The persistence of memory: New York radio and New York sportscasting

October 28, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
Oct. 28, 2015

Earlier today, I wrote about the greater New York City metropolitan-area television scene of my youth, which was dominated by New York City. Radio, as I mentioned, was much the same.

I don’t know the channels of various television stations in North Carolina because I have essentially never had a working television in my house during the nearly dozen years that I’ve lived in the state.

I have, however, had a working radio in my home and my car for all of that time, and I’m somewhat familiar with the radio scene down there. I definitely know the frequencies of my favorite Old North State stations, beginning with WUNC North Carolina Public Radio, which is located at 91.5 FM on the radio dial. (Dial — do radios even have those any more?)

But this post isn’t about that. It’s about the New York radio scene.

For years, my family seemed to listen to a single station: WCBS News Radio 880 AM. As the website boasts (even today!), “WCBS 880 is the home of Traffic and Weather Together on the 8’s with Tom Kaminski in Chopper 880 and staff meteorologist Craig Allen.” (Emphasis in original: To be clear, while Kaminski and Allen have been on the job for years, they weren’t part of the station’s core premise, which the station has literally been advertising for decades.)

The motto means, of course, that WCBS offers traffic and weather reports at eight after the hour, 18 minutes after the hour, 28 minutes after the hour and so forth. Given that one of my parents worked in New York City for decades, and that both of my grandparents lived in the city for most of the time their lives and mine overlapped, traffic updates were essential.

There were two other mainstays on the radio scene. One was News-Talk Radio 77 WABC, which broadcast at 770 AM. For years, the WABC show I remember hearing in one of my parent’s cars was that of liberal talker Lynn Samuels.

More significantly, perhaps, WABC carried Yankees games on the radio for a big stretch of my life. In the 1990s, when the Yankees were rounding back into championship form, I spent many a weekend afternoon and weeknight evening listening to John Sterling and Michael Kay call games.

Things changed in 2002, when two things happened: WCBS took over radio broadcast rights for the Yankees and the YES Network, a new cable television channel, was launched by the Yankees and the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. Sterling stayed in the radio broadcast booth, but Kay began announcing games for YES. Charley Steiner took Kay’s spot for three years before being replaced by Suzyn Waldman, who recently completed (by my calculations) her 11th season alongside Sterling.

Another upheaval — perhaps the most shocking one! — came in 2014, when the Yankees flagship radio station switched yet again. That season, the Bronx Bombers became the property of WFAN, a monumental change given that the Fan had carried Mets games for more than a quarter-century, from the moment the station launched in 1987.

During one of my recent visits to the New York metropolitan area, the Mets were in the playoffs — an accomplishment the Yankees could no longer claim after their desultory 3-0 loss to the Houston Astros in the American League wild card game. I was driving somewhere, and I wanted to listen to the game, but, for the first time in years, I had no idea which station I needed to call up on my car radio.

I browsed through the AM bandwidth before landing on WOR 710 AM, which to my mind had long held also-ran status as New York’s other talk-radio station. As I listened, I found something about the broadcast simultaneously odd and comforting: Although the game was on an unfamiliar station, longtime Mets announcer Howie Rose had made the switch to WOR.

There was something cool about that. And if I found it surprising, well, I shouldn’t have; after all, John Sterling has called Yankees games on three different radio stations, hasn’t he?

Anyway, change happens, and life goes on — even if sometimes, you have to do a little hunting before you find the station that’s carrying the playoff game.

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