It was a milestone in radio history, and in New York sports history. But it also was a personal milestone for the woman at the center of it.
One minute, Suzyn Waldman was uttering the first words on WFAN, an update at 3 p.m. on July 1, 1987, that led with a Yankees victory over the Blue Jays.
The next minute, she was overhearing a high-ranking station executive say, “Get that smart-ass [expletive] with the Boston accent off my air in afternoon drive.”
“It was a rude awakening,” she said told Newsday earlier this month. “But it was at that moment that everything changed.
“It wasn’t just, ‘We’re going to build something.’ It was, ‘We’re going to build something and I’m going to be part of it whether you like it or not.’ It was that second.”
And 35 years later, the station still is going strong as a New York sports media institution, but since its last major anniversary in 2017, it has seen a wave of departures among longtime voices — some voluntary, some less so.
Among those who have left, at least from full-time roles, have been hosts Tony Paige, Mike Francesa, Joe Benigno and Steve Somers, update men John Minko, Harris Allen and Bob Heussler, Mets reporter Ed Coleman and longtime program director Mark Chernoff.
Somers, Minko and Coleman were station originals.
The only July 1, 1987, originals left are producer Dov Kramer — whose service has been continuous — Ann Liguori, a host and reporter who specializes in golf, former producer and current sales executive Bob Gelb, and Waldman.
Waldman, 75, can relate to the generational change. She recalled in the early years younger staffers waiting for old-timers to make way for them and their fresher ideas.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is great, but now it’s time to let us take over, because you guys have had your moment,” she said. “So now I’m on the other side of that.”
Waldman is heard now more than ever. In 2014, the Yankees moved to WFAN, and with them came Waldman and John Sterling, her radio partner since 2005.
It is a long way from that early overheard remark and a subsequent decision to send her to the overnight shift, which she saw as an attempt to get her to quit.
Instead, she and Somers bonded in the wee hours, and she said Somers taught her much of what she needed to know in a business she adopted relatively late in life after a career in musical theater.
“So what they tried to do to me kind of backfired,” she said.
Waldman got the honor of the first update because she had been assigned to afternoon drive time with Pete Franklin, a sports talk star in Cleveland who was to be the new station’s centerpiece.
But Franklin was ill, and Jim Lampley filled in. The negative reaction to her first update, and the fact that it was tied to her gender, came as a shock because that was not an issue in the theater.
“It was exactly at that moment that I went, ‘Oh my God, this is not what I thought it was going to be,’ ” she said.
But Lampley advised her to “just keep going,” and so she did.
With Franklin out, Waldman worked with a series of fill-in hosts. That was how she first met Sterling, then working in Atlanta. He came in during the All-Star break.
Former Red Sox star Jimmy Piersall was another fill-in. Waldman had been a babysitter for his children.
Waldman did not think she was good at updates and eventually created the role of daily radio beat reporter, covering the Yankees and Knicks, among other things.
But after all these years, she retains the distinction of being the station’s first voice, even if she immediately discovered that not everyone was pleased that she was the one to have that honor.
“The whole thing rattled me,” she said. “I did not think I was going to have producers taking my tapes and cutting them up to make me look like I’m an idiot on the air, which continues to be done, by the way.
“And I did not think I was going to have to deal with getting used condoms in the mail or feces in the mail or being made fun of by my own colleagues.”
Waldman admits to being “very sensitive and very emotional,” but she also has proved to be a survivor.
“I don’t know if I’ve worn down the critics, but I’m still here,” she said. “I mean, it’s 35 years, and I’m still here and I’ve had a terrific career.”
It began on an early summer afternoon in 1987, when she said this:
“Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the first broadcast of WFAN, all-sports 1050. You’re sharing a part of radio history with us today. This is the beginning of the first 24-hour-a-day sports station. I’m Suzyn Waldman.”
“I don’t know if I've worn down the critics, but I’m still here I mean, it's 35 years, and I'm still here and I've had a terrific career.” — Suzyn Waldman