WFAN (660 AM), also known as "Sports Radio 66" or "The FAN", is a radio station in New York City. The station broadcasts on a clear channel and is owned by CBS Radio. Its studios are located within the Kaufman-Astoria Studios complex in the Astoria section of Queens, New York, and the transmitter is located on High Island in the Bronx, New York.
WFAN pioneered, and has been one of the most successful examples of, the sports radio format. Over the years, WFAN has been the broadcast home to several big names in the world of radio, including the sports-talk team of Mike and the Mad Dog (Mike Francesa and Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo) and the comedian/shock jock/political commentator Don Imus, whose nationally syndicated Imus in the Morning program previously originated on WFAN.
As a result of the North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement of 1941, WEAF became a clear channel station, and could be heard across most of the eastern half of North America at night. In 1943, the United States Supreme Court, citing antitrust concerns, ordered RCA to sell off one of its radio networks. The company decided to keep the Red Network, and it was rebranded as the NBC Radio Network after the Blue Network was divested to Edward J. Noble.
WEAF's call letters were changed to WNBC in 1946, then to WRCA in 1954, and back to WNBC in 1960. During the 1960s, WNBC relied less on network programming and adopted a talk format, followed by a switch to a middle-of-the-road music sound. The station spent much of the 1970s and early 1980s flipping between the Top 40 and adult contemporary formats, with varying success. By 1987, WNBC played less music and relied more on personality-driven talk programs with hosts such as Don Imus, Joey Reynolds, Alan Colmes, and Soupy Sales.
In early 1988 General Electric, which now owned NBC through its purchase of RCA two years earlier, announced that it would sell off the NBC Radio division. In February of that year GE made a multi-station deal with Emmis and, in New York, the WNBC license for 660 was included in the sale. On October 7, 1988 at 5:30 p.m., WFAN moved down the radio dial to replace WNBC at 660 kHz. The last voice heard on WNBC was that of Alan Colmes, who counted down the seconds to WNBC's demise with the legendary NBC chimes (the notes G-E-C) playing in the background. After 66 years, the long history of NBC radio in New York had come to an end.
In the complicated switch that saw WFAN move to the 660 frequency, the 1050 frequency that was formerly the home of WFAN became that of Spanish-language WUKQ, owned by Spanish Broadcasting System. However, SBS already owned an AM station in the market, Newark-based WSKQ at 620 kHz, and in those days FCC rules stipulated that companies could own only one AM station per market. As a result, SBS received a temporary waiver to run 1050 while exploring the sale of either AM frequency. SBS chose to keep 620 (it is now WSNR), and 1050 was traded to Forward Communications, which owned WEVD, then at 97.9 FM. After that deal was approved, WEVD's call letters and programming moved to 1050 AM (it is now WEPN and ironically a sports station), and SBS took over 97.9 as WSKQ-FM. The October NBC-Emmis switch also saw Emmis's WQHT (then at 103.5 MHz.) move to 97.1 MHz., which had been the home of NBC's WYNY. Emmis sold the 103.5 frequency to Westwood One, who also acquired the WYNY call letters and its country music format.
In all this, WFAN retired two of the oldest radio call letters from the dawn of commercial radio: WHN and WNBC.
It quickly became apparent that WFAN's gambit of bringing Imus on board worked. Ratings for the morning show were strong, and it was successful to a point in driving ratings for the rest of WFAN's programming day. This model of using a general-interest morning host for a sports talk radio station (especially at launch) has been used at other sports radio stations across the country.
WFAN was also the first station in the country to roll out sports updates every 20 minutes. These updates, called 20-20 Sports Flashes, are now considered an industry standard. When WFAN first started updates were done every 15 minutes. Additionally, in a nod to the former WNBC, update anchors often end their top-of-the-hour updates with the catchphrase "And that's what's happening...", which is how WNBC on-air news readers had ended their updates.
Other programming that WFAN had at its launch included a mid-morning show with Ed Coleman and Mike Francesa, and an afternoon drive time show with Pete Franklin, who in Cleveland had become one of the first polarizing, outrageous talk show hosts. During his stay in New York, Franklin would probably become best known for an incident where he used a four-letter expletive on air, in error, when trying to say "All you folks" (he was not disciplined for the incident.)
Running a close second was a 30-second Franklin diatribe on whether he had been offensive -- "Do I offend anyone? I'm not here to offend you, dammit!" -- that has been replayed ever since, especially on the July 1 WFAN anniversaries.)
In a further drive to boost ratings, Imus instigated a feud with Franklin, much as he had with Howard Stern at WNBC in the mid-1980s. Both Imus and Franklin would take shots at each other during their shows, Franklin calling Imus "Minus" and Imus recording parodies of radio commercials where he would bash Franklin as a "dinousaur", among other things. Franklin would leave WFAN in August 1989.
On September 5, 1989, a jointly hosted afternoon drive show with Francesa and Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo - who had been a weekend/fill-in host to that time - would premiere. The Mike and the Mad Dog show would become the defining show of WFAN, one of the most consistently popular radio shows in New York, and one of the most influential sports talk radio shows in the country.
WFAN's broadcast day begins at 5:00 a.m. (Eastern time) with an hour-long program hosted by Chris Carlin, followed by Boomer and Carton, hosted by former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason and radio veteran Craig Carton. The midday timeslot is co-hosted by Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts. Mike Francesa is the afternoon drive host. The YES Network has been airing a video simulcast of WFAN's afternoon drive program, previously known as Mike and the Mad Dog, since March 19, 2002.
On Monday nights during the NFL season, Carlin and Kimberly Jones host a football show leading into the Monday Night Football broadcast. Jones, who is a member of the Yankees' broadcast team on the YES Network, also serves as Carlin's morning co-host during the baseball off-season.
Steve Somers hosts during most other evenings, often leading into and following live game broadcasts. Tony Paige works the majority of the overnight shifts. Other overnight hosts include Marc Malusis and Lori Rubinson. Adam "the Bull" Gerstenhaber hosts the weekend evening shows. Another WFAN personality is longtime New York rock radio fixture Richard Neer. Ed Randall hosts a radio version of the Talking Baseball show that aired on TV for many years.
WFAN stands out in that all of its sports-talk shows are currently local in origin, not syndicated as is the practice of most sports-talk radio stations (usually except during the morning and/or drive-time periods).
Over the years WFAN has established a tight bond with its listeners, to the point where one of them eventually landed a regular on-air spot. Joe Benigno had been a frequent caller to "The Fan" (especially the Mike and the Mad Dog show) as "Joe from Saddle River", and his calls were typically interesting and insightful. In 1994 he was chosen to host a one-hour show during a promotion where listeners were invited to host a show. The test went well, and he later parlayed it into a regular overnight shift, which started in 1995.
WFAN also features the "20-20 Flash", a one to two minute update on sports scores and news, which occurs every 20 minutes (on the hour, twenty after and forty after). The update team consists of Rich Ackerman, Harris Allen, Mike McCann, Erica Herskowitz, Bob Heussler, Marc Malusis, John Minko, Jerry Recco, Greg Tartaglia and Joe Tolleson. The station also employs beat reporters to cover the Mets (Ed Coleman), Yankees (Sweeny Murti), Jets (Recco) and football Giants (Carlin).
Bloomberg L.P.-owned WBBR is utilized as WFAN's main "conflict" station, airing Nets games when they and the Devils are playing simultaneously, and some Devils games due to scheduling conflicts with the Mets and Giants (if the conflict is with the Mets, the game will still be streamed on WFAN's website). However, WBBR had been the rights holder for New York Islanders games until 2008, so WLIB (owned by Inner City Broadcasting Corporation) or WWDJ (now WNYM, a Salem Communications station) were used as alternate outlets for the Nets when three teams are playing at the same time. Both WFAN and WBBR share a contract to air St. John's basketball. As with the Devils, virtually all St. John's games are streamed over WFAN's website. () It should also be noted that the Giants, Devils, Nets, and St. John's all produce their own games and purchase their airtime from WFAN.
WFAN is also a promotional partner of the Yankees, as sister station WCBS has been the team's flagship station since 2002. WFAN is given exclusive game-day rights to broadcast at the ballpark. The exclusive access seems to give WFAN an information edge over WEPN, which features Yankees television voice Michael Kay in drivetime. Kay is often forced to do his show from outside the stadium, and then leave to do the TV broadcast an hour before the game.
The station is the flagship outlet for Westwood One's NFL, NHL, and NCAA basketball tournament radio broadcasts.
WFAN has marketed itself in recent years as the "Flagship Station for New York Sports", but its close partnerships with the Mets and Yankees could easily render it "New York's Baseball Station." Jerry Manuel and Joe Girardi, respective managers of the Mets and Yankees, make exclusive appearances on WFAN during the season. WFAN usually also contracts at least one Giants and one Jets player to make exclusive appearances on the station during the NFL season, as well as Giants head coach Tom Coughlin.
The station was also the longtime radio home for the New York Jets, New York Rangers and New York Knicks (the latter two were inherited from WNBC). Currently WFAN's primary competition is WEPN, the New York ESPN Radio affiliate, ironically located at WFAN's old 1050 kHz frequency. WEPN carries the three aforementioned teams plus national ESPN Radio programming, all of which WFAN also once carried.
Beginning at 3 p.m. on April 11, 2006, WFAN started streaming live on the Internet. Live Mets and Nets games are offered separately through the MLB and NBA websites as annual subscriptions. The stream can be found at wfan.com.
On August 15, 2008, Mike Francesa announced during the final broadcast of Mike and the Mad Dog that WFAN would broadcast a new fundraising radiothon. The new fundraiser would benefit both the Boomer Esiason Foundation for cystic fibrosis research, and the Mike Francesa Champions of the Heart Foundation, a new charity created by Francesa. The radiothon was broadcast over 29 ½ hours on September 11 and 12. ()
In the early 1990s, popular hosts Ed Coleman and Dave Sims had their show cancelled. WFAN then announced that New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica and WNBC-TV sports anchor Len Berman would co-host the new midday program. The show seemed all set to go when, at the last minute, Berman decided to back out of the show. He cited that he would have to work a near 14-hour day, combining his 10 a.m. start on radio with his 11:20 p.m. report on television. WFAN would not let Berman out of his contract, and as a result, the slot was split into two shows: Lupica hosted from 10 a.m. to noon, while Berman hosted from noon to 2 p.m.. The split format did not work, and eventually Berman's show would be cancelled and Lupica's show soon followed.
WWOR-TV sports anchor Russ Salzberg, who also worked an evening sportscast, was more than willing to assume the midday show duties. In 1995, he would be joined by longtime overnight host Steve Somers. This show, billed as "The Sweater and the Schmoozer", would feature one of the most famous incidents in WFAN history. It occurred when Salzberg "banned" Eli from Westchester from calling his show due to his comments that Salzberg considered to be inappropriate. Salzberg's classic line to Somers, during another Atlanta Braves World Series appearance talking about Braves' manager Bobby Cox: "What about Cox, Steve? You like Cox...don't you, Steve?"
In 1999, with the ratings not being what WFAN management expected, the Salzberg/Somers show was cancelled. Initially Somers had been fired with Salzberg, but a large outcry from listeners -- including comedian Jerry Seinfeld, a native of Long Island -- led to WFAN management giving Somers the evening shift, which (despite frequent pre-emptions for live games) he continues to hold to the present day. In middays, Salzberg and Somers were replaced by Suzyn Waldman and Jody McDonald. Waldman was best known for her work covering the Yankees and Knicks for the station. McDonald, son of a former Mets general manager, was the weekend overnight host before leaving for sister station WIP in Philadelphia, nearer to his southern New Jersey home. Both Waldman and McDonald had their fans and detractors at WFAN.
Waldman would leave WFAN in late 2001, joining the Yankees television broadcast team the following year. She would be replaced by Sid Rosenberg who, despite his shock jock reputation, had an enormous knowledge of sports. Many felt there was great chemistry between McDonald and Rosenberg. However, the ratings still weren't what WFAN expected and in 2004 McDonald was let go, later to join WEPN, Sirius Satellite Radio, and WPEN radio in Philadelphia. Overnight host Joe Benigno would replace McDonald.
Rosenberg was forced to resign from WFAN on September 12, 2005 after being given an ultimatum by station management for not showing up to host the New York Giants' pregame show the day before. Benigno hosted the show solo for over a year. On January 2, 2007, part-time overnight host Evan Roberts became Benigno's new midday co-host. The pairing continues to consistently outrate rivals Max Kellerman and Mike Tirico on WEPN.
On the April 4, 2007 broadcast of Imus in the Morning, Don Imus made a sexually and racially insensitive comment in reference to the Rutgers University women's basketball team. Imus made the remarks during a conversation with the show's producer, Bernard McGuirk, and Sid Rosenberg (who was on the phone).
Two days after making the comments, Imus issued a public apology. By that time, however, there were various calls for his dismissal, particularly from civil rights activists Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who threatened to protest both CBS Radio and MSNBC (which aired a video simulcast of the program), as well as boycott companies who advertised on the program. WFAN offered its hosts and listeners a sounding board for their own feelings and comments, which were both for and against his dismissal. Chris Russo, in particular, expressed his disappointment at Imus for waiting two days before retracting his comments.
Imus was initially given a two-week suspension which was scheduled to begin on April 16, allowing him to work the annual WFAN Radiothon on April 12 and 13. On consecutive days Imus appeared on both Sharpton's syndicated radio show (April 9) and NBC-TV's Today Show (April 10) to reiterate his regret for the remarks. But on April 11, MSNBC announced the cancellation of the video simulcast of Imus in the Morning. The following day, CBS Radio dismissed Imus, at the time leaving WFAN with a very large programming -- and money-earning -- void in their schedule.
Imus' last WFAN program was aired on the opening day of the radiothon. Imus's wife Deirdre joined his longtime co-host, comedy writer, and news reader, Charles McCord, to anchor the final segment of the radiothon on April 13. Imus revived his program at WABC radio in December 2007, and took his fundraiser with him -- with the charities intact -- and conducted a radiothon there in May 2008.
From that point on, the 6:00 to 10:00 a.m. time slot was filled by various hosts. McCord and Chris Carlin remained on all the replacement shows as assistance and staff, in similar roles as they were on Imus's show, and the replacement shows continued to be syndicated via Westwood One. Mike Francesa and Chris Russo were the first to fill the spot, hosting for the two weeks (April 16-27) immediately after Imus' firing. Francesa and Russo also worked the shift separate from each other, as did fellow WFAN staffers Richard Neer, Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts, and Carlin, who worked both alone and with co-hosts, notably Kimberly Jones and Washington Post sports columnist John Feinstein.
WFAN and Westwood One also brought in outside personalities into the slot. Among them were Boomer Esiason, Patrick McEnroe, Geraldo Rivera, Lou Dobbs, and Chicago sports radio host Mike North. As MSNBC also held its own claim to the slot, the cable network was able to have its own replacement shows simulcasted; these programs were hosted by in-house personalities David Gregory, Jim Cramer, and Joe Scarborough, who was named as MSNBC's replacement host.
On September 4, 2007, Esiason took over as the permanent host of the WFAN morning show, with veteran radio personality Craig Carton (previously of WKXW-FM in Trenton, New Jersey) serving as co-host, and Chris Carlin remaining to do sports updates. The new program is not distributed nationally by Westwood One. Charles McCord left the station shortly after the announcement was made and has since rejoined Don Imus at WABC. Carlin was also given his own show in the one-hour time slot immediately preceding Esiason's show.
During their 19-year run as WFAN's afternoon drive team, Mike Francesa and Chris Russo had enjoyed a relationship -- both on- and off-air -- which varied from respect to contempt. The two hosts did not get along well during the early days of their partnership, and had several differences which potentially put their program in jeopardy. In spite of the disagreements, the duo always seemed to patch things up for the benefit of the station and their listeners.
In early 2008, several reports surfaced that Francesa and Russo were on the outs again, and these reports came as both men's contracts with WFAN were in the early stages of renegotiation. On June 22, 2008, sports columnist Neil Best of Newsday reported that the Francesa/Russo relationship had cooled, and they were considering ending their radio show. Francesa, reached by Newsday while vacationing, refused to comment. Russo, doing the show alone on June 23, denied the rumors. But on the June 27, 2008 broadcast, Francesa (working alone as Russo was on vacation) acknowledged the show was at a "crossroad", and could not guarantee the show would last through the summer. Francesa also stated he and Russo had not spoken since reports of their possible breakup came out.
On July 11, 2008, Francesa and Russo reunited for their first show together since news of their possible breakup came out. Both men were coy about their future beyond the summer. Francesa and Russo then continued their normal summer routine of alternating vacation weeks, and on August 5, 2008, they would do their final show together at the New York Giants' training facility at the University of Albany.
On August 14, 2008, Russo reached a mutual agreement with WFAN to let him out of his contract, which ran until October 2009. Russo insisted it was solely a personal decision and said, "This has nothing to do with Mike and I hating each other... This is about doing something different. I'm 48 years old and there are not going to be too many more opportunities to break away. It's time to try something else, but it was a tough decision to make." On August 15, Russo phoned Francesa on the show to say goodbye. A highly emotional Russo began to break down on air as he talked about his partnership with Francesa.
At the same time, while Russo left WFAN, Francesa signed a five-year deal to stay at WFAN and continue to host the afternoon drive-time show. On August 19, 2008, Russo signed a five-year contract worth about 3 million per year with Sirius XM to headline a new sports talk channel called Mad Dog Radio on both Sirius and XM satellite radio. Russo said there was nothing WFAN could have done to keep him after Sirius XM provided him an opportunity to not only do a show, but have his own channel, which he could not pass up.
It is worth noting that, for all the success and influence that WFAN has had, its signature Mike and the Mad Dog show experienced limited syndication outside of New York state (the show had been carried over WQYK in Tampa, Florida and WROW in Albany, New York). This was primarily due to a desire by the hosts to keep their show New York-centric.
WFAN once produced some of Fox Sports Radio's programming, notably Chris "Mad Dog" Russo's Saturday show, but the relationship did not last even one year for the same reason that Mike and the Mad Dog is syndicated nationally only through the YES Network — the hosts often talk about the NFL on a national basis, but stick mostly to local coverage of baseball. Nevertheless, callers from as far as California and Norway made it to air.
During the day, WFAN's groundwave signal can be heard faintly as far south as Washington, DC and as far north as the I-90 corridor (the New York State Thruway and Massachusetts Turnpike), about 150 miles north of New York City. WFAN can also allegedly be heard clearly on the northern beaches of North Carolina's Outer Banks during the day. Signal strength varies depending on factors such as weather and elevation. Still, a good car radio can pick up WFAN cleanly in most of Pennsylvania, at times as far west as central Ohio, and throughout Connecticut, as well as parts of the Philadelphia, Boston, Albany, and Syracuse markets, especially at night (WFAN does not broadcast on reduced power overnight, and thus needs very few affiliate stations for the teams it broadcasts). Callers from these locations are not uncommon, especially as some of the on-air staffers have backgrounds in those regions (Bob Heussler does radio play-by-play for the Connecticut Sun, Fairfield Stags basketball and has done radio play-by-play for UConn basketball and football, while Chris Carlin handles Rutgers football games), and attended Hobart. Alternatively, the callers listen to the streaming internet feed on wfan.com, or watch the "Mike and the Mad Dog" simulcast on YES. Depending on atmospheric conditions, the station can be allegedly picked up as far south as Havana, Cuba. In parts of South Florida after sunset, reception of WFAN is clearer than Miami-based "competitors" including WAXY.
Don Imus and the WFAN Sports Team Raise Millions for the CJ Foundation for SIDS, The Tomorrows Children's Fund, and the Imus Ranch at the Annual Radiothon
May 12, 2005; Italian Voice, The 05-12-2005 The Medical Center Celebrates Its 16-Year Relationship With WFANThe 16th Annual Sports Radio...