Steve Martorano and Buzz Bissinger hash it out on Philadelphia talk radio.
H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger is a bit of a growler, in between a tabby waiting for a morning feeding and a mountain lion on an evening prowl. Steve Martorano is more of a meerkat—a somewhat sardonic type. The two are the latest power couple on Philadelphia talk radio for 1210 WPHT’s afternoon drive program, The Buzz Bissinger Show, with Steve Martorano. Like Brad and Angelina or Bill and Hillary, they often think alike, but even when they do, it is with a decided mood difference—cranky versus calming, or edgy versus reasonable.
“I have walked out a few times—once with a caller and once with a guest. I threw my headphones down,” admits Bissinger. “But I am developing more patience. Sometimes I just go off, but a lot of [the time], Steve and I have fun. Contrary to what many think, a part of me is fun.”
Bissinger’s longtime reputation is as a writer—first as a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, then in books like Friday Night Lights, A Prayer for the City (about the Rendell mayoralty), and recently for Father’s Day, a paean to his mentally challenged adult son. After a few, mostly cantankerous stints on broadcast in recent years, the talk-bosses at CBS Radio saw a place for him, pairing him with radio vet Martorano, a 1966 graduate of Pennsauken High School, as a tempering figure.
“You never know what will happen,” says Martorano about working with Bissinger. “It’s true as all clichés are. Philadelphians are unique in that they don’t give up on you right away. My longevity has more to do with their tolerance than my talent. I have confidence that Buzz will be the same.”
Management characterizes the show as a work in progress, and they conduct daily debriefings to make even the smallest refinements. They have had a run of big interviews—Ed Rendell, Tony Danza, and a regular weekly spot with Mayor Nutter. So far, the biggest bombshell was lifelong Democrat Bissinger’s endorsement of Mitt Romney after the first presidential debate. Also a work in progress is the pair’s dynamic: the hosts had never met prior to the show’s launch this past June.
For Bissinger, who came from Manhattan to go to the University of Pennsylvania in 1972, it was time to change gears. Writing Father’s Day was emotional, and he was not really ready for another book.
“Books take a long time. You don’t know how they are going to do, so that makes it very stressful,” says Bissinger. “You write it, and it is over. I was lonely. My wife will attest to this. My mood is much better. I like going to work.”
WPHT has a reputation for right-leaning talk, but Bissinger says he and Martarano are all over the place—an advantage.
“We want to be unpredictable. We want to be serious. We want to be entertaining. We want to be poignant,” he says. “The goal is to have people tune in and say, ‘I am not sure where this is going, but I want to listen to [find out].”