WFAN was the first 24-hour sports talk radio station, which naturally meant that it had to come up with someone to handle the most daunting of those hours.
Enter Steve Somers — soon to be known as “Captain Midnight” — who from Night One in 1987 created a genre that endures well into the 21st century.
As does Somers, still a WFAN host at age 70.
“An old fart,” he said one recent morning at 2 a.m. after completing his late-night-but-not-quite-overnight shift and shortly after returning from an illness-related hiatus. “I’m the oldest guy here, I’m sure.”
Somers said that in the summer of 1987 he was happy just to have a job, but he quickly came to embrace it.
“I was younger, and it was working,” he said. “The reaction was positive. I was so happy, and even though it was crazy hours, I was having a good time. You can say overnight is not prime time. But it was prime-time hours to me. I was having so much fun. And everything was new.
“The approach, the production, working with [producer] Eddie Scozzare . . . I used to think it was like a baby contemplating fingers and toes for the first time, finding a style. You put in all the effort and work and time and preparation. You don’t know if it’s going to work with an audience. But it seemed as if it was working.”
So much so that Somers initially balked when asked to move to middays alongside Russ Salzberg in 1995, and was replaced overnight by Joe Benigno.
Somers said the fact that overnight local sports talk was unheard of at the time gave him license to try new things.
“We were using the medium, production, sound effects, sort of like a morning show,” he said. “I think overnight we had poetic license to do this stuff. The purist wasn’t going to like it, I’m sure.”
The hours did not bother him, as he has been a night owl since childhood. “It wasn’t hard,” he said. “It just meant so much for me to be here, and it still does.”
At first, the station considered filling overnights with syndicated programming or repeats of daytime shows. Somers said he considers himself lucky it decided to go with a live, local program.
His fans include “Jerry from Queens,” also known as Jerry Sein feld. Somers was the first at the station to use the greater freedom of the overnight hours to forge particularly close bonds with callers and listeners.
“I loved it,” he said. “I got to know the callers, they got to know me a little bit. With time to fill overnight I can talk about family. I can talk about anything and everything under the sun.”