Late Night Sports Radio

The Best Viola Player in the New York Phil Is a Bum

The Best Viola Player in the New York Phil Is a Bum

Bob from Brooklyn is the voice of reason: “Hey, Tone, this Derek Jeter controversy is a reflection of our society. You know, there’s gotta be a story every 10 minutes. Jeter gets hurt, the Yankees win without him, and all of a sudden he’s a bum. It’s like, let’s let him get his 3000 hits then cut him from the team. It’s ridiculous.”

It’s 3:43 a.m. and I’m listening to the overnight call-in program on WFAN sports radio out of New York, 660 on the AM dial. The station’s 50,000-watt signal reaches my bedside transistor in North Carolina. Advertisers at this hour are strip clubs, horse tracks, and erectile-dysfunction drug manufacturers. The phone lines are full. Tony Paige, the mild-mannered overnight host, is taking calls.

Paige: “We should be able to enjoy the historical perspective of what Jeter’s doing. The first Yankee ever to get 3000 hits? Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio, and Mickey Mantle never got 3000 hits. Before we kick Jeter in the shin we should appreciate what he’s doing.”

There’s a spot for White Castle’s frozen mail-order chicken rings, then a spot for the Kars-4-Kids automobile donation program. A couple of callers argue about whether the Mets playing .500-ball at mid-season is good or bad.

Late night local sports radio is tremendous entertainment, a vestige of vernacular, and a guilty pleasure. In 1980, at age 13, I realized I could pick up Pete Franklin on WWWE in Cleveland and Phil Wood on WTOP in Washington-Baltimore from my childhood home in coastal North Carolina. I was hooked. My commitment to WFAN, which was founded in 1987, was sealed in 1988 when I spent a college summer living on Waverly Place in Manhattan.

Hector from Harlem (or was it Nick from New Jersey?): “Tony, Jeter needs to learn how to accept a lesser role, like Yogi Berra did. He can’t hit .300 anymore and he doesn’t have the range at shortstop. He could learn a new position and bat lower in the order, or come off the bench, like Yogi did.”

According to the New York Daily News in May, WFAN’s morning drive time show is the top radio program in New York City for males age 25-54 at that hour; WNYC: New York Public Radio is second. WNYC’s Sara Fishko and I once pondered a 24-hour arts station, when at 4 a.m., somebody would call in and bellow, “The first viola player in the New York Phil is a bum. There’s a guy in Argentina who crushes him.”

Perhaps someday. Meanwhile, news announcer Harris Allen comes on WFAN at the top of the hour to offer the latest roundup of scores and news. Allen gives it his best. At 4:05 a.m. I’m back to sleep.

Credit: "New York at Night," Berenice Abbott, 1936

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