Maggie Gray spent most of the year doing what everyone else in local sports media was doing: speculating about Mike Francesa’s successors in afternoon drive time on WFAN.
“This has been fun New York gossip for a really long time,” she said. “I was talking to people: ‘Hey, what do you think? What do you think?’ ”
What she never thought was what came next: Mark Chernoff, the station’s vice president for programming, called.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I asked him: ‘Is this real? How interested are you?’ And they said, ‘We’re very interested,’ and then things started to move very, very quickly.”
This was “not long ago,” she said, declining to put a date on it. By Wednesday, she was being announced as a member of the new crew, with Chris Carlin and Bart Scott, effective Jan. 2.
“It’s been fast,” she said Friday. “It’s been a whirlwind. But it’s been exciting, and everyone is very happy for me.”
By “everyone” Gray presumably meant family and friends, because skepticism about the trio has been rampant on social media.
In the cases of Carlin and Scott, at least those who are not fans have the basis to form an opinion. Gray’s hiring mostly has been met with puzzlement, because it was unforeseen and because of her relatively low media profile.
So let’s meet her, shall we?
Gray, 34, was born and raised in Binghamton, a fan of the Mets, Knicks, Rangers and, most of all, the Bills, a passion introduced to her by an uncle, Wayne Rozen, who had season tickets in their early 1990s heyday.
“It’s something that really bonds us, even the losing,” she said. “It’s like an exercise in futility being a Bills fan. It really tests your will and your strength . . . The Bills are the one thing that I just can’t and won’t ever let go.”
She and her older brother, Geoffrey Gray, an author, journalist and documentary film producer, got to experience hard work firsthand at the restaurant the family owned.
“When I was 6 years old, I passed my first hors d’oeuvres in my pajamas, because the baby-sitter didn’t show up,” she said.
In her senior year of high school, she got an informal internship with the B.C. Icemen of the United Hockey League, helping announcer Jason Weinstein with odd jobs. For the last game, he put her on the air to read the out-of-town scoreboard.
“I kind of got bit by the bug, I guess,” she said. “That fall I went off to [George Washington University] and directly to the radio station and started doing my own radio show in college a week after I had arrived.”
Gray’s first job in New York was at NBA Entertainment, but she wanted to be on camera and landed an assignment covering high school sports for a local cable channel on Staten Island.
From there she was hired at MSG Network after getting a video of her work into the hands of MSG’s Mike Quick. The network was looking for a new sideline reporter. But did she know the rules of . . . lacrosse?
“I said, ‘Yes, I do; I’m from upstate New York!’ ” she recalled.
That door opened others, including initially doing updates at WFAN from midnight to 6 a.m. . . . on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
“I wanted the FAN so badly,” she said. “If you’re a sports broadcaster working in New York, it’s like you have to go to the FAN; you have to. It’s like a rite of passage . . . Just being associated with the FAN in any capacity elevates you.”
Sports Illustrated hired her for her first full-time media job in 2010 as anchor for a new digital video department it was launching, which evolved into a live daily show.
She also has spent four years co-hosting a Saturday morning show on CBS Sports Radio with Marc Malusis.
There were other stops, too. But not of the magnitude of what she will take on Jan. 2.
“Nobody replaces Mike Francesa,” she said. “What he’s done, what he’s built, his legacy, he’s a Hall of Fame broadcaster. I have so much respect for him. I feel like saying we’d be replacing him is really just the wrong way to word it. We’re just coming in after him.”
Gray will be the first woman on WFAN’s daytime schedule since 2001. Scott will be the first African-American in the daytime since 1993.
“Listen, it’s 2017,” Gray said. “It’s great that people in positions of power and authority are looking to expand their horizons. I think it’s also just about chemistry. And for that I don’t know if it matters, male, female, or what race you are. If the chemistry is good, people are going to like it.
“It’s about people cracking the door open a little bit and then just being able to push it open, and hopefully you do that in a smart and funny and entertaining way.”
Gray said she is not bothered by the fact that she was not WFAN’s first choice. Kim Jones and Chris Simms turned down the job in recent weeks. Others were approached earlier in the process.
“I’ve known Kim a really long time,” Gray said. “She’s been so gracious and so great to me . . . I totally understand why she would want to stay at NFL Network. That is a great job. You get to be out at events. It’s a phenomenal job. And If I’m Chris Simms, I’m looking at how his star is rising, watching him on NBC and getting more and more assignments.
“I have nothing but the best to say about both of them, and the fact it sort of fell to me, if you want to say that, I’m just looking at it as this is great timing . . . Maybe it was meant to be. I’m not a huge believer in the cosmos and stuff, but maybe and hopefully there is a reason why it fell to me and hopefully I can do a great job and take advantage of it and give people what they want to hear.”