December 22, 2020
This is where the dream starts. So, John Kincade had to share the news. This is where it brought him on a high-sky autumn Monday, rocking heel-to-toe at the edge of a mound of dirt in front of an unmarked grave, right across the street from the high school he graduated from, and down the street from his favorite pizza joint where he used to go as a kid after delivering papers.
Talking between tears, this is where he was able to slow everything down for a moment and allow the news to sink in, where he could stop time, because it’s sure not going to stop in a few weeks. This is where his rebirth would be, Kincade thought to himself, back to where many of the old haunts were, and possibly discovering some new ones.
John Kincade always dreamed of being a radio sports talk show host in Philadelphia. His voice was heard above everyone’s over the raucous high school lunch-table debates.
On Monday, January 4, the 56-year-old Broomall, Delaware County native, Cardinal O’Hara and Temple graduate will be debating again — with an entire city, his city, when the “John Kincade Show” is baptized as the flagship program for 97.5 The Fanatic’s new morning drive show from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Kincade, a two-time cancer survivor who hosted a national show for 15 years, comes back home after spending over 20 years in Atlanta, Georgia, the last two decades as the host of a popular afternoon radio program in Atlanta called the “Buck and Kincade Show,” with former Georgia quarterback Buck Belue.
Kincade received the news from 97.5 in late November, sitting on the couch in his hotel room in Newtown Square around the time of his mother Betty’s funeral. Since then, he’s been deluged with social media messages from countless family and friends that he’s stayed in touch with through the years — and he’s been correcting them all.
“I keep telling them that this isn’t the culmination of a dream; this is the beginning of a dream,” Kincade said. “This area to me, no matter what I’ve done or where I’ve been, this has always been home.
“I remember getting the call and thinking, ‘This is really happening; I’m really coming home.’ It’s about coming full circle. My daughter Olivia, even though she was from Atlanta, always thought of this area as her home, because her family has always been up here.”
Kincade, his wife, Cristina, and Olivia, even celebrated the news at his favorite pizza joint, Joe’s Pizza, which is every bit Broomall, Delaware County, and where Kincade used to stop after he delivered newspapers on his bike to the apartment complex behind Joe’s.
“To my wife and daughter, family means Broomall and all of these things have changed since I moved away, but the feel of the whole place and this area is still the same to me, it feels like home,” Kincade said. “I come from a place in Atlanta and I always said it was like we were living in Disney, where everything is shiny and new, and freshly built. The prices are the only things that have really changed around here. Otherwise, everything is still the same. That’s what I like about this area.”
That familiarity will hopefully spill over to the sports radio listening audience. Kincade’s path back home has had some twists and turns, like a few stops in chemo for a bout with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1995 and into ’96, then a return visit with testicular cancer in 1997.
It reminded him of when his father, Tom, a World War II POW, died of cancer on Christmas Eve, 1981, at the age of 57. It forced Kincade to reassess his future, to think less about making money and more about pursuing a passion.
At the time, he thought he had it all. A single guy, making six figures working for Malvern-based Shared Medical Systems (now Siemens), which had transferred him to Atlanta, where he was doing weekends as a sports talk show host. He was living in a luxurious new home he just had built on a golf course. There was just one caveat: The hospital bed in the middle of an unfurnished living room.
And the gnawing thought that this was it — his nadir would arrive without at least trying to fulfill his vision.
“I remember I had a lot of dark thoughts then, because I couldn’t believe that this would be my life,” Kincade recalled. “I wouldn’t be a father, I wouldn’t be a husband, and I never got to be the radio guy I wanted to be. I survived, because I’m one stubborn son-of-a-bitch and I followed through.
“I remember telling my mom, ‘If I survive, I’m just going to do radio. I’ll take any radio job I can get. I don’t care what they pay me.’ I quit my job (in sales and marketing), because I was convinced, I was going to die. That’s where my mind was.”
With the Atlanta Thrashers starting in Atlanta in 1999, Kincade took a huge pay cut and walked away from a hefty six-figure salary when he quit Shared Medical Systems on Memorial Day 1999 to take a $40,000-a-year radio job with Atlanta’s 680 The Fan, the local sports talk station where he worked part time on weekends.
“I took it and chased it,” Kincade said. “I was convinced my life span would be short. I was convinced I was dying. I had money put away. Hey, I’m a Delco kid, I didn’t live too big.”
Kincade did radio and TV for the Thrashers, and at the end of the first year, 680 The FAN decided to become a 24/7 sports talk station, so on Labor Day, September 4, 2000, the station launched the “Buck and Kincade Show,” every afternoon from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Radio was in Kincade’s blood. He was a regular, dubbed a “Flyers’ Insider,” interning for the Flyers as a videographer in the mid-1980s, and doing bits with Tony Bruno and then Don Henderson when they were doing WCAU radio. Bruno and Henderson would have Kincade on their shows, which then led to guest appearances on Angelo Cataldi’s show in the early-1990s, when Bruno joined Cataldi at WIP in the mornings.
Kincade was making very good money for SMS.
“It allowed me to chase my dream and enjoy financial security at the same time, but when SMS promoted me and asked me to move, they offered a few places and I was coaching ice hockey at Downingtown High School,” Kincade said. “There was a time when I thought I would be a hockey coach, but I took the transfer for SMS to Atlanta at 29 as the new business development director of sales and marketing.”
It was Bruno and Cataldi that pitched Kincade to Atlanta’s 680 The Fan.
Now it’s Cataldi, who Kincade considers a close friend, that he will be competing against on weekday mornings for the attention of the demanding Philadelphia sports fan.
Their bond is so great that before Kincade took the job at 97.5, he had to get the blessing of “The Don,” Cataldi, a Philly radio fixture for over three decades.
The grand scheme was Kincade would inherit Cataldi’s role at WIP, though it was something never promised. Kincade always had a desire to return to the Philadelphia market to talk about the teams he loved his whole life. Olivia, Kincade’s daughter, is scheduled to graduate high school in May 2022, which time wise would have coincided well with Cataldi’s imminent retirement.
However, there was one major snag.
After 20 years at 680 The Fan, lasting longer than ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” show, and lasting longer than WFAN’s “Mike and the Mad Dog,” Dickey Broadcasting, the owners of 680, yanked those plans out from under Kincade’s feet.
Kincade and Belue had a party to celebrate their 20th anniversary on the air. Eight days later, Dickey told Kincade the show was ending because they could not afford him anymore.
“It totally blindsided me,” Kincade admitted. “It’s a sore subject and I have no problems saying flat out, we were the iconic show of the market place and had no idea the show was ending. They told me I made too much money. Since when is that a bad thing? If I’m making money, the station has to be making money, too, wouldn’t you think?
“I busted my ass for 20 years, doing every single thing that they asked of me. We did everything we could. It totally blindsided me.”
Thursday, September 17th was their final show. Belue was retained, though in a reduced capacity. Kincade went.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Kincade said. “They didn’t ask me to take a pay cut; they didn’t ask to renegotiate my deal. I would have done anything they asked to get my daughter through May of 2022, when she graduates high school. I would have been open to anything.
“After 20 years, I would have been open to any conversation, and I wasn’t given that chance. That rubs me the wrong way. I told my bosses that for 20 years, you guys were great to work for, but the way you let this exit go out, it sucks. It was disrespectful. I wore that station’s tattoo on my right butt cheek. Well, guess what, I have a left butt cheek and I need a new tattoo. I’ll wear it 24/7.”
Philadelphia tattoo parlors better beware.
After being let go by 680 The Fan, Kincade’s free agency period didn’t last long. He had suitors from all over the country. He’s worked nationally as the host of the “The John Kincade Show” on ESPN Radio and CBS Sports Radio, and has filled in as the primary host for Colin Cowherd on “The Herd,” and has filled in for Mike Greenberg on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” and Dan Patrick on “The Dan Patrick Show.” He’s co-hosted “The BIG Podcast with SHAQ” with Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal since 2015 for PodcastOne.
Finding another job was not going to be a problem for Kincade. Finding another radio home was.
Chuck Damico, program director of 97.5 The Fanatic, and Joe Bell, the vice-president and market manager at Beasley Media Group, reached out to him. Damico and Bell had made overtures in Craig Carton’s direction when he was available, before he rejoined WFAN. When that failed, they went looking for another big name.
"The one promise I’ll make is the show won’t sound like anything they’ve heard in the market. With the level of pace, the production, there will be a lot more changing gears and I think listeners will like it, especially younger listeners."
Kincade became available and Beasley had a big lure to persuade him — the Philadelphia market.
“We knew John was a super entertaining, experienced passionate Philly sports fan (and) we knew he was looking to come home and do something new and fresh,” Damico said. “He has incredible energy. He’s really creative and I think brings a different perspective to sports talk radio, having been out of the market for a while that could be a fresh approach in a new entertaining and fun way for listeners here in his hometown.”
For his part, Kincade liked the family environment The Fanatic projected.
“From the time my free agency began, there was one suitor that stood out and that was Joe Bell and Chuck Damico,” said Kincade, who signed a multi-year deal with Beasley. “I sensed that they loved their product and they loved their people. They knew the respect I have for Mike Missanelli and Anthony Gargano.
“Both Joe and Chuck were not high pressure. I had another outlet that was high pressure, and I didn’t like that. Two-thirds down the road I got my wife and daughter involved and they liked the family atmosphere about the station.
“I’m saying it right here that this is my last job. ‘The John Kincade Show’ in Philadelphia will be my last job. I will do everything in my power to make the ‘John Kincade Show’ on 97.5 The Fanatic my last job. I’m thrilled to be at The Fanatic.”
But it didn’t come without making sure a “certain someone” was in the know.
“John kept me in the loop the whole time and he did things very professionally,” Cataldi said. “I think John made the right decision. He’s a very good and talented guy. John did things the right way. We’ve known each other a very long time. John started as a caller on our show and he made himself into a phenomenal talk show host.
“He’s very funny, which is very hard in our business. I don’t have a bad word to say about John. I think of him in very high regard. John wanted to stay in contact with his home and this area and I wish him nothing but the best, and I look forward to competing against him for a while. It worked out great for both of us in the end.”
Bob Cooney, Jamie Lynch and Pat Egan will be a part of Kincade’s team. He said he listened to the show intently and felt the trio were underused commodities, that they weren’t playing to their strengths.
“I think we offer different skill sets that we all bring to the table,” Kincade said. “I would listen to them and say to myself, ‘I want to hear more; I want to hear them being loose; I want to hear them being fun.’ Getting to know these guys, we’re going to have a lot of laughs. We’re going to have a lot of strong opinions and I’m so excited to work with them. We’re ready to break a lot of eggs; try new things and see what works.
“I want people to go to work and not be beaten over the head with the news of the day. It’s not going to be a show where you’re going to walk away feeling like you you’ve gone 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali. It’s going to be an easy listen.
“There are so many great radio shows in the morning in Philadelphia. I’m asking for 20 minutes of the listener’s time; a half-hour of their time. They can sample us to hear the kind of fun we’re having. It’s going to be a much faster-paced show than exists in this radio market. The one promise I’ll make is the show won’t sound like anything they’ve heard in the market. With the level of pace, the production, there will be a lot more changing gears and I think listeners will like it, especially younger listeners.”
Kincade was also adamant about this: “This show is not about rattling cages for the sake of rattling cages. It’s going to be thoughtful. If I’m ripping a general manager, I’m more about making my case to the audience and looking for the dissenters. We don’t just take callers. If callers add to our discussion, we’re taking them. It’s not open phones America. We’re not Larry King. We want callers who want to join in the conversation that we’re having.
“It’s not about a caller saying, ‘Here’s my Phillies’ point; here’s my Sixers’ point; here’s my Eagles’ point.’ You will never hear that on our show. It will be we’re having this discussion right now, and you call up with a great point that’s dissenting, or adding to the conversation, then you can join our conversation. I would say it’s a more discerning approach. We want to be interactive. It’s going to be a far different show than what people are used to.”
Eric Camille, the assistant program director at Beasley Media Group's 97.5 The Fanatic, will be the show’s producer.
“I told the Beasley people that I need a producer who can keep up with our frenetic pace; it’s going to be dizzying; Eric will be serving as our ‘chief of staff,’” Kincade said. “He will be the guy who will make sure we’re staying on track. I literally went to a couple of meetings and I told Beasley I wanted a veteran producer. Eric had already gone to Beasley about producing the show.
“Everything about Beasley has been so welcoming. I was not coming here, with the options given to me, to do the typical sports radio show that I’ve heard forever in this market. I have a big stage and one thing I don’t mind doing is sharing it.
“We’re not doing ‘First Take.’ No one wants to drive to work every morning and hear arguing. The guy who is driving to work listening I want them to say, ‘That Kincade is out of his mind.’ My radio show is the bastardization of my sophomore lunch table at O’Hara. I’m not an expert in anything. Ask my wife. Don’t portray me as an insider, either. I believe being too close to teams stifles you in front of a mic. But I do also believe that you need to be seen, so I’ll be going to games.
“When our show can be discussed with the likes of Missanelli, Cataldi and Gargano, the people who have been in this market forever, that’s when the dream is realized. Until then, I’m going to work my ass off to make sure it happens and I hope I don’t wear everybody out while I do it.”
When Kincade got the news he was hired, he celebrated with Cristina and Olivia at Joe’s Pizza, then dropped off them to make a special trip that he had to do alone. It’s a drive he’ll become familiar with in the coming years to Saints Peter & Paul cemetery across the street from his alma mater, O’Hara.
John Kincade can sound like Betty Kincade, who raised two boys on her own after her husband died. Betty was the one who could always reel her youngest son in and the one who always urged him to never be afraid to walk the tightrope.
On January 4, John knows she’ll be listening. It’s why after letting Cristina and Olivia know, John went to visit Betty to let her know, “Mom it happened, I’m coming home.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has been writing for PhillyVoice since its inception in 2015 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.