Neil Best leaves no stone unturned in the world of sports media.
More memories for WFAN 25
Newsday was nice enough to dedicate three pages in Sunday’s sports section to my look back at WFAN history through the eyes of five long-time staff members who have performed various roles for the station.
But even that was hardly enough room to include all of the wisdom I gathered from John Minko, Eddie Scozzare, Dov Kramer, Mike Francesa and Bob Gelb.
I also didn’t include some thoughts from Chris (Mad Dog) Russo, who told me that he was listening to the station with a friend at his parents’ home in Syosset when it went on the air at 3 p.m. on July 1, 1987.
What did he think at the time? “That there is no freakin’ way a station that doesn’t have any women listeners is ever going to make it, that they are going to cut off half their audience by doing all sports,’’ he said. “That’s what I remember, that I was in Syosset and said, ‘This thing is never freaking making it.’ That is the exact truth.’’
Here are some more of the leftovers from the 25th anniversary extravaganza:
Eddie Scozzare on moving to the new morning show with Craig Carton and Boomer Esiason in 2007:
“I petitioned to be the morning show board operator. I was leaving ‘Mike and the Mad Dog’ to do that but it really was for personal reasons that it would work better with my life and my wife to do that. I had no idea Boomer and Carton were going to be what they became, but I could tell immediately that Craig was a brilliant radio guy, and it was Boomer, so it had a chance.’’
Scozzare on working for Don Imus:
“Imus respected the fact that if I screwed up and he would holler at me I’d say, ‘I’m sorry sir, I screwed up.’ And that was it. It was over. If you reacted angrily or cowered he would advance, just like a dog senses fear. But if you were just like, ‘I ---- up, I’m sorry sir,’ he would laugh.’’
Scozzare on what made the station launch possible:
“There is a theory out there, which I subscribe to, which is that the Mets winning the World Series in ’86 was the causality of this station. I believe that. That sort of was the seed, but we obviously had to do something with that and we did.’’
John Minko on the day WFAN launched, taking over WHN’s signal:
“I remember all the people in the studio for the changeover for WHN. That was emotional. We did that with WHN and later with WNBC. That was an emotional moment for some legendary disc jockeys.’’
Minko on the leaky basement studios in Astoria from 1987 through 2009:
“The studio was always hot and in the newsroom one day we looked up at the ceiling tiles and it started leaking. I remember sitting at the update desk with an umbrella, and it wasn’t raining outside. Apparently it was coming from the upstairs bathroom.’’
Minko on when he realized WFAN had opened up a new sports debate world:
“I remember doing an overnight shift and I’m driving across the George Washington Bridge and it’s 10 after 4 in the morning and some guy calls in and was complaining about Bud Harrelson and the Mets and some move and I actually out loud in the car said, ‘It’s 10 after 4 in the morning! Give the guy a break!’ Now we complain about this and that and everything 24 hours a day and seven days a week.’’
Mike Francesa on original programming concept:
“I loved the idea but I really felt they were way off the mark in that I thought they were not connecting with our audience because these [hosts] weren’t New York, and I thought that was a huge mistake and I kept saying ‘Guys, your problem is you’re not doing New York, you’re doing national shows.’ The concept was just off.’’
Francesa on when the idea of teaming with Chris Russo was presented to him in 1989:
“When I sat down with them they said, ‘OK, we have an idea for a show,’ and I was like, ‘Oh no, no, no. Let me do it by myself.’ I didn’t even know I was tracking really well over the summer in the ratings. I was too naïve to know I had more leverage than I thought I did. They said, ‘You’re not going unless you go with Dog. You have the weekend to think about it.’ Well, what choice did I have? I was too naïve to know I was moving the needle in the summer. I didn’t know about ratings yet.
“They said, ‘If you can finish in the top five stations you guys will be OK. You’ll never be No. 1. If you can finish in the top five you guys will be OK.’ First book we were third, and within two books No. 1 and that was the end. They ripped up our deals and gave us new five-year deals within one year. By the spring we were No. 1. We took off right away. It shows you how my life changed in one year.’’
Francesa on early days of “Mike and the Mad Dog’’:
“When we took over that first year we were so hot it was ridiculous. We had a million appearance requests, a million interview requests. We were on the cover of everything. We were hotter than hot, going through that period people have when they hit it . . . You only go through that kind of thing once in your life, where you’re hopeful things are going to work out and then all of a sudden it works out better than your wildest dreams. But you learn to live that life very quickly. You learn how to be someone who is counted on to produce and the money and everything that comes with it. My salary went up in one year 10 times what it was.’’
Francesa on what has changed with callers:
“Here’s what’s different: In 1989 I still had a big advantage over the audience in terms of information. Now I have no advantage. They have as much information. My god, any kid who is home and doesn’t have a job and is home from high school. You cannot have more information. Now it is much more even than then. Then you could tell them something.’’
Francesa on the influence of Don Imus and Russo on him:
“Those two people had without any question the most enormous impact on my career. It’s not even close. I learned radio from Don from the day I was in the same building with him. I sat with him every day. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He’s the smartest radio guy who ever lived. I learned so much from him about doing a show, about timing, about so many different things in this business. I learned at his knee; I admit that.
“And obviously I spent 19 years on a show that, hey, long after I’m gone they’re going to remember ‘Mike and the Mad Dog.’ It’s an iconic show. I never run away from that for a second. Now matter what I accomplish, I’m not going to accomplish anything bigger than ‘Mike and the Mad Dog.’’’
Francesa on whether there will be a WFAN in 25 years:
“It will be here. It will absolutely be here. It will be a very important part of New York. People have tried to bury radio forever. I don’t think radio is ever going anywhere, because radio offers something . . . People like hearing the immediacy and the passion and the personality of radio. Listen, the medium is going to change. The technology is going to continue to change. So it might not be exactly the same, but I think there will always be a WFAN, long, long after I’m gone.
“I’ll be sitting there listening. I will. I’ll be a big fan when it’s over. And I’ll be a big critic, too . . . I now have been called a pioneer for a long time and I’m very proud of that. Yes, I think we built something special. I think we really did. What we built here at FAN is enduring, I think it’s special, I think it completely changed the AM dial. It gave people a viable format that was become enormous around the country. It changed the way sports are done in every town in this country.’’
Dov Kramer on the impact of sports talk radio:
“FAN has made a change in how people are fans because there is a lot more participation. Teams are aware of what the fans are thinking. Now everybody is talking about everything and it’s not just sports radio . . . Sports talk has in effect exposed the innards of the sports world.’’