The advent of 24-hour sports talk radio in 1987 delivered a shock to professional media members and sports figures alike: the voice of fans, who turned out to be even more cranky than journalists.
Previously, they mostly were limited to booing in stadiums, venting to friends and perhaps writing letters to editors. But here they were, free to complain over 50,000 watts.
Enter Joe Benigno, who as much as anyone in the history of the genre embodied a fan’s sensibility as a longtime caller who later became a host, first on overnights, then in middays and finally in afternoon drive time.
That was why after 25 years on WFAN, his retirement announcement on Wednesday resonated as the loss of an original character in the station’s history.
"This is it for me," he said at the top of his show with partner Evan Roberts. "I definitely will be retiring, leaving the station as far as doing full-time stuff." (He is set to make occasional appearances.)
Benigno’s final show with Roberts will be Nov. 6, after which he plans to focus on his passion for golf, including moving to Florida to pursue it, a goal he has spoken of for years.
"It’s time to go for me," he said. "I don’t think there’s any question about it. What else can you say? It’s been a great run. It’s been a stellar 25 years."
He was right on both counts. It was a great run for a 67-year-old who began on the station as the caller "Joe from Saddle River."
But it also was time. Benigno struggled in the ratings upon moving with Roberts to afternoons in January after a 13-year run in middays — the COVID-19 pandemic didn't help — and he increasingly has struggled with the 24-hour-a-day pace of modern media.
Roberts often finds himself getting Benigno up to speed on developments that have been picked over on social media for hours, and Benigno’s audience has aged with him on a station hoping to attract younger listeners.
But none of that takes away from his legacy, in which during his heyday his take on awful Jets losses was must-hear radio. He made his signature phrase, "Oh, the pain," a symbol of shared heartache. Also this: "What a disaster!"
Benigno even was on brand during his announcement when he said, "Twenty-five years on the air, bro, 25 years, and not one of my teams won a championship," referring to the Jets, Mets, Knicks and Rangers.
Benigno survived a 2018 lawsuit filed by a former employee accusing him of making inappropriate advances, returning to the air after a summerlong leave of absence.
WFAN did not announce a replacement. It likely will be former morning host Craig Carton, who is expected to be paired with Roberts, perhaps as soon as Nov. 9.
But on Wednesday, the story was Benigno, who was praised by many callers and guests such as Michael Irvin and Ray Lucas.
Benigno said that if someone had told him when it began how his radio career would unfold, "I would have said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding, man.’ It’s unreal."
He correctly noted that he and later Roberts solidified the midday slot, which for years was a casting merry-go-round. "Shows would come and go like the wind," he said. "It was almost like Jets coaches in midday."
For all his loyalty to his other teams, it always came back to the Jets, who as Benigno noted will be 0-8 when he leaves, barring a historic upset of Kansas City. Perfect.
"You are the voice of Jets fandom," Roberts said. "You have been, and you will continue to be. It’s a very tough thing that you hold, but it’s true.
"I know it’s not the most ideal thing, but you are the voice of the fans of this horrible football team."
Chris Oliviero, who oversees WFAN for Entercom, in a news release called Benigno "the quintessential New York sports fan" and "one of the most successful and enduring hosts" in the station’s history.
True and true.
"It’s been a lot of fun," Benigno said. "It’s been a crazy ride. I’ve accomplished more than I ever, ever could have imagined in my life."
Oh, the pain: Joe B's teams
In his 25 years on WFAN, Joe Benigno never saw one of his teams win a championship. A look how each of his favorite teams -- Jets, Mets, Rangers, Knicks -- performed since Benigno went on the air.
Jets: 181-226*, reached AFC championship three times.
Mets: 2,047-2,044, reached World Series twice.
Knicks: 867-1,119, reached NBA Finals once.
Rangers: 919-765-91-147, reached Stanley Cup Final once.
* Reflects 0-7 so far this season.