New WFAN program director Spike Eskin.

New WFAN program director Spike Eskin. Credit: WFAN

On the surface, Brett "Spike" Eskin is a radical departure from Mark Chernoff, his predecessor at the day-to-day helm of WFAN.

He’s a generation younger. He’s got far more tattoos. He grew up in the Philadelphia area, for goodness’ sake.

But the station’s new vice president of programming said on Wednesday that he will take his time before making significant changes after taking over on July 1 from Chernoff, who was on the job for nearly three decades.

"I would tell listeners nothing that I do, no decision that I make, I don't think will be big-splash type decisions," Eskin told Newsday in a phone interview. "The radio station doesn't demand that right now.

"When I took over WIP (in Philadelphia), we were in a really bad place, in a really compromised place. It was a radio station that needed drastic decisions. I don't think WFAN is in that position."

Eskin, 44, said he will spend his first few months getting to know his personnel. He likened his incremental plans to steering a cruise ship onto a new course by a couple of degrees, or seeing a co-worker lose 40 pounds, changes that might not be noticeable in the short term, until they are.

"I don't think that would be showing a ton of respect to the people that are there who are succeeding right now," he said. "So I would be confident in saying that if you look back in a year or two, you will see a stamp that I have made on the radio station, but it won't be something that you wake up and say, ‘Wow! That’s different!’"

Eskin had been program director at WIP – a corporate sibling of WFAN – since 2014 and is steeped in Philly-area media. His father, Howard, is a longtime and at times controversial sports media personality in that city.

But by moving from on-air work – both in music and sports – to management, the younger Eskin has blazed his own trail and now will make the leap from a big market to the biggest.

"When you get into radio, or when I did when I was 18 or 19, the goal was always to get here, was to do this," he said, recalling how he evolved from a young "Howard Stern guy" listening to K-Rock to a sports talk guy.

He said he relished the challenge of the New York market and the opportunity to work with the station’s hosts, aided by his comfort level with Chris Oliviero, who oversees WFAN for Audacy, its parent company.

"It just sort of felt like the stars aligned in a lot of different ways," he said.

One of Eskin’s top tasks, and a key reason he got the gig, is to help WFAN reach beyond terrestrial radio.

"I see my job there as preparing the brand for the next 10 or 20 years," he said. "It’s done an amazing job of being what it is for the 35 years it's been here. So I don't think you do that suddenly, and I don't think you ever do that drastically.

He views the digital space as a chance to super-serve and engage fans more than the over-the-air product can.

"Seeing Craig (Carton) and Evan (Roberts) playing Wiffle ball in the hallways, that’s something that you can't do on the air, and even if you describe it, it doesn't work," Eskin said.

"But as you take a video of it and expose it to people as this extra thing, I think it creates texture and it connects you in a different way at a different time than you are able to do on the air."

WFAN’s daytime lineup seems set for now, but like his predecessors Eskin said a priority is increasing the station’s gender and racial diversity, an area in which most of sports radio, he said, "has done a less-than-admirable job."

Despite growing up in the Philadelphia area, Eskin said he always has had a broader view of sports, including New York teams. (He was at Game 6 of the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium as a 10-year-old.)

Still, he acknowledged it will be an adjustment moving to a market with multiple teams in every major sport.

"Learning how New York sports fans think and how they operate and their relationship with WFAN, learning that is part of the challenge," he said. "If it was exactly like Philadelphia was, I might as well just stay in Philadelphia. So I'm well aware of what I don't know."

Eskin said "everybody in Philadelphia, if they like sports, likes the Eagles . . . That is not the case in New York, and that is a really interesting dynamic, to know that even if the Yankees have won 15 straight games, not every baseball fan in New York is excited or even interested in that."

That was one of many matters Chernoff spoke about to Eskin in advance of the transition, something for which Eskin said he is deeply grateful.

"I could have walked into landmine after landmine after landmine," he said, "but I didn't because he's been so supportive."

Now it is Eskin’s cruise ship to steer.

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