Philly radio icon Big Daddy Graham has battled through a lot in recent years - major back surgery, throat cancer, a serious staph infection.
But this past week, the longtime WIP host and comedian was sidelined by the most unlikely of calamities – a case of the hiccups.
At midnight about a week ago, as Graham prepared for his 2 a.m. radio shift, the host was overcome by a sudden bout of hiccups. Graham went live anyway, attempting to drink as much water as he could during commercial breaks, but the intensity of the hiccuping just kept getting worse.
“I started getting bouts of three to four hiccups in a row,” Graham said. “It’s a hard thing to hide on the air.”
Graham eventually made it through his show and left Philadelphia on a prepaid New York City vacation, but had to cut the trip short when the hiccups returned. At one point, the host said he hiccuped for 41 hours straight before begrudgingly agreeing to get it checked.
“It got so bad I wasn’t able to sleep,” Graham said. “But still, who goes to the doctor for hiccups?”
He spent more than five hours in the emergency room of a New Jersey hospital he declined to name, thinking his hiccuping problem had finally been cured.
“Ten minutes after they released me, I started hiccuping again,” said Graham, who eventually ended up at Jefferson University Hospital, where his problem was diagnosed as atrial fibrillation, or AFib. To say the WIP host is used to receiving bad medical news is an understatement.
“I’ve had three back surgeries, three throat surgeries, throat cancer and a mini-heart attack over Labor Day weekend,” Graham said. “I’m a very bad eater with very bad hours, but that’s the price I pay for doing a job I don’t consider work.”
Despite the bad news and a three-day stay in the hospital, Graham couldn’t stop working. From his hospital bed, he came up with a comedy routine for fellow WIP host Josh Innes’ afternoon show. During the summer, Innes was able to obtain a voicemail Graham left the station after his shorts were stolen, so Graham thought it would be funny to act as if he was in agonizing pain in a new voicemail informing the station he was in the hospital:
One problem – a lot of listeners weren’t in on the joke.
“An amazing number of people thought the bit was real,” said Graham, who was quickly overwhelmed by an avalanche of messages on Twitter and Facebook.
“I’ve been in radio a long time, and Innes has a love/hate thing going on that I haven’t seen since the early days of Howard Eskin,” Graham said. “People who hate Innes started texting me wondering what he was ripping on me.”
Graham was released from the hospital on Tuesday. Despite still dealing with hiccup flareups, he doesn’t plan to slow down. He'll return to his WIP show Thursday night, and perform a comedy show at the Tropicana in Atlantic City on Saturday, opening for South Philadelphia native Dom Irrera.
“Even Joe Conklin is yelling at me to cut back,” Graham quipped. “The thing is, I haven’t really worked for 20 years. I’ve been very lucky.”