Gregg Giannotti has been making the long daily drive from Bellport to Soho for two years, so he knows the routine, and he knows that when many people hear about it, “they think I’m nuts.”
But come Jan. 2, he believes the commute will have its benefits as he moves down the hallway from CBS Sports Radio to WFAN, where he will join Boomer Esiason as morning co-host.
“Living here, especially now, it’s really important to me, with all the craziness that is going to go on,” Giannotti said. “Life is going to change, no doubt about it.
“There’s something about leaving that world where everybody is paying attention to every word and everybody is focused on your success and there is high pressure in New York City and driving back here and de-stressing and pulling into my driveway and having it be the exact same place I grew up in.”
Giannotti, 35, lives less than two miles from where he grew up and near his parents. That should be a help, given that he and his wife, Gina, are expecting their first child in February.
But mostly, it gives him a comfort zone and support system as he transitions from a national network that is not heard in New York to the area’s iconic sports radio station.
After joining CBS Radio from a station in Pittsburgh, Giannotti lived for a year in an apartment in Great Neck. “I was looking in Nassau County; things were extremely expensive,” he said. “Then I was looking at Suffolk County and I kept going farther east and east and I said, ‘I’m this far east. Why don’t I just go all the way back?’ ”
Traffic usually is not an issue because he leaves at 3:45 a.m., then heads back before noon. When he gets there, familiar faces abound.
“There are people I went to high school with and people I see who are just locals at the deli, and they are all so proud of it,” he said. “It’s funny, because it’s like this in-between of ‘I knew you were going to do this’ but it’s coupled with ‘Man, I can’t believe you actually did it!’ ”
Giannotti began at WFAN as a producer for Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts in middays and always planned to return.
“This is it,” he said. “Every decision I’ve made was because I wanted to do this. Now I’m given an opportunity and I know I’m going to do well, because it’s all I’ve ever wanted . . . So that first day it’s not going to be nervousness . . . It’s going to be excitement that it’s finally here.”
The opportunity came after Craig Carton was arrested on federal charges of wire and securities fraud on Sept. 6 and resigned a week later. When Giannotti got the job, Carton called him to wish him well.
“I was so impressed with the fact he could in that moment reach out and be that nice,” Giannotti said. “I thought to myself: Could I do the same thing? Could I be that good of a person to, in a bad moment in life, be that good?”
Giannotti said Carton urged him to lean on colleagues for support and to “always, always be me. That is something I’ve heard from a lot of people. It really is the most sound advice, to never try to be anybody but yourself or ever try to imitate or emulate a voice other than yours.”
Speaking of which . . . Giannotti, whom friends call “Gio,” is known for impersonations, notably of Benigno and Mike Francesa. He tries to not overdo it. “In the beginning it bothered me, because it was always the thing that people thought of about me and I had to fight against that a little bit,” he said. “But I also had to appreciate the fact people enjoyed it that much.
“This is making it sound way more important than it is, but I always make the analogy of a band that is sick of their biggest hit and don’t want to play it. They wish their fans would just look at the new stuff, but they’re making them play their old songs.”
At least New York listeners can appreciate his Benigno. “I can’t go to Pittsburgh and do a Joe Benigno imitation,” he said. “People in Squirrel Hill will think I’m crazy.”
That’s a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, by the way. Now he is back to his old neighborhood, not all that far from where Esiason grew up and played at a rival high school.
“It’s funny, because with all the things that Boomer has done and all the places he’s been, he’s still a guy that went to East Islip,” Giannotti said.
Giannotti considered an afternoon drive time offer but decided the more freewheeling morning vibe fits him best. So Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott will replace Francesa, a move that has garnered far more attention than the morning change. That is fine with Giannotti, giving him more breathing room to ease into his new role. That and about 70 miles of pavement.
“Will the demands of the job make me [eventually] move farther west?” he said. “As of right now, I really like the idea of having all that spotlight on you in there, and you’re the same guy you always were out here when you get home.”