The King Is Back

Howard Eskin (right) discusses the day's sports stories with reporter Colleen Wolfe (left).
Howard Eskin (right) discusses the day's sports stories with reporter Colleen Wolfe (left). (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

Howard Eskin returns to his sports gig on Fox 29

Posted: October 10, 2012

LOVE, IT'S been noted, is lovelier the second time around. But how about being Fox29's sports director and lead fun-and-games anchor?

"It's intriguing the second time around," said sports-broadcasting titan Howard Eskin who, earlier this month, began his second tour of duty at the local Fox outlet. "Is [it] better the second time around? It was great both times."

The 61-year-old mouth that roars, who appears weeknights at 5, 6 and 10 p.m., was initially seen on Channel 29 between 1986 and 1991, when he served as the first sports anchor-director on the station's then-groundbreaking "Ten O'Clock News." After management decided they didn't want to keep paying him what he had been making, Eskin took his TV act back to KYW-TV, Channel 3 (where he broke into TV in 1982). In 1996, he moved to WCAU-TV, Channel 10, where, until mid-August, he was a part-time sports anchor and co-host (with John Clark) of the weekly Sunday late-night show, "Sports Final."

According to the Northeast High School grad, returning to TV full time was not on his radar when, in August 2011, he announced he'd be stepping down from his daily sports-talk jeremiad on WIP-AM (610).

"August of 2011 was my 25th anniversary of doing afternoon drive on WIP," offered Eskin as he picked at a salad during a recent, late lunch at Popi's Italian restaurant around the corner from the Eagles' NovaCare practice facility.

"I realized a few months before I'd done it that long, going in every day. I said, 'You know what? I kind of gotta think about doing other things.' It started with that.

"WIP wanted me to stay, so we worked out a thing where I do Saturday [mornings] fill in for guys. I still do the Eagles sideline reporting, which is really a lot of fun."

But Eskin, a well-known workaholic, found himself in an unusual position as someone with actual time on his hands. Leaving his full-time radio shift, he said, "gave me a year to think about doing other things. I filled in for [nationally syndicated sports-gabber] Dan Patrick. I've done national; I thought maybe I want to go in that direction. But I still enjoyed doing TV when I did it on Channel 10. When Channel 29 came up, we started talking."

Contrary to popular belief in some quarters, Channel 29's top gun, Dennis Bianchi, who ran NBC10 before taking the reins at Fox, was not involved in luring Eskin to the station's 4th and Market Street headquarters. As Eskin explained, Bianchi was legally prohibited from talking to Channel 10 staffers once he left City Avenue.

Today, however, Bianchi is certainly free to heap praise on his new sports guy. "When it comes to Philadelphia sports," said Bianchi in an email statement, "Howard is a legend. Respected by the players, coaches and fans, his passion and provocative reporting is unparalleled."

Eskin-who joined Fox29 frontline news anchors Kerry Barrett and Thomas Drayton, and chief meteorologist Scott Williams - insisted money was never an issue in his decision to take the Fox gig. "It's almost never about the money," he philosophized. "You have to be happy. If you're not happy, I don't care what they pay you. If you make a lot of money and you're not happy, what good is it?

"The most important thing to me was, let me do what I do and be who I am. When people put me on the air, they want me to express myself. I said, 'If I'm gonna do this, and step back into this, which is a challenge, just let me be myself.' And that was never an issue.

"I think personality on TV is important. Sports is an area where you can have a personality, and be a personality and do things with a personality. When I go into something, I really commit to it. At Fox 29, sports is not a 'service' to people, it's part of what they want . . . They encouraged me. If I have an opinion, they want me to [give] it."

Because Eskin - who would only describe his current contract as a "multiyear" deal - has appeared somewhere on local television for 30 years, his move to Fox29 has hardly been a new experience. But he did marvel at one change he's noted since his late-summer return to the station. "The [technology] we have now is unbelievable," he said. "You can get anything you need now. It wasn't like that when I started."

Eskin usually rises between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. and doesn't see his pillow again until 2 or so the next morning. His new gig has caused him to alter some long-held routines, including ending his postgame meet-and-greets with athletes, a move caused by his having to be on the air at 10 p.m. Monday through Friday. But he still keeps a schedule that would wear out people half his age.

"You make sure you fit it all in; there are 28 hours in the day, right?" he asked. "There are nine days in a week, right? I fit it all in.

"Sleep is an intrusion on my workday. I'll find time to sleep. I'll get it done. But I can sleep a little later Monday because [Eagles coach] Andy Reid does his press conference at noon. Whatever it is, I get it done."

Regardless of how full his daily dance card gets, Eskin makes it a point to get to the gym every day as, he admitted, keeping his weight in check is a priority.

For almost 30 years, Eskin has been Philly's sports-guy-you-love-to-hate because of his blustery on-air style and his propensity for labeling as "dopes," "geniuses" and "losers" callers whose own opinions he finds lacking. Which is why many may find it surprising he rejected the idea that he has achieved iconic status.

"I can't call myself an 'institution,' " he said, seeming genuinely uncomfortable with the notion. "I'm just a kid from the Northeast . . . working in the town I grew up in, covering the teams that I followed."


Contact Chuck Darrow at dararowc@phillynews.com or 215-313-3134. Follow him on Twitter @chuckdarrow or read his blog at philly.com/Casinotes.

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