SBD/July 2, 2012/Media

WFAN Celebrates 25 Years On Air As Country's First 24-Hour Sports Talk Station

Russo (r) not shutting door on possible reunion with Francesa down the road
N.Y.'s WFAN-AM yesterday marked its 25th year on the air, and the station is still "ruling the roost as perhaps the most successful sports-talk radio station in the nation as far as popularity and financial success," according to Ken McMillan of the Middletown TIMES HERALD-RECORD. WFAN's John Minko said, "There were definitely skeptics in the beginning, and there were skeptics in the building amongst us. We didn't know whether it would work or not after the first few months because no one had ever done anything like this.'' McMillian noted prior to WFAN, there was "limited sports-talk programming on the air," and the creation of a 24-hour sports-talk station "made it easier for the fans." WFAN's anniversary "arrives at a time when ESPN Radio rules the nation with 750 affiliates, competing with the likes of Fox Sports Radio and Yahoo! Sports Radio." In the past month, NBC Sports Radio "announced a September startup and CBS Sports Radio will have a huge jump right after New Year's" (Middletown TIMES HERALD-RECORD, 7/1). In Albany, Pete Dougherty noted sports talk, while it "didn't originate on the station, certainly spread across the nation once WFAN established that a sports format could work" (Albany TIMES UNION, 6/30). In N.Y., Mike Vaccaro wrote, "Forget whatever else WFAN ushered in when it was born 25 years ago; that’s what it’s greatest public service is, as a great electronic gathering place, a radio Town Hall, for sports fans." One thing WFAN "always will have: It was first." It gave fans "a voice, and an outlet, and an opportunity to cheer together and cry together and argue with each other and enjoy sport and sports in ways that never seemed remotely possible" before the summer of '87 (N.Y. POST, 7/1).

SPORTS ELEVATED BY GENRE: SportsNet N.Y.’s Jonas Schwartz said WFAN has “elevated the importance of sports in general." Schwartz: "When this came about, people said nobody wanted to hear about sports 24 hours a day. Look at how wrong that was.” The N.Y. Daily News' Bob Raissman said of sports talk radio, “You look what fans started when you see the growth of this. Now it is getting bigger, one of the formats in radio that is spreading quicker than anything." WFAN's Joe Benigno: “Sports talk radio is now everywhere in this country. ... People never thought it would work. But I think that sports has become such big business now, there’s so much money in sports, and I think that is part of the explosion.” Benigno added a big part of the station's success is “the interaction with the fans” and how “you build almost relationships with these people.” Raissman: “You have your callers that you hear them all the time. It’s one big family. When something happens to a host, they want to know. ... It is a real different feel than any other sports media has where there’s one-to-one family relationship and intimacy” (“Daily News Live,” SportsNet N.Y., 6/29).

MIKE & THE MAD DOG REUNION? The DAILY NEWS' Raissman noted there was "only one seismic occurence" in the radio station’s history, the '08 split of longtime on-air partners Chris Russo and Mike Francesa. Russo currently has one year left on his contract with Sirius/XM Radio and said of a possible reunion with Francesa, "You never want to say never. You know how the radio business is. So, you never say never, but I haven’t thought about it in my crystal ball, let’s put it that way. But I’ll tell you right now, if Mike and I did shows together we would have no trouble picking right up where we left off" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/1). Meanwhile, former WFAN exec Joel Hollander said of Francesa, "Love Mike or hate him, he’s the standard for sports-talk radio. When he and Chris started, there was no competition, really. Today there’s ESPN and hundreds of radio stations, and Mike is still No. 1" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 6/29).
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