchen, have a kid, dance ’round a pole.” (While the radio station Madden works for has an alternative music format, Madden has a strong sports background.) And, of course, there was the recent fallout with Albany sports radio host Bruce Jacobs and his comments about the WNBA which invoked gay slurs, which was first reported right here on sportsrants.com.

2011 also saw another lawsuit being filed, this one specifically against a sports radio station. Back in March, Jen Royle, reporter for Baltimore’s WJZ-FM “105.7 The Fan” – which is also owned by CBS Radio – hit rival sports station WNST, and its owner and main radio personality, Nestor Aparicio, with a defamation lawsuit stemming from comments Aparicio made on the air about Royle, including, among others, “that she looks like a stripper.” As you can imagine, radio station WNST, like its owner, Nestor, is nicknamed “nasty.” (Royle would drop the lawsuit right before Labor Day.)

And now, this latest lawsuit against one of the people in charge of one of the most well-known sports radio stations in the country.

Again, I’m not holding WIP or any of their personalities accountable. (Even former WIP host Mike Missanelli, who now holds down afternoon drive on rival WPEN-FM “97.5 The Fanatic.”) Yes, the lawsuit revolves around another radio station Rayfield oversees.

But to borrow an old adage, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Name-calling. Gay-bashing. Drunk-tweeting.

These are just some of the examples of things that sports radio can do without.

With all of the ugliness that has taken place amongst the sports radio landscape in 2011, what does 2012 have in store?

Hopefully, more on X’s and O’s, and not so much, T & A.