Tony Paige has been in sports media long enough to know many people do not get to leave on their own timetable, so he decided to be one of the fortunate few who do.
“I have had so many jobs where jobs are being eliminated, the department’s been sold, you know the job is going to hit the iceberg, so it’s time to get off,” he said.
“I just figured it would be nice to leave on my own and open the door for myself instead of someone opening it for me.”
Thus did he announce on his WFAN show early Tuesday morning that he will retire after his Sept. 14 show, ending the longest stretch for an overnight host in the station’s 32-year history.
After first working at WFAN in 1995, he has been at the station continuously since 2003. He turns 66 on Sept. 11.
“There’s nothing wrong,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “I’m not mad at anybody. I’m not being forced out. I’m not disappointed in anything. It was just time to do something else.”
Early in 2018, Paige missed a month of work after having a cancerous tumor on a kidney removed. He said he is healthy now. Last May, he told Newsday he probably would stay at the station only for another year or so.
“I don’t want to die on the air,” he said then. “At some point I want to wrap it up and find something else. I’ll be 65 in September. I’m like, how the hell did that happen? I’m 65 all of a sudden. I’m supposed to be 40.”
Paige also said in that interview he took pride in being one of the few African-American hosts in WFAN history.
“I always thought hopefully there’s some black kid, or black woman, listening that maybe they might want to try this,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy, but I’d like to see more black people, women, everybody get involved.”
Last fall Paige told the station he was leaning toward leaving, but he did not want to give himself a long farewell by announcing it then. “I didn’t want to make this into the ‘Tony Paige Memorial Show,’” he said.
But he did want to give some public notice. “I have a nice rapport with my listeners and thought I owed it to them, like, ‘Hey, I’m going to leave in three months,’” he said.
The station has not announced a succession plan, but the most likely scenario is increased shifts for Paige’s fellow overnight host, John Jastremski, who also is viewed as a potential future host for daytime slots.
Paige, whose specialty long has been boxing, plans to continue freelance writing, to cover boxing for international television and eventually to do some teaching.
His announcement brought an outpouring of appreciation on the air and on social media, including a tweet from WFAN afternoon host Mike Francesa, who wrote, “Congratulations to Tony Paige on his retirement. Always a gentleman, he had a terrific career.”
“I’m speechless,” Paige said of the reaction. “I just do my job and figure I’ll leave and that’s it.”
He credited his parents for raising him to be respectful to others.
“It’s really nice to be appreciated,” he said. “I wish I could meet all the callers we’ve had over the years. It’s like family.”
The overnight lifestyle is not easy, and it gets less easy over time.
“I’ve noticed in the last couple of months or so, sometimes that 3 or 4 [a.m.] hour I’m fading, and I was like, ‘This didn’t used to happen,’” he said. “I think it’s just catching up with me a little bit. I don’t want them to be telling me, ‘I think it’s time for you to go.’ . . . It’s nice to leave when you don’t have to.”
Paige said the fact he is leaving on Sept. 14 rather than on his birthday is a tribute to his late mother, who was to retire from her job at Harlem Hospital on her 65th birthday.
“Her birthday was on a Tuesday, so she went to work on Wednesday, went to work on Thursday,” Paige said. “I said, ‘Ma, I thought you were retiring. Why are you still working?’ She said, ‘Because I’m getting my last full check. I’m working ‘til Friday.’
“So I looked at a calendar and saw my birthday’s on a Wednesday and figured I might as well finish out the week and get my last full check,” he said, laughing. “I’m not leaving any money on the table. Give me my full week.”