Evan Roberts is no kid at 33, a decade into his term as a midday host on WFAN. And yet for him and everyone else younger than their late 30s, there is no such thing as life as a fan before the FAN.
“I don’t know New York sports without WFAN; think about that,” he said before going on the air Thursday during the station’s 30th anniversary show at Grand Central Terminal.
“The idea of a Yankee game, a Met game, a Giant game, a Jet game and not having the FAN as your therapy session — because that’s what we are — doesn’t make any sense to me. That’s kind of what hits me when you think about it.”
Many of the others at Vanderbilt Hall were thinking about how quickly the 30 years have passed, because they are old enough to recall life before 24-hour sports talk radio, and how shaky the early days were.
“Obviously 30 years, and being here since Day One, is a special thing for me,” update reporter John Minko said. “But I think in the history of the radio station the most important anniversary was the first one. The first year was difficult, and that’s being kind. There was such insecurity.”
Said former CBS Radio president Joel Hollander: “It’s amazing, because nobody thought it would last three months.”
Suzyn Waldman, the first voice heard on the station on July 1, 1987, said she never doubted it would succeed, but she acknowledged, “You knew it was going to go through all kinds of machinations at the beginning, because none of us knew what we were doing.”
Waldman said that for all of her varied accomplishments in sports media, she is proud of her status as WFAN’s first voice. But she still recalls looking on the other side of the studio glass that day in Astoria at the people from WHN, the station that the FAN supplanted on its old 1050 AM signal.
“I knew as soon as I opened my mouth they would cease to exist,” Waldman said. “It still gets me choked up.”
Waldman joined a series of WFAN figures and other sports celebrities in-person or on the phone during 12 hours of special programming, including Don Imus, Chris Russo, Steve Somers, Hal Steinbrenner and John Mara, as fans and curious passers-by looked on.
WFAN is facing a transition later this year when Mike Francesa leaves afternoon drive time and a 30-year career at the station, while sports radio faces a battle to stay relevant with younger listeners in the social media era.
But Waldman said radio still has advantages over the Internet.
“Radio is a person talking to another person,” she said. “It’s a person and you can hear the feelings.”
Craig Carton, the morning co-host for the past decade, said he is not surprised by the station’s enduring popularity.
“It’s got the recipe of how to operate and touch the community,” he said. “As much as we think we’re the greatest at what we do, long after we’re all gone FAN should still be a viable commodity as a sports talk station. Anyone who thinks it can’t survive the loss of any one of us is completely out of their minds and an egomaniac.”
Mark Chernoff, vice president of programming and an executive fixture since 1993, said a variety of locations were considered for the anniversary event before settling on Grand Central for its grandeur and history.
“I believe the station is still flourishing after all these years,” he said. “What’s great about sports is it changes every day. There’s always something to talk about, and it’s always something different.”