Joking? White Sox owner Reinsdorf roasts founder of sports talk radio

Jerry Reinsdorf never has been a fan of sports talk radio. And he has let his good friend Jeff Smulyan know it through the years.

The Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner took the chance to rib Smulyan Saturday at a 25th anniversary celebration for sports talk radio in Chicago. Smulyan received the lifetime achievement award for founding the first sports talk station, WFAN in New York, in 1987.

Reinsdorf appeared in a highly entertaining video. Keep in mind that this event also was billed as a roast. So Reinsdorf’s needle definitely was out. Then again, if you know Reinsdorf, his jokes probably aren’t too far from his true feelings.

Reinsdorf: Congratulations on receiving the award tonight. There’s nothing in the world that could have made me show up for a dinner or anywhere else. You certainly have the undying, lasting envy of every sports owner and athlete in sports as the guy who created sports radio. Before you came along, the only thing we had to deal with was the idiots in the newspapers.  Now you’ve managed to give a microphone to every moron in the world.

But we all do things and you’ve become a very rich man. I doubt you’ll ever be able to get back into sports should you desire to buy a baseball team, because I have good friends.

I do have to give you credit for one thing. Over the years, you’ve asked me for my advice on many, many occasions. I’ve often given it to you, and you’ve never followed it. Yet you’ve been successful. Maybe you are smarter than I thought. Maybe I’m the moron and not the guys you put on the radio.


Earlier, Smulyan, who owned the Seattle Mariners, in the early 90s, told one of his favorite stories. With the situation often proving grim at the Kingdome, the sports talkers took out their rage on the man in charge, Smulyan.

His fellow owners took noticed. They too often found themselves being grilled 24/7 on the new sports talk format.

Smulyan recalled an owner telling him, “I’ve always wondered if there’s a God. Now knowing the guy who invented this format is getting annihilated, I know there’s a God.”

After hearing Reinsdorf’s video, I’m fairly sure he was that owner.


Seriously, Smulyan, the CEO of Emmis Communications, was honored to win the award.

“It’s been a fun time,” Smulyan said. “I’m very proud what FAN has done. I’m very proud of what this format has done. The fact that has meant so much to so many people and made their lives brighter because of things you all do, I want to accept this award (on your behalf).”

It was a great evening. The big winners were the event organizers Bob and Michelle Snyder and the evening’s beneficiary, Parent Heart Watch, a program designed to prevent sudden cardiac arrest in children.

The Snyder’s daughter, Jenny, died from sudden cardiac arrest in 2008. Her parents spoke and presented a moving video to show how Parent Heart Watch is saving lives due to increased awareness.

Well done, Bob and Michelle.





Chris Russo Q/A: Looking back on Mike and the Mad Dog

They are separate now. It’s Mike. It’s Mad Dog.

The “and the” disappeared in 2008 when Chris Russo decided to end his famous pairing with Mike Francesa and start his own Mad Dog network on SiriusXM.

Yet they will be forever linked. For 19 years at WFAN 660, they were sports talk radio’s most powerful duo. They owned New York and beyond, while helping to define the new genre.

Last week, Russo was reunited with Francesa during the station’s 25th anniversary show. It was a fun segment, reliving old times.

Given all the attention on the big birthday, here’s an interview I did with Russo a while back in which he discusses his famous pairing with Francesa.

How did it start?

I got there in ’88. During that seven-month period, I worked for Imus. Imus said, ‘Listen to this guy. He’s nuts, put him on.’ (Afternoon host Peter) Franklin was having issues. He and Imus hated each other.

So they put me and Mike on.

How well did you know Mike?

It was, ‘hello, how are you?’ We saw each other around. I wanted to do it solo. I thought I could do it by myself. I had a job in Orlando.  But I was 29. It was a job I had to do take.

The show took off quickly. Why?

If we had started in ’87 when (WFAN) just began, who knows? We were able to come on the station two years after it got its feet wet. That helped a lot.

I think there was the fact that Mike and me, we’re both Long Islanders. I think it was the dymanic of both personalities. There was a lot of anti-Franklin. We got to the station at the right time. Imus was situated. We had the Mets. We had the Giants. The station was beginning to find its footing.

Talk about your on-air chemistry with Mike.

It took a while for us to develop a friendship, a kinship. Mike and me.

Mike is a lot funnier than people think. Very funny. Very quick mind. I’m more the radio guy. I knew how to do the mechanics of the show. Move the show along. That combination seemed to work.

People identify with radio show hosts much more than TV guys. TV guys are polished. The hair is combed properly. Radio is out there. A little more naked. You’re doing a show for five hours every day. There is a kinship that develops with your audience.

What about your relationship with Mike?

I had a good relationship with Mike. There were some ups and downs. Absolutely. We’re both dynamic personalities. You have to know each other’s whims. If Mike in a bad mood, I have to handle it. If I’m cranky about something, he’s going to handle it.

There was some tension. We had about four periods in the relationship where we didn’t talk at all for about a three-month period.

From the standpoint of our relationship, it probably wasn’t a bad time to leave. We had been together for so long. We had a lot of fights in the spring.

Listen, you put two guys together for 20 years, you’re going to have some issues. There’s no way around it.

When did you realize you guys were big?

To me, it was early. In the Buffalo-Giant Super Bowl in ’91, I picked Buffalo 49-13. There’s no way the Giants win that game. Buffalo scored 51 against Oakland. Bill Parcells was all pissed off at me. He told Mike, ‘How does your ham and egg partner think our team will give up 49 points at the Super Bowl.’

You began to sense you could have an impact with what you said.

Throw in (Jets coach) Bruce Coslett. We both said if he doesn’t win his last game, he will get fired. He got fired two days later. We had a good relationship with him, but he didn’t do anything. We influenced the Jets to do something in that situation. So many people were screaming their heads off.

We got (Mike) Piazza here. The Mets were not going to trade for Piazza. We screamed and yelled. (Mets owner Nelson) Doubleday heard it, and got Piazza traded to the Mets.

These guys listen. GMs listen. Players listen. They put on FAN.

Why did you decide to leave in 2008?

When a man of (Mel Karmazin’s) stature  said, ‘I’m going to give you a channel’…Well, I don’t know when that opportunity will come again. If I ever was going to leave, this was my parachute to leave.

You’ve mention that you were surprised by the intense reaction to the break-up. Why?

When I left, it was a much bigger story than thought it would be. Fans were hurt that I left. They felt I was part of their family, part of their routines for nearly 20 years. I broke up the routine. That bothered a lot of fans. But it was a move I had to make.


And here’s an interesting aside. Russo, in an interview with the New York Daily News’ Bob Raissman Sunday, didn’t rule out a more permanent reunion. From Raissman’s story:

Now, with one year left on his Sirius/XM contract  and the radio business changing quickly, would Russo consider going back to WFAN  to team with Francesa if the pontiff blessed the move?

We asked the question over the telephone. For once, Dog didn’t have a quick  response for this longtime listener. There was silence, then an “uhh.” Then  Russo said he “can’t” answer the question. Then he did.

“You never want to say never. You know how the radio business is. So, you  never say never, but I haven’t thought about it in my crystal ball, let’s put it  that way,” Russo said. “But I’ll tell you right now, if Mike and I did shows  together we would have no trouble picking right up where we left off.”

Let’s just say that’s a story for another day. Perhaps Russo posturing a little bit as he goes into a free agent year.










Don Imus saved sports talk radio; Mike and Mad Dog help WFAN explode

Part 2:

In the first part of my interview with Jeff Smulyan, founder of WFAN, he discusses how people thought his idea for a 24/7 sports talk station was “stupid.” A rough first year seemed to confirm that notion.

However, Smulyan’s vision eventually was rewarded when Don Imus became the morning host. He helped saved the station, and likely the sports talk format.

WFAN then hit it big in the afternoon with the pairing of Mike Francesa and Chris Russo, who soon would be known as “Mike and the Mad Dog.”

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of WFAN, here’s part two of my interview with Smulyan. He talks about Imus, Mike and the Mad Dog and the impact of WFAN on changing the face of radio.

Why was Imus so important to sports talk radio?

In 1988, we moved to 660 by acquiring the signal of the former WNBC. The station now had a much stronger reach throughout New York. The move also gave us Imus.

We started (WFAN) with Greg Gumbel in the mornings. He was struggling to generate an audience. I always knew sports would be tough in the morning.

So we inserted Imus in the morning slot. The idea was for listeners to tune into the station in the morning and then hopefully stay with it for the rest of the day.

How did Imus react to working for a sports talk station?

When Imus was on WNBC, he talked a lot about sports. When he got to the Fan, he said ‘I’m not talking about sports.’

At the end of his shift, he said, ‘It’s 10. This ends the entertainment part of today’s programming. For the next 20 hours, you will hear mindless drivel by idiots talking about sports.’

What was his impact on the station?

He was perfect. Most of the decision makers loved sports and they loved Imus. Imus gave us listeners and credibility. I can’t minimize his impact.

Would there be sports talk radio if not for Don Imus?

Good question. (Long pause). I don’t know. Not as much.

You had an afternoon host named Pete Franklin. He and Imus didn’t like each other. Franklin called Imus ‘Minus,’ and Imus labeled Franklin as a ‘dinosaur.’ Franklin, though, didn’t work on WFAN. Why?

Pete was Mr. Cleveland when we brought him to New York. I thought he would be great. And he wasn’t.

You had to make a change. Eventually, you paired Francesa with Russo. How did that come about?

Francesa was a producer who knew everything. Mike’s persistence got him that job.

Imus had Russo on his show. Imus said, ‘This guy sounds like Donald Duck on steroids.’

Imus then said, ‘This guy is a talent. You’ve got to put him on.’

Somebody had the idea to put him together with Francesa and they meshed.

What made their pairing so successful?

There was a good chemistry. Chris was every man, and Mike was this incredibly knowledgeable sports guy.

At its heart (for a sports talk radio host) is the ability to connect with people. Everyone has an opinion about sports. People who love sports love to give their opinions and hear the opinions of other people. They can spot a guy who doesn’t know. The worst thing you can do is put somebody on the air who has no idea.

What did Imus in the morning and Mike and the Mad Dog mean for the station?

The ratings got better. I said, ‘Oh my gosh, this thing is going to make it.’ By that time, I was as surprised as anybody.

In 1992, you sold WFAN to Mel Karmazin of Infinity Broadcasting. Why did you sell?

Selling WFAN was the hardest thing I ever did. Mel made an offer we couldn’t refuse ($75 million).

Mel was the master of understanding Wall Street. Mel realized if he could go public with FAN and reach all the people who traded stocks on Wall Street, it would be a good launching pad for Infinity. He was exactly right.

There’s no question it was tough to sell. But when you run a business long enough, you do what you’ve got to do.

What has been the impact of sports talk radio?

What sports radio did is open up the 24-hour talk portals. Before, a guy got ripped in the paper. Now he walks out of the ballpark, turns on the radio and he gets ripped.

Sports radio heightens everything. When fans say (a coach) has got to go, an owner would be deaf not to listen to it.

You were an owner of the Seattle Mariners during the 1990s. How did it feel to be on the receiving end when it came to sports talk radio?

There was a guy in Seattle who hated me. I was getting ripped.

I was with an owner who shall remain nameless who said, ‘I’ve always wondered if there’s a God. Now knowing the guy who invented this horseshit format is getting ripped, I know there’s a God.’

How do you see the future of sports talk radio?

As long as people love sports, I think it will do very well.

It’s 25 years and there are more than 600 sports talk stations. Looking back, did you ever imagine it would get this big?

I had trouble imagining our station making it. I’m proud with the way it finally turned out. The line between moron and genius is very fine. I’ve been on both sides many times. So when I crossed over the line from moron to genius, I was very proud.











Sherman Q/A: Founder of sports talk radio looks back at start of WFAN; Associates said ‘dumb idea”

First of two parts

Jeff Smulyan is the proud father of the 24-hour sports talk radio format. Well, make that proud most of the time.

After sports talk radio took a foothold in the early 1990s, Smulyan suddenly found himself on the receiving end of all the barbs and rants by the loud and often out-of-control hosts. Smulyan was the principal partner in the Seattle Mariners during that time. With the situation often proving grim at the Kingdome, the sports talkers took out their rage on the man in charge, Smulyan.

His fellow owners took noticed. They too often found themselves being grilled 24/7 on the new sports talk format.

Smulyan recalled an owner telling him, “I’ve always wondered if there’s a God. Now knowing the guy who invented this horseshit format is getting ripped, I know there’s a God.”

Sitting over lunch, Smulyan laughed at telling that story. There are few people in the industry who have his unique perspective of the good, the bad, and the ugly of sports talk radio.

Sunday marks the 25th anniversary of the format known as sports talk radio. It was Smulyan, the founder and CEO of Emmis Communications, who launched WFAN in New York on July 1, 1987.

Here is Suzyn Waldman bringing the station on the air with an update.

That fledgling experiment went on to become the top billing station in the country. More than 600 stations followed WFAN’s lead, adopting the 24-hour sports talk format. Last week, CBS Sports announced plans to launch 24/7 sports radio programming. Of course, ESPN dived in years ago.

Sports talk radio has been a certified revolution, changing how all things sports are covered and consumed.

And it almost didn’t happen.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary, this is the first of a three-part interview with Smulyan. I had a chance to talk with him at his Emmis’ headquarters in Indianapolis. I was joined by Bob Snyder, a former sports talk general manager in Washington and Chicago and now a prominent radio consultant.

Today Smulyan discusses the launch of WFAN.

How did it begin?

We owned a station that had the Mets and country music. In those days, a lot of AM stations played music. We didn’t think there was a future there on AM. We looked around and said, ‘What are we going to do?’  I said, ‘What about the sports idea?’

What gave you the idea?

I always thought there was a much greater affinity for sports in the East than the West. If we ever were going to do it,  we should do it in New York. Nobody knew whether it would work. I thought what the heck? We’ve got an AM station. Let’s give it a try.

What was the reaction from people within your company?

Emmis is very collaborative group. The consensus was it was a dumb idea. I’ll never forget. I walked out of the meeting. (Emmis executive) Steve Crane wanted to do it. He said, ‘What are we going to do.’ I said, ‘You can’t lead when people won’t follow.’ This idea is dead.

Next day, they said, ‘We feel sorry for you. We’ll give you one. We’ll give you this stupid idea.’

How did the station become known as WFAN?

We brought in a guy named John Shannon. His wife came up with the name FAN. I thought it was cool. We would be the station for the fans.

What was the reaction once you went on the air?

A good friend called me after we had been on the air for a month. He said, ‘I always thought you were a smart guy. You’re an idiot. This is the dumbest idea I’ve ever seen.’

It was a struggle. At one point I said (to an executive), ‘Can’t you sell something to somebody?’

During the first year, we said, ‘It’s 5, we lost another $40,000 today.’

Why didn’t you pull the plug?

I always told people you never create anything of value if you just follow conventional wisdom.

The bankers said, ‘How long are you going to keep doing this?’ This was my baby. I still thought it would fun. I said, ‘Let’s do it for another year.’

Tomorrow: How Don Imus saved sports talk radio.

To hear more from Smulyan, here’s an interview he and Emmis programming president Rick Cummings did with











Eli Manning at center of Giants-Jets radio war

The rivalry between the Giants and Jets has spilled over to the radio front in New York. Bob Raissman in the New York Daily News reports that Eli Manning no longer will be appearing on ESPN-1050. The QB had been a regular on the station for eight years.

It seems ESPN-1050 is the Jets’ radio outlet. Now, Manning will be appearing on WFAN, home of the Giants games.

Raissman writes:

Why did the situation change? Who put the kibosh on Manning continuing his  relationship with 1050?

All paths lead to the increased flow of bad blood between the Jets and  Giants. It finally occurred to Giants brass that having the face of their  franchise as a featured voice on the radio home of the Jets was a terrible  idea.

Although the Giants walked away from last season on top of the football  world, management is still angered over Jet brass covering those Giants Super  Bowl logos with curtains in MetLife Stadium before Jets hosted the Giants on  Christmas Eve. They also haven’t forgotten how Gang Green put a picture of  Manning being crushed from behind by Calvin  Pace on the cover of their defensive playbook heading into that game.

“More than all that, I believe (Giants co-owner) John  Mara was not exactly thrilled over Eli  being on the Jets station throughout the Giants Super Bowl year,” the NFL source said.