WFAN: 25 Years of Sports Talk Radio

The Anchorman DVD has a bonus feature in which Ron Burgundy auditions to be a SportsCenter anchor. “Sports around the clock? All the time?” Burgundy asks a producer while on the ESPN set. “That’s never going to work. That’s ridiculous. That’s like a 24-hour cooking network or an all-music channel. That’s really dumb. This thing is going to be a financial and cultural disaster.”

Many thought the same about the FAN, New York’s sports talk radio station. And yet, this summer marks the 25th anniversary of WFAN (660 on your AM dial).

On a clear night, WFAN can be heard as far west as Cleveland and as far south as North Carolina. On my drives upstate, I usually lose most New York City stations well before Albany, but not the FAN. My drives to the Midwest never prevented me from listening to the Mets broadcast.

The signal doesn’t reach South Bend, Indiana, however, so my younger brother couldn’t get his FAN fix at college. He called late-night host Steve Somers one night before leaving for his freshman year to say he’d miss him. “Give us your address,” Somers told him on air. “We’ll send you the tapes.”

Somers is my favorite host. Known as “The Schmoozer,” his opening monologues are epic, with his nasally, drawn-out delivery adding to his mystique. Me here, you there…the New York Metropolitansat 10:41 and 22 seconds, time for the 20/20 flash update.

When I was younger and I couldn’t fall asleep, I’d always turn on the FAN. I’d listen to Somers or Tony Paige or Adam the Bull until I eventually drifted off to the sounds of callers from all over the metropolitan area venting about the Mets, Jets, Knicks, and Rangers.

I remember my first call, vaguely. I was probably 12 years old and I believe the host was Richard Neer, a class act. “First time, long time,” I announced before sharing my opinion on Bernard Gilkey or Butch Huskey or some other player on the 1998 New York Mets.*

*As in, “I am a first-time caller but a long-time listener.” Given my age, I was lucky they didn’t hang up on me right then. I do remember a host asking my friend Brian, who is my age, how old he was after Brian mentioned Joe Orsulak, a Mets outfielder from 1993-95 (meaning Brian was 9 when Orsulak last wore a Met uniform).

I’ve been on air a dozen or so times since, and have talked to most of the late-night hosts. One summer during high school I called a few times from parties, shouting out my friends at the end of my call, then racing to a car radio to hear myself (there is a 10-15 second delay). Yes, I was one crazy kid in high school.

There are regular WFAN callers, too. Doris from Rego Park was a favorite of mine. She had a raspy voice and couldn’t go five words without coughing, and she knew the Mets inside and out. Eventually Doris didn’t call anymore, which was sad.

The jingles on the FAN have never changed. “Meet the Mets, meet the Mets, step right up and greet the Mets,” still plays before every Mets broadcast. Every 20 minutes before “The Flash,” when scores and big news are provided, they play the same sound effect.

And then there’s the Kars for Kids commercial. I am convinced that if they played this on repeat in Guantanamo Bay, the terrorists would offer all their secrets. I change the station as soon as it comes on, which is every other commercial break. A bunch of high-pitched youngsters singing 1-8-7-7 Kars for Kids, K-A-R-S Kars for Kids before some dope comes on to explain how it works is enough to drive me mad.

I love WFAN for the Happy Recaps after Mets games. It was always a good sign, traffic-wise, when we made it home from Shea Stadium before the recap was done. I love arguing with callers as if they can hear me, especially when I’m alone in the car. Before Bluetooth technology, doing this leads other drivers to assume you’re crazy. And in a way, you were.

I remember how surprised I was when my baseball-loving friend had never heard of the FAN. But she was a Yankees fan, so she had no major reason to tune in. The FAN is the official station of the Mets, Giants, Nets, and Devils, but the hosts talk about the Yanks, Jets, Knicks, Rangers, and Islanders, too. The station draws fans of all local teams, but on summer nights there is definitely a Mets slant.

And I think that is fitting. Mets fans have far more to complain about than Yankees fans and thus a sports talk radio station better suits them. That’s not to say I haven’t heard many Yankees fans call to suggest radical trades (Listen to this, Steve. Jeter and Swisher for Cabrera and Verlander…), but the Yankees are always good and always filling their weaknesses with a big-time free agent. Mets fans worry more than other fans and are forced to be creative when thinking about ways to improve their team.

I haven’t even mentioned the biggest stars of the network: Mike and the Mad Dog. The latter, Chris Russo, no longer works at the FAN—he split with Mike Francesa in 2008. Francesa now hosts the weekday drive-time show by himself. I always admired how their banter never seemed phony or scripted, even if I didn’t always agree with their opinions.

With so many radio and television personalities screaming about nonsense (think Skip Bayless), WFAN is a welcome change. The hosts, for the most part, are smart, knowledgeable, and friendly with callers.

I grew up with the FAN (I turned 26 this summer) and it has played a big role in my fandom. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen asleep listening to Howie Rose call the game when the Mets are on the West Coast, waking up not knowing who won, anxiously waiting for The Flash. Listening to Gary Cohen’s call of Endy Chavez’s catch or Howie’s reaction to Johan Santana’s no-hitter is as powerful to me as watching the TV highlights.

Can a radio station be a friend? If so, I consider the FAN my pal. Who else can I turn to at 2:00 a.m. when I can’t sleep?

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s