CHERRY HILL, NJ -- Chris Albright understands the significance of hearing soccer talk on the radio.
The veteran Union defender grew up in the Philadelphia area in the mid-1990’s. The local airwaves were dominated by the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies and Sixers. Angelo Cataldi controlled the morning ratings and Howard Eskin had just left WMMR to test out a full-time sports talk format.
Soccer was mostly an afterthought in the Delaware Valley. There was no MLS team to support. The Philadelphia KiXX had a loyal but small following. It was a niche sport with plenty of fans, but no tangible presence in a major sports market.
Fast forward to May of 2012, and the launch the Union’s brand new radio show The 90th Minute on Sportsradio 610WIP.
Soccer now has a weekly timeslot on the city’s most famous sports station.
Think about that for a second.
“It’s incredible. It shows how far the game has come,” said Albright, who on Monday night became the very first Union player to appear on the show. “I think (soccer) is on a quicker upward path here in Philadelphia. You get on sports talk radio in such a competitive market. I never thought about (soccer being) on the radio specifically. But I knew that whenever a franchise came here it would be wildly successful just because of the passion of the fans. It’s always been a soccer city. It’s a perfect combination.”
The 90th Minute is co-hosted by Carl Cherkin and Kerith Gabriel. Cherkin is a Union executive and former FOX-29 sports director. Gabriel is the Union beat writer for the Philadelphia Daily News and serves as an analyst on Comcast’s “State of the Union” television magazine show.
“This is extraordinary. This has been a long time coming,” said Cherkin. “This is good for the fans, good for our supporters, it’s good for the Union. It’s good to bring in other sponsors, who may not want to be huge sponsors at this point, but want to get their feet wet, they want to get involved.”
For one hour on Monday night, from 7-8 p.m., Cherkin and Gabriel touched on topics such as Saturday's 1-1 result at Dallas and the team’s upcoming showdown with Toronto FC. Union CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz joined the program to talk about personnel moves, the transfer window, and the acquisition and usage of allocation money. Fan questions were accepted via Facebook and Twitter and asked during the broadcast. Notable blogger and FOX Soccer writer Ives Galarcep called in to discuss news from around MLS. Galarcep, who founded and currently runs the popular Soccer By Ives blog, will be featured in a regular call-in segment.
“We’re elated to be on the air,” said Cherkin. “Kerith is presenting himself, earning his stripes as a real soccer expert. Having Ives is tremendous. Soccer By Ives and FOX Soccer - the guy is global.”
“I think (radio) helps legitimize everything that we’re doing,” added Albright. “We’re obviously working hard as players on the field, and (that extends) to the front office. It helps legitimize the sport and get it into more households, and that’s what we’re trying to do -- still grow the game. It’s great stuff.”
In addition to The 90th Minute, Union matches will be broadcast live on WIP this year. Beginning July 21, MLS veteran radio and television announcer Tony Limarzi will host the game broadcasts alongside former KiXX goalkeeper Peter Pappas.
“If you look at it globally, if you look at it from a total picture perspective, this is another opportunity for us to touch people and to reach out,” said Cherkin. “Especially on WIP. WIP doesn’t talk a whole lot of soccer and they haven’t (in the past). But their management understands that this is the future (for soccer in Philadelphia). This is where our games will be and this is where they want people to tune in. In today’s world, it’s a fragmented media, and I say kudos to the WIP management, because there was a time not that long ago when (Philadelphia radio hosts) got yelled at by their program director for talking about baseball.”
Today’s youth in the Philadelphia Region are growing up with a local team to watch. Every league match is televised and now the airwaves are engaged.
Generations of local soccer fans couldn't say the same at any point over the last three decades.
“I’m the old guy here and everyone gives me schtick all the time,” laughed Cherkin. “But guess what? I like being the old guy, seeing all of these young people have soccer as part of their sports diet. Our CEO and Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz often references the former wasteland that was soccer broadcasting in Philadelphia. So many people thought that soccer was a communist conspiracy ready to take over the world. Well, that didn’t happen, you know? We built a stadium in Chester which is an absolute jewel -- PPL Park is terrific. Philadelphia and Chester are now international soccer destinations.”
Just as Sportsradio 610WIP is now -- for the very first time -- a destination for soccer talk.