"Bro, this is it," Joe Benigno said at the top of his WFAN show on Friday. And so it was, the end of a dizzying 25-year road from caller to overnight host to middays to afternoon drive time.
Benigno announced his retirement on Oct. 28, effective with Friday’s show. Starting next week, his chair will be filled by Craig Carton, who will be paired with Benigno’s partner of 14 years, Evan Roberts.
Benigno, 67, fielded calls from well-wishers all week, and Friday’s finale was no exception. It featured a series of current and former colleagues, including Benigno’s old midday partner, Sid Rosenberg.
Former afternoon co-host Chris "Mad Dog" Russo appeared along with other sports and media figures, including (in order) Bobby Valentine, Marv Albert, Jonathan Vilma, Antrel Rolle, Rich Eisen, Howie Rose, Tiki Barber, Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Francesa.
Terry Bradshaw, a longtime guest on Benigno’s show, serenaded him with the song "Happy Trails."
There were poetic bits of timing for Benigno’s farewell.
On the day that he departed, his favorite baseball team, the Mets, officially got a new owner in Steve Cohen, who promptly cleaned house in the front office (although there was little discussion of that on Friday’s show). His favorite football team, the Jets, bid him adieu with an 0-8 record.
Benigno noted that he was back in WFAN’s Manhattan studios for the first time since March, then declared his intention never to return — not only to the station but to the city itself.
"After today, if I see New York again, maybe it will be with a Mets World Series," he said.
Benigno did admit getting "a little emotional" during his drive into the city. He is a longtime New Jersey resident but plans to move to Florida soon, the better to focus on his golf game.
Roberts and Benigno provided stability and consistent ratings in middays over 13 years, but they struggled in the race against ESPN New York’s Michael Kay after succeeding Francesa in January.
The station hopes Carton can turn that tide. Russo gave Roberts advice on the air about how to work with Carton and transition to a new pairing.
But the focus was on Benigno, who bonded with listeners as a passionate fan whose Jets rants became a WFAN staple.
"I don’t think there was ever a host on this station that connected with the audience like you connected with the audience," midday host Marc Malusis told Benigno on Friday.
Rolle, a popular midday show guest during his time as a Giant, called Benigno "the voice of New York and New Jersey."
Said Van Gundy, "What a journey. What an absolute, fabulous career."
Before Van Gundy came on, the station played the intro to Benigno’s old overnight show. Van Gundy, the Knicks’ coach in that era, said hearing the old jingle "was like Pavlov’s dog. It sparked something in me."
Francesa noted, as Benigno had, that generational change is afoot at the station. "Our time is done," said Francesa, 66. "We’ve had our day."
Russo, Francesa’s old partner, remembered "Joe from Saddle River" as a caller to his Saturday show in the early 1990s, before Benigno was hired.
When Russo asked Benigno if he will miss working, he said, "I don’t think so. Maybe ask me in three months."
The show ended with recordings of classic overnight callers and Benigno reminiscing with Roberts and producers Ernie Acosta and Ray Martel.
Then Benigno complained about sitting in traffic one last time.
He also said, "I want to thank all the callers, great job as always, could not do it without you . . . Thank you for 25 stellar years — absolutely stellar. And to everybody out there: All the love. God bless you."