Longtime Listener, First-Time Caller
A drive along the Taconic, the Gowanus Expressway, over the Goethals Bridge, listening to the oddly delightful sports drone of 660 AM, aka WFAN, is as essential a New York experience as seeing the Rockettes at Radio City or devouring a mustard-and-kraut-smothered Sabrett on 49th and Lex.
Whether it’s Boomer and Gio on your morning commute, Joe Benigno in the afternoon, or the so-called “Schmooze” with Steve Somers at some ungodly hour, when any sane resident of the five boroughs would choose sleep over a fervid debate on the New York Jets’ secondary, the FAN — which in 1987 became the first all-sports 24/7 radio station in the US — is a guilty pleasure.
The phone lines are open, and calls come in from Joey in Yonkers or Kevin in Canarsie, eager to air out their opinions on the allegedly overpaid and oft-injured slugger Giancarlo Stanton, on the futility of the Yankees’ rotation.
“I do not like that pitcher who pitched the first game!” growls Jerome from Manhattan, an apparently tortured Yankees fan. “If I see that guy on the mound, I’m turning off the set! When is [GM Brian] Cashman gonna make a move?!?!? I don’t care what it takes to get the guy from Cleveland in there! HE HAS TO GET A PITCHER! IF THEY DON’T, THEY ARE DONE!”
On a recent September evening, after the Mets, going into the bottom of the ninth with a seemingly safe 10-4 cushion against the host Washington Nationals, coughed up seven runs to lose in walk-off fashion, Somers told listeners, “This is just one very, very hard loss.”
“Diaz, of course, solidifying his place in Pitching Hell for the New York Metropolitans,” he continued, using his preferred handle for his favorite team. “This is just an incredible, incredible loss. Just incredible. There are some things you can’t believe even if you have seen them with your own eyes. Some. Things. You. Just. Can’t. Believe.”
You’d think the sky was falling over Queens, that Famous Ray’s had given up on the novelty of the pizza slice.
But that’s just how passionate sports fans, even nasal-voiced disc jockeys, are in the Tri-State Area, that traffic-congested convergence of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, especially when it comes to baseball. They’ve experienced both October elation and all-out heartbreak. And, in many ways, they enjoy wallowing in their team’s shortcomings as much as they do a good pennant chase.
If you’re looking for an update on the out-of-town scoreboard, fagettaboutit, look elsewhere on the dial. Heard of the East Coast bias? That’s nothing. In this Gotham-centric world, it’s as if Major League Baseball’s other 28 teams don’t even exist. But if you tuned in for some New York flavor, the real Bronx Cheer, so to speak, this is as genuine as it gets.
“You have to keep in mind that New Yorkers — especially sports fans in the five boroughs — aren’t always keen on national sports subjects,” wrote Tim Sullivan in his 2013 book Imus, Mike and the Mad Dog, and Doris from Rego Park: The Groundbreaking History of WFAN. “Give them the Yankees and the Mets, give them the Giants and the Jets, and skip the boxing, the college football, and the NASCAR, thank you very much. It’s a different place.”
“New Yorkers expect nothing but excellence from their teams,” says Franklin Cho, a lifelong Mets fan who grew up in Brooklyn. “Teams, managers and players are always under the scrutiny of abrasive, loud-talking, diehard fans who love you one year and hate you the next. If you’re not performing up to expectations, don’t expect your stay to be long.”
“We don’t all root for the same teams,” he adds. “You choose sides. Mets or Yankees. Nets or Knicks. Jets or Giants. Islanders or Rangers. No other fans can ever understand this intra-city dynamic and the prolonged shouting matches that come with it. Be prepared for trash talking on everything ranging from number of championships won to team payroll to turf wars around MetLife Stadium. Contentious, chaotic and obnoxious — but for those who grew up in the greatest city in the world, just another day.”
Though he was raised in Connecticut, Mike Suppe gravitated toward the New York sports scene early on, mostly due to its unavoidable reach. He became a Yanks, Knicks and Rangers convert. His favorite after-school activity was tuning into Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN, the afternoon staple hosted by Mike Francesa and Chris Russo over 15 years between 1989 and 2004. (Russo has since moved on to Sirius XM.)
“It’s a different cut of fan,” says Suppe, now 36. “The size of the marketplace combined with the size of the fanbases, the greatness or ineptitude of the teams, makes it fun. It’s a unique combination, a perfect storm.”
Suppe was such a devotee that, in 2014, he attended the first-ever FrancesaCon in Manhattan, an annual gathering of the revered radio host’s most ardent fans, the self-dubbed Mongo Nation.
It was, well, different. One listener dressed up as the Diet Coke Pope (an ode to both Francesa’s on-air drink of choice and his nickname, the Sports Pope). Silver-haired wigs were aplenty. And the man of the hour? He was nowhere to be found.
“Mike wasn’t even there,” recalls Suppe with a laugh. “It was Amir Khan, the boxer. It was Jeff Cumberland, who was a backup tight end on the Jets. There might have been one other quasi-celebrity who showed up. It was at some random bar in the city. Mike couldn’t be bothered to even acknowledge it or show up.”
But it didn’t really matter. It was the organic pull of it that resonated most, a community coming together via word of mouth (and the Internet) to talk sports.
“It was a bunch of like-minded people,” says Suppe.
All those years of tuning into WFAN would steer Suppe toward his own career in sports media. A journalism major at UConn, he initially went into newspapers and, eventually, was hired to chat about sports on Connecticut-based HAN Radio.
He’s a prime example of a generation of sports nuts who grew up on the genre and are now spreading the word with the kind of zeal Steve Somers once said “exceeds the passion and energy of the players and teams that they root for. The ones that they watch every day, the ones that they live and die for.”