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LIer Gregg Giannotti going national on CBS Sports Radio

Gregg Giannotti does not turn down requests for his famous Joe Benigno impersonation -- "It makes a lot of people happy," he said -- but the Bellport High alum has proved to be more than just a guy who can mimic familiar voices.

Starting Friday, he will become CBS Sports Radio's national morning co-host alongside Brian Jones, the latest stop on a rapid rise during which he went from producing for Benigno and Evan Roberts at WFAN to five years as a sports talk host in Pittsburgh.

On one hand, leaving Pittsburgh was more difficult than he ever anticipated it would be.

"I went into it thinking this was going to be like going to college again -- learn, come back in a couple of years, like an extended business trip," he said. "I ended up developing all these great relationships."

Still, the new gig means "coming back home," and that proved irresistible for a guy who grew up in Brookhaven Hamlet, attended Hofstra and now plans to live in Great Neck and commute into Manhattan -- where he will work out of the same studio Benigno and Roberts used when he was their producer.

There is one problem with the coming-home thing: Giannotti must accept the odd reality of working in New York but not being heard by New Yorkers -- other than those who listen online.

CBS Radio, which owns WFAN, long has been expected to move its national programming into either the FAN's AM or FM signal, but so far that has not happened.

"Even though we're not on in New York, it's just being back," Giannotti said. "It's just being back in that building, being around family and friends, people I grew up in the business with.

"It's really a prideful thing the powers that be at CBS looked around and said we want to have a real entertaining morning show," he said. "I'm going to do everything I can to make people take notice."

Giannotti and Jones will succeed Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney, who are moving to the 9 a.m.-to-noon shift, and Dana Jacobson, who returned her focus to television.

Inevitably, Giannotti's gift for impersonation will come into play. He said he once pretended to be Benigno for a five-minute phone conversation with Benigno's wife, Terry, in the old WFAN studios in Astoria "and she didn't know the difference."

Giannotti said he tries to use his impersonations as an "accoutrement" rather than a central part of his show.

Like many people, he does Chris "Mad Dog'' Russo. "But you get lightheaded after a while," he said.

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