Former 94WIP Program Director Tom Bigby passes away

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We’re sad to pass on the news that former SportsRadio WIP Program Director Tom Bigby passed away Monday at the age of 77. He is survived by his wife Phyllis, his two children and four grand children.

His programming career was filled with legendary call letters like WIFI, WPHT, WNEW, KOST and WXYT, but it will always be WIP at which he left the most lasting mark.

Known for his at times contentious relationship with talent, and his radio-ready voice, Bigby is the most well known, well respected, and most inconic PD in the history of WIP. His legacy will include many things, but from a WIP perspective, his belief that the Eagles were the biggest thing in town, and that the fans should be heard will be two of the most lasting for WIP. His “two minute rule” and “once during the week, and once on the weekends rule” for callers will not be far behind.

When I took over programming duties for WIP several years ago, I knew there would be many large shadows I’d be operating within, and few were the same size as Bigby’s. I worked for him briefly in 2006 when he took over as Operations Manager for 94WYSP, but most of what I know is painted by the stories that people tell, and the brief flashes of him I have in my memory screaming at my father after he asked me to leave the studio.

After I left 94WYSP to work for WKQX in Chicago, I heard from Tom only once. I got a Facebook message a couple of years ago telling me how great WIP sounded and that I was doing a good job. Of all of the affirmations of what we do here at WIP that we’ve received, getting one from Bigby is something that I’ll always remember.

We thought it would be best to let the staff at WIP convey some of their thoughts and stories about Tom, which are below. There never seemed to be much peace around Tom Bigby, so we hope he’s resting however he sees fit.

Howard Eskin:
I would say Tom Bigby was a “character” but he did know things, a lot, on what it took to be a good sports talk station.

I Remember Tom first came to then 610WIP as a consultant shortly after we went full time sports.  WIP needed direction at the beginning and being there from that first day August 29, 1986 I urged ownership to hire him shortly after our full time start in 1988.

However at times he was a monster. Didn’t know the guy with that Texas draw was going to be our Frankenstein.  It was almost like he didn’t want the staff to like him.He just wanted it done his way. Even though he was gentle at times.

Actually told me at least once when I tried to bring facts into the conversation, I don’t care about facts. I care about good talk radio.

Although some took him the wrong way, I had no problem with Tom. Not sure WIP would have started out the right way and become the tremendous success it is today without Tom Bigby there in the stations infancy.

Tom Bigby will never be forgotten. RIP Tom.

Rhea Hughes:
I started with WIP as the overnight producer in 1991. I would frequently hand Bigby tapes of me doing updates in hopes he would hire me as an update announcer. Kept telling me I had to go elsewhere to get on air experience. I got an opportunity at WXTU - the country station - to join the morning show as producer/cohost. Lasted about 3 years.

When I got fired, five minutes later I was on the phone with Bigby and he offered me a job on the spot as an update announcer. I covered the Eagles on the road the first year in 1996. I once gave Juan Castillo a lift in Green Bay to buy a toothbrush while out there to cover a game in a minivan.

Bigby allowed me to fill in on the Morning Show as their update person and I joined it full time in 1997.

I would’ve never of had that opportunity without Bigby. He could be very difficult. He could be a bully. But he toughened me up in an era when women were not really doing sports.

Angelo had an insane clause in one of his contracts that he did not have to talk to Bigby. So, Bigby would call me in his office and scream at me about Angelo. That was fun!

Most of the crazy Bigby stories involve Conklin who could do his voice. Rob Charry was doing an update. He hit a sound bite (on a cart) that instead of being Ray Rhodes was Conklin’s voice saying “You’ve got the wrong cart Rob”!

Bigby flipped.  Nearly fired both of them though Rob had nothing to do with it. I was actually driving home and heard it live and almost drove off the road laughing.

I am eternally grateful for Tom giving me a job at WIP almost 25 years ago. Despite all his faults, he knew radio. Learned a lot.

Angelo Cataldi:
I’ve got lots of stories about Tom Bigby, many of them filled with rage and frustration. But the truth is, he was the brains behind WIP in our early years, and definitely the most influential person as I made the transition from newspapers to radio.
The story that best illustrates his style and acumen is from my first day as a full-time host at the station on Jan 20, 1990. I had just finished my first show with Tom Brookshier, and I was feeling pretty good about my decision to give up my life as a writer. I thought I had passed my first test with ease. As I walked down the hall after the show, I heard Tom’s booming voice: "Angelo, can I see you?” He proceeded to inform me that my days in journalism had ended. “You’re not here to inform people,” he said. “You’re here to entertain them. Anybody can talk about sports. I hired you to be funny, to show some personality. You need to understand that right now.” It took me a while, but it was the lesson that served me best in the 31 years that have followed. I never hated a boss more than I hated Tom Bigby. But I also never owed more to a boss than I do to him.

Glen Macnow:
I learned today that of the passing of Tom Bigby, longtime program director of WIP. Apparently, Tom died yesterday of heart complications and had been dealing with health issues for a while.

Tom is the guy who gave me an opportunity to switch careers at the end of 1993, when I was disillusioned working at the Inquirer. He hired me to co-host middays at WIP with Jody MacDonald, and all these years later, I’m still there. I’m extremely grateful that he took that shot on me.

Tom had a vision and – other than Angelo Cataldi – he’s probably the most important person in WIP’s history as a sports station. He hired a bunch of newspaper guys with little to no radio experience, because he believed they had credibility and knew how to tell a story. So Angelo, Al Morganti, Mike Missanelli, Anthony Gargano and I became part of the team.

He sprinkled in radio pros like Jody, Howard Eskin, Tony Bruno and Steve Fredericks. He added good comedy in Joe Conklin and Big Daddy Graham. And he recognized young up-and-comers in Rhea Hughes and Craig Carton. Tom was a sharp judge of talent.

Tom’s vision was that a hardcore 24-hour sports station couldn’t gain enough listeners, so he insisted WIP be “guy talk” radio, or as he once told me, “Oprah for men.” So we talked about TV and movies, women, food and whatever dumb issues guys waste time talking about.

It worked. Because of Tom’s vision – and because of the talent he hired and the talent that came afterward – WIP remains among the most successful sports stations in the country.

I don’t want to sugarcoat this. My relationship with Tom was rocky. He enjoyed being a bully, and it took me a while to learn not to jump when he called for it. Tom’s view of programming – while extremely successful – didn’t allow for growth. Interviews were few and far between; he wanted all of the shows to churn calls. And all of those calls had to be less than two minutes – there was even a timer that connected to his office showing the length of each. Pity the poor producer who didn’t disconnect a call before Tom noticed it was going long.

All on-air talk of baseball or hockey was discouraged. He hated both sports. Tom once handed me the obit page of the Inquirer and said, “Every name listed there means one more baseball fan has died.”

But as I said, he built something that really became a national model for how local sports stations could work. And I’ll always appreciate that. WIP has meant a lot over the years to those who work for it and the thousands and thousands who listen. I’ll raise a toast to Tom Bigby tonight.