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Original Issue

Talk Around the Clock


Hi, I'm Steve from Manhattan, and I'm in my 23rd hour of listening to WFAN, 66 AM on the dial, New York's all-sports, all-day, all-night radio station. Now, in the wee hours of Saturday, Sept. 1, I'm listening to talk-show host Jody McDonald complain about his hay fever. It's 4 a.m. Do I know where my brain is?

No, but I do know where my finger is, and it's punching the buttons for 1-718-937-6666. Busy. What should we talk about, Jody and I? Should the Mets give Darryl Strawberry the big bucks he wants? Busy. Are tennis players big babies, or what? Busy. Listen, Jody, I really like your show, and I'm sorry about your hay fever. Busy....

My broadcast day began at 5:30 Friday morning. Shortly after Charles McCord read the news, an unmistakable voice came on the air and said, "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash. So glad you're mine...."

Another voice said, "Wait a minute, this is a sports show."

"Really? Well, then, Hello, I'm Jennifer Cappellini...."

It was time for the infamous Imus in the Morning, quack, quack, a sometimes hilarious, often tasteless mixture of satire, misogyny, car commercials, interviews, homophobia and, last but least, sports. Don Imus, a fixture on WNBC for years, was coopted by WFAN when it took over WNBC's signal two years ago, and his program remains one of the highest rated morning drive-time shows in New York.

The U.S. Open was in town, and the first tennis player to get it that morning was Jennifer Capriati. "She'll be having Prince's baby in another year or two," said Imus. Capriati got off easy. Steffi Graf could be very attractive, Imus said, "if she had that beak of hers fixed.... She could break into the coin box of a phone booth with that thing." Most of the venom was reserved for Martina Navratilova and her entourage, and Steve from Manhattan can't believe that Imus gets away with his gay-bashing. He's like Andrew Dice Clay, only funny, and thus more dangerous.

Also wounded in the crossfire that morning were New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley, author William Styron, Jet coach Bruce Coslet, the Newark Star-Ledger, Dan and Marilyn Quayle, Ford-ham University, Dan Rather, Jesse Jackson, Chris Evert, Donald Trump and Imus himself. Imus, though, rolled over like a puppy for his two guests, Bud Collins of NBC and Lesley Visser of CBS. Imus's sign-off at 10 a.m. was this pronouncement:

"This concludes the entertainment portion of the WFAN broadcasting day. WFAN now presents the rest of its programming schedule, 86½ hours of imbecilic prattle between contemptibly limited provincial program hosts talking on the telephone to a band of 13 equally insignificant housebound agoraphobes with sports obsessions."

The 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. slot on WFAN is usually reserved for Dave Sims and Ed Coleman, but Coleman was on vacation, leaving Sims alone to chat with his guests and callers ("Hi, this is Mike from Bay Ridge..."). Sims and his producer had obviously worked hard, lining up interviews with Lawrence Taylor's agent, Joe Courrege; USA network tennis commentator Diana Nyad; SPORTS ILLUSTRATED college football editor Steve Robinson; New York Jet defensive tackle Marvin Washington; and Howard Walker, publisher of the Satellite Watch Newsletter. In case you're wondering about that last guest, the NFL and the networks were talking about scrambling their signals to prevent bar owners from pulling in distant games...oh, never mind.

Sims is a good interviewer, but Steve from Manhattan thought this was as good a time as any to paint the ceiling. The best thing to come out of the show was the prediction by Nyad that there would be no major upsets among the women the first week of the U.S. Open because there was too big a gap between the top players and the rest. Soon after, word came from Flushing Meadow that Linda Ferrando of Italy, ranked 82nd in the world, had upset No. 3 seed Monica Seles of Yugoslavia.

"The Fan," as the station is billed, justifies itself when important sports news breaks, such as Seles's loss and, later that day, some big last-minute acquisitions by the Mets. But on a slow news day WFAN is just one tower of babble. The station has taken to giving updates on the situation in the Middle East, but mixed in with the deluge of scores and sports chat, hard news sounds like an update of the Mideast regional.

From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday, WFAN goes live to Mickey Mantle's restaurant on New York's Central Park South for the Amazin', Bill Mazer. His main guest on Friday was Billy Taylor, a former running back for the Giants who did TV analysis for the Jets' preseason games. Taylor was very glib and clearly better than Mazer's guest the day before (Steve from Manhattan), but the only thing I remember about the show is Taylor describing his dessert.

From 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., WFAN usually has the Mike and the Mad Dog Show, starring Mike Francesa and Christopher (Mad Dog) Russo, and, I must admit, I was really looking forward to hearing from Russo, who has developed almost a cult following in New York. But every Dog will have his day off, and Friday was Russo's. Francesa flew solo from Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands, N.J., in anticipation of that night's Kickoff Classic between USC and Syracuse. He had a full complement of guests: University of Miami AD Sam Jankovich; John Hadley, an associate editor of The Sporting News; Robert Mulcahy, president and CEO of the Meadowlands complex; Tom Luicci of the Star-Ledger; former USC tailback and Heisman Trophy winner Charles White; and Syracuse football coach Dick MacPherson.

Francesa's conversation with MacPherson took place over the phone, which was funny because they were both in the stadium. I pictured the two of them talking into tin cans with a string between them.

During the show the news broke that the Mets had just acquired second baseman Tommy Herr from the Phillies, and Francesa scored an interview with Mets senior VP Al Harazin. John from Jersey—or was it Frank from Old Bethpage?—called to say, "Tommy Herr! I can't believe it! I'm pinchin' myself." I, too, was pinchin' myself, but only because I was beginning to nod off. And I was only halfway home. Time to make dinner.

And time for Mets Extra with Howie Rose, the pregame show for the Mets-Giants broadcast on WFAN. One guest was Mets manager Bud Harrelson. He said he was happy to have Herr and new catcher Charlie O'Brien, but he didn't sound as excited as, say, Frank from Jersey—or was it John from Old Bethpage?

The game itself was a real treat. Baseball plays so well on radio, and in young Gary Cohen and old Bob Murphy the Mets have two excellent announcers. Even better, the game was exciting, with the Mets winning in the ninth. After the game, Rose switched to a guy in Houston, who described, live, a ninth-inning finish in which the Astros beat the Pirates. That put the Mets within half a game of Pittsburgh.

The game and the trades flushed out the Mets fans. Bill from White Plains—or maybe it was John from the Bronx—called to say that what the Mets really needed before baseball's mid-night trade deadline, half an hour away, was Vince Coleman. Rose treated the suggestion seriously. "The trouble with that," he said, "is what do you do with Kevin McReynolds? If you put him in center to make room for Coleman, that means you have to sit down Daryl Boston, and he's playing way too well." I said out loud, "C'mon, Howie," and then I realized I was becoming one of them. I looked under my bed for a pod.

I began to get sleepy, very sleepy...and the next thing I knew, someone was reading me the box scores. "McGee, oh for four, one run, one RBI. Canseco, oh for four...." Get a life!

But then I don't know what's worse, reading box scores or talking seriously about professional wrestling, which was what Jody McDonald and his guest, independent wrestling promoter Rich Mancuso, did from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. A guy called in and asked whether the Four Horsemen were good guys or bad guys. I wanted to call in and ask, which Four Horsemen, the ones from the National Wrestling Alliance or the ones from the Apocalypse? In fact, I began feeling a little like Kurtz, the Marlon Brando character in Apocalypse Now! I had gone deeper and deeper into a world I had never known before.

People called in to nominate their candidates for the Geek of the Week award, and something about glass houses popped into my mind. Somebody asked Jody Mac if he thought Strawberry got robbed of the MVP in 1986. A guy mistakenly called John Franco Julio Franco, and Jody, whose hay fever must have made him cranky, jumped all over him. When Jody referred to the Pirates' G.M. as Larry Dougherty, I leapt to the phone.

"That's Larry Doughty, Jody," I would have said. Busy signal. Maybe I could give him a cure for hay fever: Stay indoors for 24 hours, listening to WFAN. Nah, that would turn his brain into mush. Busy. Hey, Jody, do you think Ted Williams got robbed of the MVP in 1941? Busy.

After 25 calls and 24 hours, Steve from Manhattan gave up. WFAN was too busy for him. And vice versa.