Sunday, July 02, 2006

Talk radio

At 3 p.m., July 1, 1987, WFAN the nation's first 24-7 sports talk radio station, went on the air in New York City - and sports coverage hasn't been the same since.

The change has often been detrimental to the newspaper industry, thanks to the pressure to mimmick in print the shrill, voice that never lets issues run a natural course, burn bright, then die out.

Instead, as former major league manager Jeff Torborg once said, controversies just keep going on and on, 24-7, as commentators, working in "three-hour shifts," to quote Torborg, beat issues to death in order to fill air time.

That said, let me add that here on the NY-NJ-PA. corridor, WFAN remains without peer. Its imidators are just that, and poor ones, at best. In Philadelphia, the WIP crew makes WFAN's roster seem Pulitzer Prize-worthy as they presume to be the stars that drive sports. Though WFAN's hosts are celebrities even by New York standards, they allow the sports, the athletes and coaches they cover remain the station's primary focus.WFAN talks to the likes of Larry Brown, Joe Torre and pro athletes from around the world.

Other stations who eschew the "guest" spot, too often prefer to mock the pro games and players - and fellow members of the media, often from the safety of their studio desks. Feel free to read that as an apt description of WIP in Philadelphia, if you will.

Though some of WFAN's on-air personalities are more famous than others, special kudos are reserved here for Steve Somers, a very witty on-air commentator who never stoops to insulting or carving up his callers, sports fans or the teams and athletes he covers. Wish they could clone him and franchise him out to the stations that still do a lot of talking without really understanding what "talk radio" should be about.

Suzyn Waldman, Pioneer

When WFAN first went on the air on that July 1, 1987, the first voice heard was that of Suzyn Waldman.

A strong, brave woman in the often unforgiving male-dominated environments of media and professional sports, Suzyn has perservered, more than holding her own in the toughest media town in the nation.

A former Broadway musical star, Suzyn remains a headliner and trailblazer in second distinct career, serving as a color commentator for the New York Yankees on that team's radio broadcasts. She is only the second woman to ever hold such a position in Major League Baseball (the first was Betty Caywood of the Kansas City A's in the 1960s, according to

Suzyn was the first woman to do play-by-play on televised Major League games when, in the mid-1990s, she worked Yankees games on that team's local broadcasts. She remains the only woman with that distinction.

So, on a personal note, it always has been and continues to be a privilege to work with Suzyn. It is not easy to often be one of the precious few, if not the only woman in the male bastions of the Major League press box or pro clubhouse or locker room. I have seen Suzyn not only survive, but thrive as we lived through such things as the World Series earthquake in 1989 or navigated the treacherous waters surrounding the Yankees beat in the 1980s and 1990s.

So when you think about Suzyn, think about more than just the journalist who won the 1996 NY Sportscaster of the Year, by The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters, and the American Women in Radio and TV's Star Award for Radio in 1999, the WFAN and Yankees' broadcast pioneer.

Think about the grace, the professionalism and the courage. These are the core of the legacy still being artfully written by Suzyn Waldman to this day.