WFAN Sports Radio 66 hosts have provided us brilliant entertainment over the years. The question is: Who’s the best to have ever done it?
On Jul. 1, 1987, the world as we knew it changed. Instead of hearing country music from framed WHM on 1050 AM, a wild idea was hatched.
The first all-sports radio station would make its introduction to the world.
The name? WFAN Sports Radio. And while it took a little over a calendar year for WFAN to move to it’s more recognizable and permanent home, 660 AM, the birth of all-sports radio talk was realized.
Almost 30 years later WFAN remains at the top of its game. It’s literally paved the way for an entire industry. From ESPN, to Sirius/XM, to Bleacher Report, every major sports outlet has since looked to get their foot in the door of all day, every day sports radio.
The question for us in New York City is quite simple. While we know our WFAN Sports Radio 660 started it all, who were the most influential personalities through the years?
Today we countdown the Top 10 WFAN Sports Radio hosts of all-time:
- Tony Paige
- Russ Salzberg
- Jody McDonald
- Richard Neer
- Ed Coleman
- Kim Jones
- Ed Randall
- Pete Franklin
- Scott Ferrall
- Ian Eagle
- Anita Marks
- Mark Malusis
The notables section is chalk full of talent. Tony Paige heads the crew, as his laid-back style and calm demeanor has carried him, and his audience through many years on the overnight program.
Russ Salzberg and Jody McDonald have been on again, off again many times while filling out many different spots of the day.
Pete Franklin and Ed Coleman are two of the throwbacks. Coleman eventually moved from early year host to the reporter for the radio’s ultimate home team, the New York Mets.
Lastly, as most won’t remember, but the uniquely voiced Scott Ferrall enjoyed a brief stint on the station. And I suppose Marc Malusis should get a shout out as well, for longevity, even though he has to be one of the weaker voices on air today.
In any event, let’s now get on to the big show:
10. Boomer Esiason
When it purely comes to the sports radio business, Boomer Esiason just doesn’t have it.
He’s not a talented personality. At the same time, he does the job well.
When Don Imus was so abruptly shown the door in April of 2007 — after his racist comments towards a certain member of the Rutgers Women’s Basketball team — a new team was needed, and after a one-week “tryout,” Boomer finally got the call he’d been waiting for.
Teamed up with shock-jock Craig Carton, Esiason plays the straight, former great athlete role that works so well off such an extreme personality like Carton.
Based on the success of the show itself, Esiason must be in the top 10.
9. Suzyn Waldman
When one of the world’s most famous country stations turned over the 1050 AM dial to WFAN, the personality of the one and only Suzyn Waldman was the welcoming voice.
Most know Waldman as the New York Yankees radio color commentator alongside John Sterling (now starting its second year on WFAN, replacing the New York Mets in 2015). Youngsters don’t realize she started as a WFAN host all the way back in 1987.
Yes, that was Roger Clemens in George Steinbrenner’s box. We know that. What we also know is Suzyn fully deserves her place in the sun for her work at WFAN.
8. Craig Carton
Craziness. Pure and utter nonsense.
Based on ratings alone, Craig Carton should be in the top three. However, this list isn’t just based on ratings.
Instead, it takes into account the overall impact a host has had on its audience.
There’s no question The Boomer & Carton Show has enjoyed a serious impact. Covering Sep. 10 through Dec. 2, the show continues its phenomenal pace with a 6.2 percent market share. This dominates the New York sports market as the closest competition is ESPN New York’s nationally run Mike & Mike program (featuring Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic) which sits at just 3.6 percent of the share.
Carton might know the least amount of sports of any host at the station. In fact, I know for sure guys like John Minko and Mr. Met would dominate Carton’s sports knowledge.
It’s Carton’s edgy personality and “everyman” attitude that has him and Esiason still on top. Sports morning shows regularly need that element and Carton brings it to the table every AM.
Carton relates to the casual sports fan better than anybody on the station.
7. Evan Roberts
Oh yes, Evan Roberts gets made fun of constantly. There isn’t one guy at the station who doesn’t poke fun at the tall red-head who was highly “encouraged” by his influential mother to get into the business.
Still, the kid knows his stuff.
For guys in their late 20s and early 30s, Roberts is relatable – that is, if, you know an obscene amount about the New York Mets, New York Jets, Brooklyn Nets, and New York Islanders.
Along with the knowledge, Evan wears his fandom on his sleeve. He’s one of the “pom-pom” hosts on the station who manages to also stay objective, respectful and intelligent.
6. Bill Mazer
Bill Mazer is an oldie but a goodie, there’s no question about it.
From 1987 through 1991, Mazer hosted a weekend program from Mickey Mantle’s restaurant that was dearly beloved by many. Instead of hard-hitting sports talk, it was a laid back, conversational show featuring many stars.
Mazer, who was always one of the local legends in the business, will forever be remembered as a WFAN great.
5. Sid Rosenberg
The bad boy, the troubled one. This is how most remember Sid Rosenberg.
And how could you not? The guy was notoriously booted (technically resigned) from the station after his many chances of straightening up and getting his act together.
Perhaps this is why so many loved him.
After gaining fame for his constant back-and-forth banter with Don Imus in the morning, he assumed the midday role in the year 2000 and held it with his strong Brooklyn accent and intense passion for five years – many of them with Joe Benigno.
Rosenberg remains one of the most beloved fan favorites who’ve ever spoken through a mic at WFAN.
4. Steve Somers
If you don’t know Steve Somers, you simply do not know The Fan.
That heavenly, extremely articulated voice moving through a 15-minute monolog isn’t just the opening to the evening show, it’s your bedtime story.
Somers has been with WFAN since the beginning, serving as the first overnight host. Then, gaining increasing fame with Russ Salzberg, he played the fan favorite role on The Sweater and the Schmoozer.
He now serves as the evening guy on nights WFAN doesn’t have a game broadcasted. He also still showcases that soothing voice and those strange quirks fans have been accustomed to for nearly three decades in the Big Apple.
3. Joe Benigno
If his partner Evan Roberts is the fan who tries to stay objective, then Joe Benigno is the fan who doesn’t stay objective and never apologizes for it.
Obviously, he does his fair share of being “fair,” but because Benigno roots for such notorious losers like the New York Jets, New York Mets, New York Knicks, and New York Rangers, he can’t help himself to a classic rant or two every now and again.
Benigno came to the station in 1994 as a guest host after winning a fan contest. Just as the novelty stuck (with WFAN’s Fan Phenom contest run every year), so did Joe. Fans fell in love with the guy during the overnights in the 1990s and now during the midday show on The Joe & Evan Show.
While, admittedly, his interview techniques aren’t the greatest (if I hear him say “how about that” to another interviewee again, I’ll lose it), it’s his on-the-fly “regular-guy” nature that comes across the airwaves and into the ears of the average diehard fan.
Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait for another classic Joe Rant. He roots for the Mets, Jets, Knicks, and Rangers. It’ll happen soon.
2. Chris Russo
When Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo left WFAN in September of 2008, many of us thought our world had just come to an end. For years we were tortured with a potential breakup of the all-time best sports duo in broadcast history, but it never happened.
But then it happened, and Mike & The Mad Dog were no more.
That Autumn we didn’t just lose a guy who knew an immense amount about sports, we lost a guy who showcased with a personality we’ve never heard before. A personality that showcased both knowledge and extreme passion. Hell, this is why the nickname of Mad Dog stuck.
Starting in 1988 as an overnight host and weekend fill-in guy, WFAN made its most incredible move ever by pairing him with Mike Francesa.
The rest of history.
Though Russo has enjoyed second life at Sirius/XM with his own station (Mad Dog Radio), fans are much more excited about the upcoming reunion with Francesa at Radio City Music Hall on Mar. 30.
Never has, or anybody will be as great as Russo is/was at losing his mind while maintaining personality and his immense knowledge about the topic of sports at hand.
1. Mike Francesa
Did you actually and possibly think anybody else would be No. 1 on this list?
Come on now, no chance, and if anybody doesn’t put Mike Francesa No. 1 all-time, their just looking for attention or attempting to be cute.
Or, perhaps, they just don’t know much about sports and/or the broadcast/media industry.
Big Mike, the Sports Pope, Francesa does this one very thing so well: He makes it so the audience either simply adores him or absolutely hates his guts. And he’d have it no other way.
He’ll disrespect callers, call out other individuals of the media, and even be completely banned by the entire network of ESPN, but he’ll never apologize for what he does so well.
Between the yelling and the noise is an extremely high sports IQ. In fact, it’s incredibly high. 95 percent of the time, he’s also objective. The only times he’s not is when he’s intentionally looking to get a rise out of the city and create a few ratings for himself (i.e. when he attacked Rex Ryan and the New York Jets so many times).
It’s an overall attitude that’s had him dominate his afternoon-drive time-slot every year he’s been on (even after Russo left).
What separates him from Russo, though, is he is New York. He knows the city so well that he understands how to perfectly run a sports radio program — the way that brings incredible intensity and passion the table.
If you don’t know sports, and can’t “bring it” like a true New Yorker would, then simply don’t call. Stay tuned into the show, but don’t you dare call.
You’ll get called out classically if you do.