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Queens Chronicle

WFAN Turns 20

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Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2007 12:00 am

On July 1, 1987, WFAN made its debut on the 1050 spot on the AM dial from Kaufman Astoria Studios. Nowadays, nearly every city has at least one all-sports radio station, but WFAN was the first 50,000-watt station in a major market to try this format.

From the moment the station turned on its signal, WFAN was making history and changing the radio face of sports. The ratings were so-so for the first year of its operation and it wasn’t until Emmis Broadcasting, WFAN’s owner at the time, bought the rights to WNBC’s 660 AM slot in October 1988, that the station’s ratings began to improve.

WFAN tried to make a splash by signing big-name sports media personalities at the time, such as Jim Lampley, Lou Boda and Pete Franklin, but the station really did not hit ratings pay dirt until fall 1989, when then program director Mark Mason paired little-known radio host Mike Francesa, a St. John’s alum who had been quietly working at CBS Sports for several years, with a former weekend talk show host on WMCA, Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo, in the all-important afternoon drive time slot.

Along the way, the pair has nabbed a Marconi Award as well.

This week, WFAN will celebrate its 20th anniversary by inviting back many of the personalities who were with the station at one time or another, such as New York sports broadcasting icon Bill Mazer, Forest Hills native Ian Eagle, and the aforementioned Lampley to do an airshift during the first week of July.

Also hosting shows this weekend will be the vastly underrated Mets pre-game host and occasional announcer Ed Coleman, and the humorous Steve Somers, who smartly treats sports as lighthearted entertainment.

A shout-out as well to WFAN producer, Elmhurst native and loyal Queens Chronicle reader John Schweibacher, who has been there almost since day one as well.

Many Mets fans bought tickets in advance for last weekend’s series with the Oakland Athletics in hopes of seeing Mike Piazza play one last time at Shea. Unfortunately, Piazza was still on the disabled list from an injured shoulder sustained in May at Fenway Park when he collided with Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell while sliding into third base.

In a classy move, Athletics manager Bob Geren followed the advice of a sportswriter, who suggested that Piazza bring the lineup card to the home plate umpire during the traditional pre-game ceremony so that Mets fans could once again acknowledge him for his tremendous past contributions to their team. Piazza tipped his cap three times and blew a kiss to the crowd Saturday night in response to their thunderous standing ovation.

This weekend’s four-game series with the Phillies will certainly be a harbinger of how things will go for the Amazins in the second half of the season. Philadelphia has rebounded from a terrible start to challenge the Mets’ once-large lead in the NL East. Led by reigning NL MVP Ryan Howard and second baseman Chase Utley, the Phillies figure to be competitive all season.

Mets outfielder Shawn Green, the team’s first Jewish player in 35 years, announced last Thursday that he would donate $180 to the United Jewish Appeal, a philanthropic agency, for every RBI he collects. We wish him mazel tov.

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