Bill Mazer, sports talk radio pioneer, dies at 92

Bill Mazer, 90, the host of the first

Bill Mazer, 90, the host of the first sports talk radio show in history that launched in March of 1964 on WNBC, talks about his life in broadcasting and his family at his Scarsdale home. (June 15, 2011) (Credit: Craig Ruttle)

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Bill Mazer, a sports talk radio pioneer and later a fixture on New York sports television known for his encyclopedic knowledge of trivia, died Wednesday at 92 after several years in failing health.

Perhaps Mazer's greatest historical claim to fame was as host of the first regularly scheduled sports call-in show -- which premiered on WNBC radio on March 30, 1964.

In what is believed to be his final interview, with Newsday in 2011, Mazer looked back at that day and how it all began.

"The first call was a kid, and he said, 'I just want to ask you one question,' " Mazer said. "I said, 'OK, go ahead.' He said, 'Who's better: Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle?' "

It was a question that launched countless more, leading eventually to the first full-time sports talk station, WFAN, in 1987, and eventually hundreds of others around the country.

Mazer was a logical candidate for the job. He had spent 16 years in Buffalo -- a job he landed with the help of a fellow future sportscasting star, Marty Glickman -- but he grew up a Dodgers fan in 1930s Brooklyn after moving there from Ukraine as an infant. He was invited home to host a late-afternoon show as part of WNBC's new "Talk-Back" format.

"I said, 'What do you want me to do?' " Mazer recalled telling the WNBC executive who made the inquiry. "He said, 'It's going to be sports talk.' I said, 'Are you kidding?' "

The concept was an immediate hit, Mazer said, fueled disproportionately by teenage boys who called in seeking his opinions. Dozens of those boys, now in their 60s, responded to Newsday's story about him in 2011, and called into WFAN late Wednesday afternoon to reminisce.

Mazer went on from that early talk show to become a trivia expert so well regarded he was nicknamed "Amazin'," and he still was able to answer almost every arcane question posed to him in 2011 despite extreme hearing problems.

Mazer's long, varied career began in 1941 when he replaced a fellow Michigan alumnus, Mike Wallace, at WOOD in Grand Rapids.

After returning to New York from Buffalo he was Channel 5's longtime sports anchor, and also co-host of "Sports Extra," a pioneering highlights show that appeared late on Sunday nights, and still does.

Mazer for a time hosted a show on WFAN that originated from Mickey Mantle's restaurant on Central Park South. He recalled having Mantle himself on and recounted the story of that first caller back in '64.

"Then I said, 'Let me ask you something: Who's better, Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle?' " Mazer said. "He said, 'Truly, Willie on an everyday basis was better. But the year I won the Triple Crown , I was just as good.' "

Mazer's wife of more than 50 years, Dora, whom he called Dutch, died in 1996. He is survived by a son, Arnie, and two daughters, Francine and Beverly, as well as two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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