In collaboration with Sportsecylopedia.com, which would never exit without an 11-year old who had trouble sleeping listening to Steve Somers after midnight.
Sports Radio is born, as 1050 AM WHN, which had been playing country music for 14 years switched to all sports format at 3pm. The first voice heard on the new 1050 WFAN, was Suzyn Waldman who gave a top of the hour sports update ahead of the Jim Lampley show. A year later WFAN would move over the 660 AM, and with the help of Don Imus began proving to be hugely successful format.
While WHN was playing country music, it was also home to the New York Mets, who had taken over the city like no team had before. The Mets of the mid 80’s was a force of personalities who fans could not get enough of and wanted to talk about. This led programmers to begin airing extended Mets pregame and postgame shows, called “Mets Extra” hosted by Howie Rose. These were especially popular during the 1986 postseason, as the Mets won the World Series in dramatic fashion. At the same time, music on AM radio was fading away, as the stereo fidelity of FM radio was more suitable. Throughout the eighties, all AM stations in major markets like New York made the switch to a talk format. It only seemed natural that rapid New York sports fans would want to talk about their teams, especially with at least two teams in each of the four major sports. Fans of country music would still be able to listen, in New York as a FM station took over the format a few days prior to the WFAN switch.
The early days at WFAN were hard, as the experts who predicted the sports radio format would never succeed appeared to be right as ratings were low. The only thing that kept 1050 WFAN AM alive were the Mets, whose games were key to the channel’s programming as the only team that WFAN had broadcast rights for. Despite the growing pains, Emmis Communications, run by Jeff Smulyan remained committed to making all sports work on the radio. In 1988, when NBC announced plans to get out of radio, fortunes for WFAN began to turn. On October 7, 1988 WFAN moved down the dial to 660 AM, taking over the spot held by WNBC. Like WHN, WNBC had been one of the oldest radio stations, but in the changing landscape of AM radio was having trouble staying on the air. With the move to 66AM, WFAN picked up WNBC’s to rated host Dom Imus to continue doing, his morning show. At the same time, WFAN began adding other teams to their lineup, acquiring the rights to New York Knicks and New York Rangers games. At the same time, they began airing national radio coverage of games, giving more legitimacy to the all-sports format.
The addition of Imus in the Morning gave WFAN a big boost, as he was still one of the top-rated radio personalities at the time, while his show did not stick to the sports format it was revenue generating engine that began to move things in the right direction. Still, WFAN needed a true sports show to become the go to show for fans. Overnights helped make Steve Somers popular among a group of loyal listeners, and live events especially Mets games continued to help, but the afternoon drive time lagged as New York sports fans never warmed up to Pete Franklin a longtime popular host in Cleveland. Franklin feuded with Imus and eventually after an on-air rant asking to be fired was. Shortly thereafter on September 5, 1989 WFAN began airing the Mike and the Mad Dog show. Hosted by longtime Mike Francesa, who had worked for CBS Sports for several years a Chris Russo who had worked as the sports anchor on Imus in the morning on did a weekend radio show on WFAN. The pairing was instant gold for WFAN as it became the go to radio show for the pulse of New York Sports. With Mike and the Mad Dog leading the way, WFAN’s ratings exploded as it became the number one billing station in America.
With the high ad sales, soon sports radio stations began popping up everywhere, ESPN would eventually launch its own all-sports radio Network. Proving the format was here to stay. As sports talk exploded, coverage and rights fees exploded. Soon even in the off-season, people wanted to talk about MLB, NBA, NHL and the NFL. The hot stove was born, all behind sports radio which gave hungry fans news of trades and free agent signings in the off-season. As the internet grew, sports were sure to tag along, sites dedicated to sports blogging grew, and sports podcasts all tagged along each owing its existence to that bold move to create a new format that gave fans a voice and launched a new age in sports. Happy Birthday WFAN, especially to those voices like Steve Somers that have been there every step of the way.