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Howard Eskin Still Has Plenty To Say

“He (Cataldi) says if he’s going to take calls from the Secret Service, then he should take calls from you. He gave out my cell number on the air. I mean come on, man. What are you doing?”

Brian Noe

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Sports radio is sometimes too polite. “Well, in my humble opinion,” and that sort of thing. Every once in a while it’s nice to hear a host say, “Eat it if you don’t like it.” Enter Howard Eskin. The radio and TV personality has showcased a no-holds-barred style that has gained notoriety on the Philadelphia airwaves since 1976. There are times when the truth is ugly and grimy. Eskin hasn’t been afraid to get his hands dirty along the way in pursuit of honesty.

As you will be able to tell from our chat below, Eskin doesn’t offer wishy-washy stances. His opinions are strong and his responses are direct. That doesn’t mean Eskin hasn’t had fun along the way as well. He once did an interview with the San Diego Chicken on a news telecast. Eskin offers an unfiltered response to a recent criticism from fellow WIP host Angelo Cataldi. Eskin also destroys a myth about older hosts and offers thoughts about the success of his son, Spike Eskin, who’s now the program director at WFAN. Enjoy!

Brian Noe: Where have you worked outside of Philadelphia during your lifetime?

Howard Eskin: I worked in New York earlier in my career. I worked in the Maryland, Washington D.C. area at the beginning of my career. I was a disc jockey. I was a production engineer for a classical station. I had done a lot of things and then I spun records for guys here in Philadelphia. George Michael, who I worked with in Philadelphia who had the Sports Machine, I did segments on the Sports Machine for 11 years. He was a disc jockey up in New York before he went into television.

But that was it, New York and Washington. Then since the mid-to-early ’70s, I’ve been in Philadelphia. I’ve been on the air since ‘76 in Philadelphia, which is a long time. I’ve been on TV and radio since ‘82. Philadelphia is my home and this is what I like. I’m just happy that I can work in the town that I grew up in, which doesn’t always happen. It’s not necessary, but I don’t know if my career would have been the same if I hadn’t been here in Philadelphia. That’s what it comes down to; this is where I was meant to be.

BN: What would you say is the most fun you’ve had during your broadcasting career?

HE: I have fun doing what I do on the air. I don’t want to say I have fun arguing with players and coaches but we kind of get to know each other. Dick Vermeil invited me to his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction. At the beginning, Dick Vermeil didn’t like me a little, tiny bit because I was critical of how hard he worked players. At UCLA where he came from, he never got criticized. It was different for him, L.A. to Philadelphia now, people are going to say things.

He told his players not to listen to me. Herm Edwards came out to practice one time, and said ’hey man, what did you do to coach’? I go ‘what are you talking about’? He says, ‘he told us you’re talking out your ass’. And then my first day in television I was at the head table, September 20, 1982 and Dick Vermeil was one of the speakers. He buried me at the Maxwell Club. It was a luncheon back then. Buried me. I said that’s okay, Dick. Now we’re really good friends. I’ve been over to his house. We’ve been out to dinner. He’ll text me when I’m on the air if he thinks he can help me with some kind of info.

It’s kind of interesting, but there’s been players that want to kick my ass. Mitch Williams wanted to punch me in the mouth. You go right down the list and now Mitch Williams and I are friends. They understand after they’re done playing that that’s really my job. But I’d go into the locker room, I’d yell at Larry Bowa and Darren Dalton. I would yell at Lenny Dykstra who was crazy. And then 30 seconds later we’re laughing because we get over it and we move on. I don’t know that it’s always that way now.

I’ll give you a couple of cool moments; I’m on the sidelines for an Eagles’ game and Bradley Cooper walks up to me and says ‘hey Howard, Bradley Cooper’. I said, ‘come on, man, I know who you are. How do you know me’? He said, ‘I grew up in the area. I listened to you and watched you for all of those years’. Will Smith did the same thing. Those are just really cool moments. Then whenever they see me they’re always very nice. You never know who’s out there.

Allen Iverson, he was interesting. We got along great his first few years. Then the guys he hung with told him not to listen to me because I was trying to tell him to do the right things especially with Larry Brown. He wasn’t all about listening to the coach, so then after a few years it was a little adversarial. 

So he’s walking in the hallways at a Sixers game and he sees LeSean McCoy. Obviously I knew LeSean playing here, and LeSean says what do you think of this guy? He says that MF — I use MF because regardless of where this goes, I still don’t think it’s proper to put it in print and these people on satellite can use the four letter word — that MF he was always killin’ me. Killin’ me. And then Allen says to LeSean McCoy, but I love him. I love him.

Now every time he sees me he gives me a hug and says you’ve got to let the past be the past. I think he understood because he always tried to keep it real and I always tried to keep it real. So in the end, after it’s all over, I think he respects me for that.

BN: Angelo just did an interview with The Ringer…

HE: Angelo who?

BN: [Laughs] That’s right.

HE: Obviously, I’m kidding.

BN: Oh yeah, I know. Angelo said that he has a classic love/hate relationship with you. On the bright side he gave you compliments and said that he loves your work ethic and especially what you mean to Philly sports. But he also said that he didn’t think you were a great team player. What’s your reaction to that?

HE: You know what, I have no idea where that comes from. I work my ass off. I don’t know if he was kidding because sometimes when you see it written — I didn’t hear it. If they ask me to do something whether it’s help with a client or help in other ways, my biggest problem is I don’t say no. I don’t say no to charities. I don’t say no to the people I work for. I don’t say no. There have been management people I haven’t agreed with. I may not agree, but I’ll sit down and talk to them about it. I really have no clue what he was talking about. It’s the pot calling the kettle black.

I do whatever they ask me to do and what I think I have to do. I go to games and talk to players and connect with people. It gives me information. I consider what I do on the air, I inform and I entertain. You can do both with the correct information. I don’t have to do all those things. I don’t have to share it with WIP, and I do share a lot of things with them. I really have no clue what he was talking about. Absolutely no clue because I don’t want to say I’m the best team player, but I’m somewhere at the top of the list. Whatever they ask me to do, and those people will tell you that too, the management people, the people I’ve worked with over the years, they’ll all tell you that.

I don’t know if Angelo is somewhat jealous on the way out that I lasted longer than he did. It’s hard to get up in the morning. Doing those morning shows I’m sure is no piece of cake. He was compensated well for it so that’s the benefit of that. But I can’t answer that question because it surprised me not a little bit, it surprised me a lot with all I do.

I don’t want to go down that road and be critical of things that he’s done, although I will tell you one thing he did when he was a complete jerk. He wanted to get Bill Clinton on the air and I had a connection with Bill Clinton through the Secret Service. One night a bunch of Secret Service guys were coming to town and one guy called me, my phone rang. I didn’t have it on vibrate at the time while I was doing a show. I went to a break. I went back on the air and said that was somebody from the Secret Service that wanted to get in touch with me from the White House.

He got so angry because at that time the governor of the state told him he was going to get Bill Clinton on the air. It was Ed Rendell. That wasn’t going to happen. So anyway, he says if he’s going to take calls from the Secret Service, then he should take calls from you. He gave out my cell number on the air. I mean come on, man. What are you doing? Why would you do that? There was obviously a jealousy there, which I had a connection. That was wrong but I didn’t dwell on it afterwards and I’m not going to dwell on the things that he says now. [Laughs]

BN: [Laughs] As far as uncovering news, you’re known for going to great lengths to break stories. Why do you find it important to do so?

HE: When there’s something there that’s interesting to sports fans, I’m lucky enough, in my phone I have 5600 contacts. If I ever lost that — you can go right down the list, there’s always somebody that you can call and try to get some info on a situation when you hear about it. A lot of times there are stories I have and I try to pass them along but I always try to check. Luckily enough, I have a lot of people to check. 

I’ll tell you a story outside of sports to show you maybe my reach. There was a friend of mine who had brain cancer. Very, very, very devout Catholic. I knew someone at the Vatican. Like, how do I know anyone at the Vatican? I mean you’ve got to be kidding me. And I asked to get a letter from the pope to this guy. He passed away like five months later after he got the letter. I didn’t get the letter, but I got the pope to send a letter to this guy. [Laughs] It’s like are you kidding me?

You get to know people, and it doesn’t always have to be sports, but people are people. It’s not like you ever count favors, you just do for people because they do for you. That’s why, I’m not a team player? I don’t know what the hell that’s all about. And I’m not going to worry about it. If you hadn’t brought it up, I wouldn’t have brought it up either.

BN: Is the Pope one of the 5600 contacts? [Laughs] Do you have the area code and everything?

HE: [Laughs] I don’t, but I have a bishop in the Vatican’s number. So that’s one of the 5600. Can you imagine? I’m a Jewish guy and I’ve got someone’s number in the Vatican. 

BN: [Laughs] That’s great. Did you know that Spike’s (Eskin) career would unfold the way that it has?

HE: He did it by himself. I’ve got to give him credit. There’s only two things I helped him with. I helped him get an internship in the company at that time. And then when he was thinking about coming back to Philadelphia from Chicago — he was a disc jockey and then a music director and all of that — the general manager at the time didn’t want to pay him more money. He wasn’t going to come back. 

I said hey listen, you’re letting this guy go in the morning; you’re going to save hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can’t give him, I don’t know if it was $25,000 or $30,000 more a year to convince him to come back to Philadelphia? I just was trying to help him. That’s the only involvement I ever had. I didn’t tell him what I think he should do. There may have been one time or another where I had an opinion, but I wouldn’t really say that to him because he could do it on his own especially when he became the program director.

I knew he was a bright guy, bright kid at the time. He’s not a millennial although he wants to be a millennial. He’s out of that range now. But yeah, he was creative. I’ve got to say that all my kids are creative and he’s one of them. He works hard. He’s firm. If he would tell me something that I needed to do, he didn’t tell me much because I kind of knew what had to be done, I never really debated him on it. I just did it. If I didn’t agree with it, I kind of would go halfway, but I knew he was pretty sharp.

He was very good at what he does and I know he’s doing a great job up there. I’ve known his boss, Chris Oliviero, for 25 years and he’s a great guy and a very, very creative guy. But those two together I know they’re doing a great job and WFAN is doing terrific. I’m glad to see that he works well with Craig Carton. I like Craig a lot. I know he had problems, but I think Craig is a brilliant, creative air talent. Brilliant and creative. He really is good. I wished in some way, shape or form he could have come back to Philadelphia and work, but he’s doing what’s good for him. His wife’s from Philadelphia so he still has connections here.

BN: Who would be on your Mount Rushmore of Philly sports radio hosts?

HE: Wow, putting me on the spot here. I don’t want to say I’m egotistical, but being I started this whole thing I would have to be up there somewhere. Rather than leave Angelo off there so he has something to whine about, he’d have to be on it because he worked a long time and the morning show was very successful. I don’t agree with everything he does, but he doesn’t agree with everything I do, so he’d have to be up there.

Craig Carton was here. Craig is funny, he’s bright and even though he wasn’t here that long I’m telling you I’m a big, big fan of Craig Carton. I’d have to put him on there. So now we’ve got three and maybe I’ll leave the fourth spot open for somebody that takes over the morning show. We’ll kind of leave that there.

There have been guys that have come through here, but if they didn’t stay here that long they can’t be on the Mount Rushmore. How about if I leave that fourth spot open on that Mount Rushmore. People will criticize me, what are you doing on it? Put yourself on that? No, I don’t put myself on Mount Rushmore, others put me on Mount Rushmore. So, eat it. Eat it if you don’t like it.

BN: [Laughs] What do you think about the word retirement?

HE: People say are you going to retire? Or when are you going to retire? I says if you can spell that word for me because I can’t spell it, maybe I’ll think about it. But I can’t spell that word. When people say retire, no. What, do you think I should retire? No, no, no. I’ll tell you the joy that I have, there is a belief in radio that older people don’t get younger people who listen to them. That’s such BS because when people come up to me, because I’m at a lot of games, I’m in the public a lot, people come up hey man, I listen to you. If you’re good, or what you do is interesting and they think it’s good, then that’s all that matters to me.

BN: If you could pick one thing on your list that you want to accomplish going forward, what would you say it is?

HE: That is a really difficult question. I’ve been successful in the Philadelphia market, which is obviously not the easiest market to work in. It’s my home. I’ve known a lot of people here. I’ve met a lot of people. I just want to continue to do what I do and have the passion. If there’s anything I want to accomplish, I just want to have the passion and the love to do what I do. Whether it’s radio or TV.

Unfortunately, it’s kind of sad. Television sports is really — what a waste. I’ve told people this, it’s like it’s an afterthought on television. You know what, if there’s anything I want to do, I want to get TV to realize that sports on television is ridiculous. It’s not anything anybody tunes in to watch because on our phones you have the highlights before you get to the news. We have the news before we get to the news. You’ve got six different segments of weather, but I get them on my phone updated every 10 minutes, so I don’t need that.

Publishers have asked me to write a book. I have notes that I put down, different things that have happened to me in my career that I think would be interesting to people. I got my leg broken at a game on Christmas night in 2017, the year the Eagles went to the Super Bowl. I worked five games with a broken leg, but I didn’t tell anybody and I didn’t put a cast on it. It was a non-weight-bearing bone; I wouldn’t have been able to be on the sidelines if I had a cast on. I tell Nick Sirianni now for all your players that are soft, I worked five games with a broken leg. Stop already with all of these guys. [Laughs]

So someday, because you have to sit down, you really have to put some time into it and I wouldn’t write it myself, I would get a writer to help me write it. There’s some really interesting experiences. Again, stories I can, and stories I can’t tell. The can’t-tell stories are good, but the can-tell stories are still good too.

BN: Would there be anything about Angelo in there?

HE: You know, the one thing I didn’t do but I’ll wait till he retires, is rip Angelo a new ass. [Laughs]

BSM Writers

Your Football Conversation Has To Be Different

I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Brian Noe

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Radio

Rejoice! Ball is back, baby. Life is just better when football season is included; am I right? (That was a rhetorical question because I know I’m right in this case.) Like many people in this country, I’m all about the pigskin. Outside of my family and friends, there aren’t many things in life that I love more than BALL.

With all of that being established, a simple question still exists: is there such a thing as talking too much football on a sports radio show?

I think it isn’t as much what you’re talking about; it’s how you’re talking about it. For instance, it isn’t good enough to lazily say, “Ehh, we’ll start off by talking about the game last night.” Well, how are you going to talk about it? Do you have anything original, interesting or entertaining to say? Or are you just gonna start riffing like you’re in a jam band hoping to accidentally stumble onto something cool after six minutes of nothing?

Talking about football is like opening a new burger joint. Hang with me on this one. There are so many options — Burger King, McDonald’s, Five Guys, Wendy’s, In-N-Out, etc. — that you can’t expect to have great success if you open a run-of-the-mill burger joint of your own. Having an inferior product is going to produce an inferior result.

It comes down to whether a topic or angle will cause the show to stand out or blend in. Going knee-deep on a national show about the competition at left guard between two Buffalo Bills offensive lineman doesn’t stand out. You’ll get lost in the shuffle that way.

A show needs to constantly be entertaining and engaging. One way to check that box is with unique viewpoints. Don’t say what other shows are saying. Your burger joint (aka football conversation) needs to be different than the competition. Otherwise, why are you special?

Another way to stand out is with personality. It’s impossible to have unique angles with every single topic that’s presented. A lot of hosts recently pointed out that the Dallas Cowboys committed 17 penalties in their first preseason game against the Denver Broncos. But Stephen A. Smith said it differently than everybody else. That’s what it comes down to; either say things that other shows aren’t saying, or say them differently.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh made a comment recently that too much of anything is a bad thing. So back to the original question, is there such a thing as too much football talk on a sports radio show?

Variety is the spice of life, but quality is the spice of sports radio. If a show provides quality, listeners will keep coming back. It’s really that simple. Sure, hosts will hear “talk more this, talk more that” from time to time, but you know what’s funny about that? It means the listeners haven’t left. The show is providing enough quality for them to stick around. If the quality goes away, so will the audience.

It’s smart for hosts and programmers to think, “What’s our strongest stuff?” If that happens to be a bunch of football topics, great, roll with it. I don’t know why any host would go with B- or C-material just for the sake of providing variety. That’s silly to me.

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick said something interesting last week while visiting Atlanta’s training camp. Vick was asked which team’s offense he’d like to run if he was still playing today. “The offense Tom Brady is running in Tampa,” Vick said. “Pass first.”

The answer stood out to me because throwing the ball isn’t what made Vick special with the Falcons. He was a decent passer and a dynamic runner. The run/pass blend made Vick a problem. I totally understand wanting to prove doubters wrong, but there are a lot of athletes that get away from what they do best while relying on something else that isn’t their specialty.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Russell Westbrook is not an outside shooter. He’s brutal in that area. Yet Russ will keep firing threes at a 30% clip. Why? Attacking the rim and working the midrange is his game. You don’t see Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul bombing threes if they aren’t going in. He kills opponents with his midrange skills all day.

It’ll be interesting to see how Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa approaches this season. He’s received a steady diet of “can’t throw the deep ball.” Will he try to a fault to prove doubters wrong, or will he rely on what he does best? Beating defenders with timing and accuracy on shorter throws is where he finds the most success.

Working to improve your weaknesses makes sense, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of going away from your strengths. How is it any different in sports radio? If a host isn’t strong when it comes to talking basketball or baseball, it definitely makes sense to improve in those areas. But if that same host stands out by talking football, at some point it becomes like Westbrook jacking up threes if the host gets too far away from a bread-and-butter strength.

Former New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera is the only player in the Baseball Hall of Fame that was unanimously elected. He relied on his cutter — a fastball that moved, a lot — about 85% of the time. Mo didn’t say, “Man, my four-seam fastball and changeup aren’t getting enough respect.” He rode that cutter all the way to Cooperstown and legendary status.

Rivera is a great example of how playing to your strengths is the best approach. He also shows that quality trumps variety every time. Let’s put it this way: if 85% of a sports radio show is football content, and the quality of that show is anywhere near Mo caliber, it’s destined to be a hit.

One of my buddies, Mike Zanchelli, has always been a hit with the ladies. I think he came out of the womb with at least 10 girls in the nursery showing interest in him. He had a simple dating philosophy: “Always. Leave them. Wanting. More.” That might work in dating, but I think it’s the opposite in sports radio. Most listeners don’t hear the entire show. If they’re in and out, wouldn’t you want them to hear your best stuff when they are tuned in?

That’s why I say screw variety. That’s why I wouldn’t worry about overserving your audience an all-you-can-eat BALL buffet. I think it’s much wiser to focus on producing a quality product regardless if it’s well rounded or not.

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BSM Writers

ESPN Has Gone From Playing Checkers to Chess In Two Years

Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different.

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In the days after the Big Ten news leaked regarding some of the details of their upcoming media deals, I was hankering for more information. I wanted more insight as to the “why”. Why did the Big Ten leave such a long-lasting and prosperous relationship with ESPN. I just couldn’t imagine it and it’s why I wrote about it last week.

It was in that pursuit of knowledge that I tuned into a podcast favorite of mine, The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast. The show’s hosts are deep into the weeds of sports media with John Ourand at the Sports Business Journal and Andrew Marchand at the New York Post. It was Ourand who was dropping dimes of news on the Big Ten deal last week. I wanted to hear him dive deeper, and he did on the podcast. But it was a throwaway line that got my wheels churning.

“This is about the third or fourth deal in a row that ESPN, the free-spending ESPN, to me has shown some financial discipline” Ourand said. “They are showing a bit of financial discipline that I hadn’t seen certainly when John Skipper was there and pre-dating John Skipper.”

I had to keep digging and folks, it’s true. ESPN is essentially Jimmy Pitaro in the above quote, the Chairman of ESPN. Since taking the role in 2018, he was put into an interesting position of being in the middle of a lot of big money media rights deals that would be coming due for renegotiation soon. The rights fees for EVERYTHING were going to balloon wildly. But in the last two years, he has comfortably kept the astronomical rates somewhat within shouting distance.

The big one, the NFL media rights deal agreed to last March, saw ESPN pay a very strong 30% increase for the rights. However, other networks involved had to pay “double” as Ourand so succinctly put it. He also personally negotiated with FOX to bring in Troy Aikman and Joe Buck to make their Monday Night Football booth easily more recognizable and the best in the sport. ESPN in that deal, that did NOT include doubled rates, got more games, better games, and more schedule flexibility. ABC gets two Super Bowls in the deal too. Simply put, Jimmy Pitaro set up ESPN to get a Super Bowl itself, but for now his network will take full advantage of the ABC network broadcast when the time comes (2026, 2030).

The recent Big Ten deal was massive because the conference spent forty years with ESPN and decided to reward that loyalty with a massively overpriced mid-tier package. ESPN balked at the idea. In their back pocket lies a lot of college football media rights deals with a lot of conferences including one that will be a massively profitable venture, the SEC package. ESPN takes over the CBS package of the “top” conference game. Yes, it paid $3 billion for it, but it’s a scant $300 million annually. Sure, that’s over 5X what CBS was paying annually but CBS signed that deal in 1996! I need not tell you all of the advancements in our world since Bob Dole was a presidential nominee. ESPN now gets to cherry-pick the best game from the best conference and put the game anywhere they damn well please to maximize exposure.

The F1 media rights extension is massive because of two things: one, they got it cheap before the sport littered your timeline on weekend mornings and two, when they re-signed with F1 this summer they paid way less than other streaming networks were reportedly willing to pay. The brand, the savvy worked again. ESPN takes a small risk for a potentially exploding sport and much like CBS did with the SEC for 25 years, can make massive margins.

I can keep going, and I will with one more. Sports betting. The niche is growing like my lawn minutes after the summer rainstorm. Pitaro has said publicly that sports betting “has become a must-have” and he’s full-frontal correct. ESPN is in an odd spot with their clear lineage to Disney, but it’s obvious something massive is going to come soon with ESPN reportedly looking for a deal in the $3 billion neighborhood.

Pitaro has been positioning this company from a position of strength. He pays big money for big properties, but knows when he’s getting taken advantage of and most importantly, isn’t afraid to pull his brand’s name out of the deep end.

ESPN may have an issue with dwindling subscribers, but that’s an everyone problem. The difference is ESPN is constantly trying to get you from one network ship you think is sinking into another network life raft. If you want to leave cable or satellite and go streaming, you can. ESPN+ is there to pick up the pieces. Or Sling (with an ESPN bundle). Or YouTube TV (ESPN is there too). Or a myriad of other ways. They are positioned so well right now to be where you think you want to go. Jimmy Pitaro and ESPN have been amazing at doing whatever they can to keep you paying them monthly.

The network has been aggressive with media rights deals but these newer ones have been diligently maneuvered by Pitaro. It was a choice to essentially back the SEC for the next decade, and to put more money into the potential of F1. The effort was a conscious one to keep a tight-lipped mission to bolster Monday Night Football’s booth. It was an understated strategy to reinvest in the NHL. Those decisions make the future ones with the Pac-12, the Big 12, NBA and UFC fascinating to watch but what’s clear is that this ESPN strategy is different. The old adage of “pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered” may have applied to the network under different leadership, but these aren’t eating pigs. These are boars.

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BSM Writers

The Producers Podcast – Big Baby Dave, Jomboy Media

Brady Farkas

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Big Baby Dave has his hands in everything for Jomboy Media. He joins Brady Farkas to talk about how he brings a unique sound to each show he works with.

iTunes: https://buff.ly/3A7FJ4a

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3bZ7NgG

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3dB4FrO

Google: https://buff.ly/3JVC5NG

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3STupzF

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