Feliceangeli raises radio voice for Dover

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WDOV radio personality Phil Feliceangeli sits behind the microphone last week inside the Dover studio. Mr. Feliceangeli recently received the Kent County Tourism Media Partner of the Year award for his longtime service to the community in publicizing events. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — This award came naturally to Phil Feliceangeli.

The longtime WDOV (1410-AM) voice earned the Kent County Tourism Media Partner of the Year honor earlier this month because of the great things happening in his home territory, and he’s inherently committed to spreading the word.

The 60-year-old broadcaster is proud to promote the well-attended Dover Days celebration of the capital city’s Colonial roots in May, and Fourth of July festivities have a “quintessential small-town American feel.”

“Growing up I enjoyed going to these things and I still do, especially with my 14-year-old daughter,” he said. “As a broadcaster it’s somewhat incumbent on us to promote all the great things going on in our community.

“We’re also part of the community and there’s some satisfaction in seeing great events here become so well-known and well-attended.”

Still, he marvels at how the thousands of folks here on those great days can’t find their way back to the downtown area to shop and dine throughout the year. He’s pulling for a more vibrant district because he loves his community.

“Dover has gone from a small town to kind of a burgeoning small city with all the good and the bad that comes with that,” he said.

Beginning with a part-time stint with WKEN (1600-AM) in 1978, Mr. Feliceangeli has been on the air for nearly four decades. The bright lights lure of higher profile gigs elsewhere never drew him away.

“I wanted to stay here,” he said. “The quality, the pace of life fits my lifestyle. I just wasn’t interested in jumping to a major market like Baltimore or Philadelphia.

“The hubbub of it all just wasn’t who I was. I also thought this community deserves good radio, something that is very homey and touches on some fascinating parts of life here.”

Yes, there’s still a great passion for the 5:30 to 9 a.m. broadcast each weekday, which is simulcast on Wilmington-based WILM (1450-AM) and requires trips to New Castle twice weekly. The medium doesn’t have quite the impact it once did, but there’s still enough of a niche market to make a difference in people’s lives.

“Radio has changed and evolved,” he said. “Radio was king in the pre-Internet days when breaking news or bad weather came up and we were the go-to source.”

Also part of the package is reporting the news on WDSD (94.7-FM) in 60-second updates.

“It’s local,” he said. “It’s happening. It’s news you need to know.”

Radio’s evolution

As with many media outlets, business today has evolved from family-owned operations to corporations, but there are no complaints about current big boss iHeart Radio.

“Radio is now corporate,” he said. “There are better benefits and equipment. You get your marching orders and you work with it.

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WDOV’s Phil Feliceangeli reads the news Wednesday afternoon. Mr. Feliceangeli has been battling Stage IV colon cancer since 2011, and it has since spread to his liver. But he says he has no plans of slowing down or retiring anytime soon.

“They set the tone and you work within their parameters.”

There’s a more professional tone to local radio these days, and Mr. Feliceangeli said that “some of the things that were done years ago would never be allowed on air now.”

Loyal listeners still provide feedback and rely on programming to keep their lives in an orderly manner, Mr. Feliceangeli said. They often time their day around the radio schedule and don’t appreciate change.

“Our listeners are very loyal,” he said. “We get feedback, especially when changes in the schedule are made.

“They’re still there and they might not like it, but they still listen and they’re loyal.

“I still think people connect with their local radio station. You’re part of their lives, you’re part of their routine.”

Every day is an adventure, and brings the opportunity to either fail or succeed with listeners following it all, he said.

“Even after all these years I still have to make an effort to enunciate my words,” he said. “When on live radio it’s like being on a high wire without a net and when you falter, everyone hears it.”

When a guest is on the air, Mr. Feliceangeli seeks a cordial conversation, and isn’t looking to make them look bad.

“In my career I haven’t tried to ask ‘gotcha’ questions,” he said. “You want to have a great rapport and connection with a source and you want to be able to go back to them later.”

The radio personality vanishes at signoff, and the person leaving the studio is just local resident Phil Feliceangeli, a 1974 Dover High graduate who is part of his community since his family moved here in 1965 due to a United States Air Force base assignment and never left. Mr. Feliceangeli was born in Guam, and lived in Hawaii, Cape Cod and upstate New York before arriving in Dover as an eighth-grader.

“I don’t live my life on the radio,” he said. “I don’t take on the persona of being a radio man or newscaster when I’m off the air.

“I’m just a guy who happens to be in the news business. I talk my job very seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously.”

Wasn’t the plan

Mr. Feliceangeli graduated from the University of Delaware in 1977 with an American Studies degree, with scant little media experience other than some journalism classes and a little time spent with The Review school newspaper.

There were no local newspaper jobs open at the time, and Dover High journalism teacher Pierre Stevens suggested a quick stint in radio until a print job came up.

“I said ‘Nah, I don’t want to’” Mr. Feliceangeli said.

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Phil Feliceangeli is pictured here in his early 20s. He started his nearly 40-year radio career in 1978 with a part-time stint at Dover’s WKEN.

Favoring employment instead, he relented, and arrived at WKEN for what was surely only a temporary radio career.

That wasn’t even guaranteed — the novice was told to pull together a couple news reports early on that quickly went onto the air.

“It was horrible, absolutely horrible radio,” Mr. Feliceangeli said. “The next day, though, the station manager called

and asked if I would come to work for them on a full-time basis.”

Thus began years of reporting on everything local and statewide — from working the control board for baseball games, covering the state legislature and town of Camden council meetings, to Kent County trials and spinning records.

While on the beat, Mr. Feliceangeli regularly went on the air with Joe Biden, who was in the early stages of a political career that eventually took him to vice president.

“He’s very down to earth,” he said. “I’ve interviewed him a lot of times and he didn’t sugarcoat things.

“As he went up the ladder in Washington, he became more savvy and began asking if I needed 15-second clips or something longer.

“He was that savvy and I enjoyed our back and forth. He was always upfront and personable no matter what was being discussed.”

Cancer won’t slow him

During an hourlong conversation in the WDOV broadcast studio earlier this week, there was no outward indication that Mr. Feliceangeli has been battling Stage IV colon cancer since 2011, and it has since spread to his liver.

Nobody else would have known either, until he went public with the ailment in the summer of 2014, He was hospitalized six times in four years, but has always bounced back.

The spirit remains, and clearly hasn’t slowed him down.

“If being angry, worried, depressed about it would change something, then I would be the surliest person in the world,” he said.

“It won’t and that’s not my nature, so we’ll fight it the best we can. I have a family, a wife, a daughter and cancer be damned. I still have a life to live and I’m going to do it. If I went into hiding, it wouldn’t change my situation, so I’m going to meet it head on.

“I will say that it’s changed the way I look at life, and I have a greater appreciation for a lot more things in life, some as simple as just coming home at the end of the day to be with my family.”

Mr. Feliceangeli said he’d always been healthy before receiving the diagnosis. Now, he undergoes chemotherapy at Bayhealth-Kent General Hospital in Dover every other week, and receives a magnesium infusion each Friday.

One of his Friday treatments forced him to miss receiving his tourism award in person.

“I’ve never felt sick,” he said. “Recovering from surgeries took a little while; the chemo fatigued me for a couple days and then it was back to normal.”

The cancer hasn’t stunted his radio time, and may have in fact extended it. There’s no retirement plan at this point.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I enjoy it, I don’t feel my age. In some ways it’s therapeutic because it’s forced me to focus when on the air and I have to concentrate on that and nothing else.”

The morning of the final, permanent signoff will come, Mr. Feliceangeli acknowledges.

“At some point I probably will, hopefully before they suggest I retire,” he said. “I don’t want to sound like an old guy who is still on the radio, and people tell me that I don’t.”

At this point, why would he retire? Life is good.

“It’s been a blast and I tell people it beats having a job,” he said. “It has its moments of mundane and sometimes exhaustion, but it’s worked out for me. When will I retire? Six, eight years? Perhaps, but there’s no plan for that right now.

 

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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