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Q&A with John Mamola

Brian Noe

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Never confuse a person that has fun with someone who doesn’t work hard. The ’85 Bears made the infamous “Super Bowl Shuffle,” but no one ever accused Walter Payton and Mike Singletary of being slackers. Head coach Mike Ditka could be seen roller skating through the hallways of Halas Hall. However, it wasn’t exactly hard for Iron Mike to flip a switch and become incredibly intense.

It’s the same concept with John Mamola. Just like the childhood team he grew up rooting for, John knows when to have fun and when to get serious. It’s easy to tell that he has a great blend. “The Rock” can easily go from constructing a funny bit, to giving a professional critique and conducting a conference call. Hosts aren’t the only ones who succeed by being versatile. PD’s flourish too.

I don’t know if Jenna Jameson or the Kielbasa Queen had a bigger impact on John’s pursuit of a sports radio career, but the movie Private Parts played a big role in his journey. As the program director at WDAE in Tampa, it’s ironic that he has the same gig as Paul Giamatti’s character Pig Vomit — John’s creativity and charisma more closely resembles Howard Stern’s. Read below and find out yourself.

Brian Noe: How did you get the nickname John “The Rock” Mamola?

John Mamola: (laughs) Well, in high school I fell for a girl and it was my best friend’s girlfriend. We got into a little bit of a fistfight. I kept getting up and a guy said, “Man, he keeps getting up like a rock.” That’s just how it stuck. I have a Midwest work ethic. I work all morning, all afternoon, all night, and continue to grind on the weekends. It just kind of stuck and it just morphed itself into a personality in Chicago where that’s what I’m known as up there. Down here I’m known as John, but it’s inked on my arms and it’ll live with me forever.

Noe: So you have “The Rock” on your arms?

John: I do. I have my nickname on my right forearm and my last name on my left forearm.

Noe: That’s awesome, man. And is that your wife right now?

John: Ahh, no. No. The girl lasted about four months.

Noe: Oh, gosh. (laughs) But the nickname has stuck forever, huh?

John: The nickname has stuck for, God, how many years has it been? It’s 19 years. The nickname has stuck for 19 years.

Noe: So your early days in Chicago — is that where you initially broke into the sports talk business?

John: Yeah, I went to the Illinois Center for Broadcasting originally. I lived in Fort Worth, Texas for about 12 years. Went to high school down there and I was taking some junior college courses for Pre-Pharm. I wanted to be a pharmacist. I worked in pharmacy for about 3-4 years and I got that bug. I figured, “Okay, well, becoming a pharmacist out of school you’re making probably around $120-$130K a year. That seems like a pretty good living. I think I can do that.”

I started taking some junior college courses and working on the basics. Long story short we had a death in the family back in Chicago. My mom was needed to run the family business so we decided to ship everything back up to Chicago. Then, at that moment when you find out that your credits don’t transfer, especially after you move — it’s like, “Okay, well I have 62 credit hours and none of them transfer up here and I’m not in a place where I’m ready to live on my own yet, so I have to find something else.

The backstory is literally I watched Private Parts late at night. Got pretty hammered, looked up broadcasting schools on the internet just for the fun of it. I emailed a guy and literally got a response at like four in the morning that very night. He said come on in for a tour in the morning and I’ll show you around. You’ve had probably that same moment that we’ve all had — you walk into that radio studio for that first time and there’s something that seems very right about that. You don’t necessarily know what it is, but when you walk in that room and you see that board and you see the mic and all the equipment that goes with it, and you sit down in that chair, it’s like, “There’s something about this that feels right. So I’m going to go down that road in investigating a little bit.”

The basis of the curriculum up there was you have to get an internship about two and a half months into the 10-month course. I applied at about six different radio stations in Chicago. The Score was the only one I got an interview at. Matt Fishman, who writes for the [BSM] website as well, was the sports director at the time. I interviewed with him and got an internship and the rest is history.

I went from intern to part-time producer. I worked as a weekend producer, and then moved up to full-time producer in morning drive — that was my first full-time job in the market. It turned into a bunch of different opportunities at many of the CBS now Entercom brands in Chicago working with the Bears Radio Network. Then, it turned into hosting, co-hosting, etc. I spent about eight and a half years in the Chicago market.

Noe: I know that you worked with Mike North going back to your WSCR days. What was your favorite bit that North did while you were there working with him?

John: (laughs) We did a lot of bits because the crux of the show was we were going to be Imus for Chicago and it was something that at the time The Score had never done before — we were kind of straying away from an all-sports program. Especially in morning drive that can be a little risky, but that’s what Mike wanted to do. The execs at CBS at the time allowed him to do that. We tried to be a little edgy.

We had a three-man room between him, Fred Huebner, and Anne Maxfield. We brought in Steve Buckman — he used to work at WGN and we brought in Jen Patterson who was a waitress at Gibsons Steakhouse that went to I think Columbia. She wanted to get into media in some sort of fashion. I was just kind of there because I produced the Murph & Fred Show before that. I was the lone guy seeing over, outside of Fred Huebner.

We came up with some really risqué stuff. We had the Fred Huebner hip-hop moment of the day, which was basically — we imaged it (me and Russ Mitera) — because Fred hates hip hop and rap. I got him the dirtiest rap lyrics you can find and we read them like prose — like if you’re in a Def Jam Comedy kind of thing. We had the snaps in the background and the golf claps and the cheesy bass going on in the background. That was fuckin’ hilarious and actually got a lot of play for us.

We had the Bookie Priest, which I think Mike still does that on YouTube. That was a trip in itself coming up with that each and every morning at five in the morning. Here comes in Mike North and he’s going to sing basically his picks for the day.

We did a lot of risky kind of stuff, but it was fun. The one thing I’ll say about my time in Chicago — we had the freedom to be creative with whatever we wanted to do and have the backing of management in about 95 percent of the cases. That allowed the show to grow within itself and also extended into Mully & Hanley who have been dominating Chicago now for a while. Also for me personally, the fact that they trusted my vision within certain limits and gave me that flexibility to do what I wanted to do as long as it fit the show model then, “Yeah, let’s do it.” That’s the one thing that I took a lot of umbrage in is that they allowed me that window. It’s led me to some really, really great and memorable things. Now in my current role I’m trying to pay it forward. I’m trying to give my guys that same kind of door as long as obviously within the window of making sense.

If I had to list a couple, definitely the hip hop moments were my favorite because it’s funny watching Fred Huebner read hip hop lyrics that are just dirty as all sin. At the same time, the Bookie Priest was fun too. We had a lot of fun times on that show.

Noe: If you think about those days that you’re describing and the current climate of sports talk radio — do you think that it’s gotten a little less fun and more serious — maybe too serious?

John: I think it depends on the talent. The one thing I always respected about working for Mitch Rosen is he gave you tons of feedback. In my current role I try to do that for each and every one of my shows as much as I can, but there are just so many more duties now that are being put on the program director position in radio that it’s really, really hard to keep a keen ear on things. I always found it — when Mitch had great responses or even critiques to the stuff we were doing, that’s what made it more fun because we knew that the boss was paying attention. So, what more can we do to where he comes in the office and says, “Yeah, man, that’s awesome.” It was almost like motivation. Ya know?

Now look, you also need talent and producers and production staffs to work together and work on what is the image that we want to cast on what our show is. Too often I think people get stuck in this mentality as far as talent is concerned, where they got to be the Stephen A. Smith. Or they got to be the guy on Around the Horn. Or they got to be the Francesa type that basically everything is super serious and super sports geared.

Look at a station like KFAN up in Minneapolis. Their morning show is a good 50-50 split on sports and just other general stuff, but there are also characters, there are parodies, there are game shows. I mean that’s what works. What they’re doing with KFAN in Minneapolis is amazing, but it fits that market. I don’t know if you can do that in New York. I don’t know if you can do that honestly in Chicago. You could probably do something like that down here. Some of the more successful shows here are the ones that laugh a lot. It’s trying to find those avenues to have a little fun and kind of break away from sports a little bit, but it has to fit your market and it has to fit what the listeners are demanding of you. That’s where a very involved program director will help facilitate that and guide you on the right path.

Noe: How much of that have you done in Tampa in terms of coming up with bits and trying to encourage them from your hosts?

John: We have daily meetings with the morning show. I want them to be creative and try new things. I’ll give them feedback on things as soon as I hear it, believe me, you’re going to get an email, or text message, or in-person feedback thing to let them know. If it’s not right away, it’ll definitely be sent that night. I’m very involved when it comes to coming up with ideas and bits.

I have some very, very creative production staff members that are producers and co-hosts now. We have a lot of great ideas flowing all at the same time. Some are great, some are awful, but the fact that we’re trying to come up with new and fresh ideas to create unique opportunities for programming and on-air, that’s what you should be doing on a day-to-day basis because that’s what your audience is demanding.

Noe: What was it like when you initially moved from Chicago to Tampa and got away from your comfort zone?

John: Tampa’s very different. The people are extremely kind. When it comes to the area, it’s like living in Suburbia all over the place. I tried public transportation for a day and it took three and a half hours to get from where I lived to work when it used to take 45 on the brown line. It’s a culture shock because you’re going from a really busy, robust city of different cultures and diehard sports fans that have been there for 50, 100 years, and you’re coming to a market where the Rays are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. The Lightning just celebrated I believe their 25th anniversary.

It’s a football state. It’s a college state. In Chicago, if DePaul was in the tournament maybe you talked about DePaul. Northwestern never really brought anything to the table at the time when I was there so we never embraced college outside of finding the local Michigan bar and going there on Saturday. Here though it’s religion. Gators, Noles, Miami, USF, UCF now with their recent success. It’s SEC country down here so I’m not used to that. It’s a little weird.

The weather — there’s no change in seasons, so it kind of bothers me that I have to wear shorts in December. I know a lot of people would say, “Oh, that’s paradise,” well yeah but I kind of like to dig in the snow in the slush a little bit once in a while. Not every day but it’d be nice to have a little snow on the ground during the holidays and it makes it easier for a cup of coffee and that kind of thing.

It’s a smaller market with a lot of great properties. It has very different fan bases because this is where a lot of people retire. There’s a lot of New York, Boston, Philly and the Midwest. You don’t have that hundreds of years of passion and attachment to the franchises that I had back home.

Look, I’m still a White Sox fan. I’m still a Blackhawks fan. Bulls, Bears, love ‘em. I have firsthand knowledge of moving here and it’s difficult to try to grasp onto the teams because all of your life you grew up knowing one thing. When that becomes the town you obviously want to go see that one thing because that’s what you grew up with. I can understand how it’s tough for some people to unplug.

But I’ll say this — all three of the pro franchises here have done a great job of welcoming in newcomers, and marketing themselves in a way that says, “Hey, give us a chance when it’s not your team playing here.” The Lightning sell out every single night. The Rays have a lot of attendance struggles but their TV and radio ratings are pretty good. Buccaneers, that’s the staple here. When it’s football season it’s all about the Bucs.

It’s a bit of culture shock, but you adjust and do the best job you can with the new staff you have, the new duties you have, and you just kind of go from there.

Noe: How exactly did you get to Tampa in the first place?

John: It got to a point in Chicago where I was working about six jobs all at the same time between The Score and a couple other Entercom properties. I was also doing stuff for the Chicago Tribune — they had this blog website called ChicagoNow.com, and I had just gotten married and became a new father. There was a lot on the plate. It reached a point where I walked into Mitch’s office one day and said, “Hey, man, I just kind of need to know where’s my future at here?”

The one thing I give Mitch Rosen a lot of credit for — and there will be many, many other people if you ever ask about Mitch Rosen that have worked or work for him, they will say the exact same thing that I’m about to say — that guy will tell you point blank exactly what he thinks and he will help you get somewhere else if you want to go somewhere else. And that’s exactly what he did. We sat down in the office and he told me, “Look, you’re doing a great job, but unfortunately right now there’s just no possible way to crack the daily lineup.” So I asked him, “Well in that case if I were to find something, could you assist in that process?” He didn’t hesitate. He said, “Absolutely. You’ve worked very hard for me. I’ll do my very best to help you build your future here in this business.”

I found a job posting at that time, I think on STAA. It was the APD job at DAE. I applied. Steve Versnick was the program director at the time for DAE as well as WFLA and WHNZ. I had a great interview process. It took about four and a half months to finally land the gig, and we moved here in April of 2011. That’s how I got to Tampa.

I always wanted to have a programming background because I felt that I understood radio and how to create good content. Being a host, sometimes you don’t listen to and critique yourself, but as a programmer you’re listening to other elements and everything that surrounds it and you’re expected to be able to critique it, mold it and turn it into something successful. That’s what I really enjoy.

Noe: What do you think might differentiate between your ear as a programmer and a host’s ear when it comes to their own show?

John: They’re always right. (laughs) Whatever they say, they’re always right. Different talent work differently. Not every piece of advice or critique that you give as a PD is going to be heard. For me it’s always been to focus on what they’re doing well and make it great. Then focus on something that they’re maybe like 50 percent good at, and make it 75. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent. It doesn’t have to be great. It just needs to be better than the last time you listened. That’s the way I’ve always gone about it.

It takes a great talent that’s receptive to criticism or critiques to be worthy of getting those critiques. If you’re going to be a talent and you think that everything you do is gold even though you’ve never listened back to your show, that’s where you’re going to run into problems. More people consume our product differently now. If it’s a tune out immediately, more often than not those people are going to go somewhere else. There are so many different options for an audience to get the content they’re looking for.

Noe: What aspect of being a program director is the most fun and the most rewarding?

John: The most fun aspect of my job is when I can stop at a gas station or go to a ball game or a sports bar, and you’re sitting there and you just overhear people talking about stuff on the station. That’s the most rewarding part because it means I’m doing my job. I never go out and introduce myself as, “Hey, I’m John Mamola from 620 WDAE” or iHeartMedia or anything like that. I’m a normal person outside of the office just like anyone else, but if I’m by Ferg’s down by the Trop and they’re talking about what Ronnie and TKras said that morning — it happens a lot more often than you think — that’s fulfilling because it means the station and our hosts are stirring the conversation that gets people talking.

I love going to Rays Fan Fest and seeing all the listeners come out and shake hands with all the talent. I love how our talent has been — especially in the past couple of years — more visible. We do suite nights with Ronnie and TKras where they go out to a Rays game and take a bunch of listeners out. We stay in a suite and we watch a ball game together. We do the same thing at Amalie Arena when there’s a Lightning game. We’re just much more focused on reaching out and making those bonds and getting stronger with face-to-face interaction with the listening base.

Jay Recher, who’s one of our producers, is now a fill in co-host on 12 to 3. He does a lot of stuff on high school baseball getting local communities involved with him. Putting local baseball content on our website and getting coaches on. At the University of Tampa, the Saladino Tournament is really big out here. Doing coverage of that just tying yourself to the community a little bit. That’s rewarding. The charity golf tournaments we do and all those kind of things. They’re all rewarding.

It’s a grind of a job as you well know talking to other PD’s around the country, but there are moments where you can just sit back and smile and say, “Yeah, we’re doing the right thing and we’re doing a really, really good job.” That’s when I’m smiling probably the most.

Noe: You mentioned the grind of the gig — what is your biggest challenge?

John: I don’t have enough time in the day. I wish I had more time to sit down and listen and have immediate critiques. Right now I’ll wake up at 5:30 in the morning. Take the kids to school. Listen for an hour on the way in. Then it’s the usual day-to-day stuff for a PD — meet with the sales staff, meet with the promotion staff. There are other daily meetings and conference calls you have to do to. A lot of web elements, social stuff. Then you’re done at four and you try to catch some of the afternoon show, but then the phone rings and you’re on a family call, and pick up the kids from daycare.

I just wish I had a little more time in the day. It’s all in how you delegate too. I’m a very hands-on person. I like having my feet in the mud and digging in with my teams. We all do too much already so I’d hate to put some of my stuff that I can take of on their plate. I don’t mind delegating, but I also know they don’t have as much time for it.

We work as a very well-oiled machine in this building between the production staff and the talent where everybody knows their role and what they have to do. Everybody picks up for each other when one’s out. It’s just the time element. I wish we had more time to sit down and intensively listen to what we’re doing as opposed to catching it on a podcast or something like that.

Noe: 5-10 years from now, what type of scenario do you think would make you the most happy when it comes to work? What does that situation look like?

John: I think radio in general is going to look dramatically different in the next 5-10 years. I guess it depends on how we evolve and manage the change that’s going to judge how successful we are with it. I love working for iHeart because I think iHeart is by far and away the most forward-thinking company in radio. Between the app and all of the tremendous things that you can do with it. I think smart speakers are going to be a huge, huge thing for radio and lead to more on-demand listening tools for people to consume content.

For me personally, I would love to be at DAE or at a station — because you never know in this business — but I would love to be at a station that has adapted to the change where they’re the most successful at it in the country. I’m not just talking locally because I think it’s going to get to a point where people can be in their car — and a perfect example is Tampa — I think it’s going to be a real challenge for a lot of people that move to listen to local content because the accessibility of the content from their home or on demand is going to be so much easier when you get 5-10 years down the road. It’s going to be really interesting to see how success is judged when it comes to radio.

That’s what I’m excited about. I think we’re at a turning point where audio has never been bigger between terrestrial radio, satellite radio, podcasts, the on-demand audio on all the iHeart channels is just an example. I think we’re at an interesting point in the history of this business where we’re going to see some real quick and rapid change. I’m interested to see how it plays out.

BSM Writers

In Defense Of Colin Cowherd

“How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of ‘oh my god, look at this!’?”

Demetri Ravanos

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I don’t understand what it is about Colin Cowherd that gets under some people’s skin to the point that they feel everything the guy says is worth being mocked. I don’t always agree with a lot of his opinions myself, but rarely do I hear one of his takes and think I need to build content around how stupid the guy is.

Cowherd has certainly had his share of misses. There were some highlights to his constant harping on Baker Mayfield but personally, I thought the bit got boring quickly and that the host was only shooting about 25% on those segments.

Cowherd has said some objectionable things. I thought Danny O’Neil was dead on in pointing out that the FOX Sports Radio host sounded like LIV Golf’s PR department last month. It doesn’t matter if he claims he used the wrong words or if his language was clunky, he deserved all of the criticism he got in 2015 when he said that baseball couldn’t be that hard of a sport to understand because a third of the league is from the Dominican Republic.

Those missteps and eyebrow-raising moments have never been the majority of his content though. How did we get to this place where there are sites and Twitter accounts going through The Herd with a fine-toothed comb to create content out of “oh my god, look at this!”?

A few years ago, Dan Le Batard said something to the effect of the best thing he can say about Colin Cowherd is that he is never boring and if you are not in this business, you do not get what a compliment that is.

That’s the truth, man. It is so hard to talk into the ether for three hours and keep people engaged, but Cowherd finds a way to do it with consistency.

The creativity that requires is what has created a really strange environment where you have sites trying to pass off pointing and laughing at Cowherd as content. This jumped out to me with a piece that Awful Announcing published on Thursday about Cowherd’s take that Aaron Rodgers needs a wife.

Look, I don’t think every single one of Cowherd’s analogies or societal observations is dead on, but to point this one out as absurd is, frankly, absurd!

This isn’t Cowherd saying that John Wall coming out and doing the Dougie is proof that he is a loser. This isn’t him saying that adults in backward hats look like doofuses (although, to be fair to Colin, where is the lie in that one?).

“Behind every successful man is a strong woman” is a take as old as success itself. It may not be a particularly original observation, but it hardly deserves the scrutiny of a 450-word think piece.

On top of that, he is right about Aaron Rodgers. The guy has zero personality and is merely trying on quirks to hold our attention. Saying that the league MVP would benefit from someone in his life holding a mirror up to him and pointing that out is hardly controversial.

Colin Cowherd is brash. He has strong opinions. He will acknowledge when there is a scoreboard or a record to show that he got a game or record pick wrong, but he will rarely say his opinion about a person or situation is wrong. That can piss people off. I get it.

You know that Twitter account Funhouse? The handle is @BackAftaThis?

It was created to spotlight the truly insane moments Mike Francesa delivered on air. There was a time when the standard was ‘The Sports Pop’e giving the proverbial finger to a recently deceased Stan Lee, falling asleep on air, or vehemently denying that a microphone captured his fart.

Now the feed is turning to “Hey Colin Cowherd doesn’t take phone calls!”. Whatever the motivation is for turning on Cowherd like that, it really shows a dip in the ability to entertain. How is it even content to point out that Colin Cowherd doesn’t indulge in the single most boring part of sports radio?

I will be the first to admit that I am not the world’s biggest fan of The Herd. Solo hosts will almost never be my thing. No matter their energy level, a single person talking for a 10-12 minute stretch feels more like a lecture than entertainment to me. I got scolded enough as a kid by parents and teachers.

School is a good analogy here because that is sort of what this feels like. The self-appointed cool kids identified their target long ago and are going to mock him for anything he does. It doesn’t matter if they carry lunch boxes too, Colin looks like a baby because he has a lunch box.

Colin Cowherd doesn’t need me to defend him. He can point to his FOX paycheck, his followers, or the backing for The Volume as evidence that he is doing something right. I am merely doing what these sites think they are doing when Colin is in their crosshairs – pointing out a lame excuse for content that has no real value.

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BSM Writers

Even After Radio Hall of Fame Honor, Suzyn Waldman Looks Forward

WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.

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Yankees radio broadcaster Suzyn Waldman was at Citi Field on July 26th getting ready to broadcast a Subway Series game between the Yankees and Mets. A day earlier, Waldman was elected to the Radio Hall of Fame and sometimes that type of attention can, admittedly, make her feel a bit uncomfortable.

“At first, I was really embarrassed because I’m not good at this,” said Waldman. “I don’t take compliments well and I don’t take awards well. I just don’t. The first time it got to me…that I actually thought it was pretty cool, there were two little boys at Citi Field…

Those two little boys, with photos of Waldman in hand, saw her on the field and asked her a question.

“They asked me to sign “Suzyn Waldman Radio Hall of Fame 2022” and I did,” said Waldman.  “I just smiled and then more little boys asked me to do that.”  

Waldman, along with “Broadway” Bill Lee, Carol Miller, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Ellen K, Jeff Smulyan, Lon Helton, Marv Dyson, and Walt “Baby” Love, make up the Class of 2022 for the Radio Hall of Fame and will be inducted at a ceremony on November 1st at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel in Chicago.

Waldman, born in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, was the first voice heard on WFAN in New York when the station launched on July 1st, 1987. She started as an update anchor before becoming a beat reporter for the Yankees and Knicks and the co-host of WFAN’s
mid-day talk show. In the mid 1990s, Waldman did some television play-by-play for Yankees games on WPIX and in 2002 she became the clubhouse reporter for Yankees telecasts when the YES Network launched.

This is Waldman’s 36th season covering the Yankees and her 18th in the radio booth, a run that started in 2005 when she became the first female full-time Major League Baseball broadcaster.

She decided to take a look at the names that are currently in the Hall of Fame, specifically individuals that she will forever be listed next to.

“Some of the W’s are Orson Wells and Walter Winchell…people that changed the industry,” said Waldman. “I get a little embarrassed…I’m not good at this but I’m really happy.”

Waldman has also changed the industry.

She may have smiled when those two little boys asked her to sign those photos, but Waldman can also take a lot of pride in the fact that she has been a trailblazer in the broadcasting business and an inspiration to a lot of young girls who aspire, not only to be sportscasters but those who want to have a career in broadcasting.

Like the young woman who just started working at a New York television station who approached Waldman at the Subway Series and just wanted to meet her.

“She stopped me and was shaking,” said Waldman. “The greatest thing is that all of these young women that are out there.”

Waldman pointed out that there are seven women that she can think of off the top of her head that are currently doing minor league baseball play-by-play and that there have been young female sports writers that have come up to her to share their stories about how she inspired them.

For many years, young boys were inspired to be sportscasters by watching and listening to the likes of Marv Albert, Al Michaels, Vin Scully, Bob Costas, and Joe Buck but now there are female sportscasters, like Waldman, who have broken down barriers and are giving young girls a good reason to follow their dreams.

“When I’ve met them, they’ve said to me I was in my car with my Mom and Dad when I was a very little girl and they were listening to Yankee games and there you were,” said Waldman. “These young women never knew this was something that they couldn’t do because I was there and we’re in the third generation of that now. It’s taken longer than I thought.”

There have certainly been some challenges along the way in terms of women getting opportunities in sports broadcasting.

Waldman thinks back to 1994 when she became the first woman to do a national television baseball broadcast when she did a game for The Baseball Network. With that milestone came a ton of interviews that she had to do with media outlets around the country including Philadelphia.

It was during an interview with a former Philadelphia Eagle on a radio talk show when Waldman received a unique backhanded compliment that she will always remember.

“I’ve listened to you a lot and I don’t like you,” Waldman recalls the former Eagle said. “I don’t like women in sports…I don’t like to listen to you but I was watching the game with my 8-year-old daughter and she was watching and I looked at her and thought this is something she’s never going to know that she cannot do because there you are.”

Throughout her career, Waldman has experienced the highest of highs in broadcasting but has also been on the receiving end of insults and cruel intentions from people who then tend to have a short memory.

And many of these people were co-workers.

“First people laugh at you, then they make your life miserable and then they go ‘oh yeah that’s the way it is’ like it’s always been like that but it’s not always been like this,” said Waldman. 

It hasn’t always been easy for women in broadcasting and as Waldman — along with many others — can attest to nothing is perfect today. But it’s mind-boggling to think about what Waldman had to endure when WFAN went on the air in 1987.

She remembers how badly she was treated by some of her colleagues.

“I think about those first terrible days at ‘FAN,” said Waldman. “I had been in theatre all my life and it was either you get the part or you don’t. They either like you or they don’t.  You don’t have people at your own station backstabbing you and people at your own station changing your tapes to make you look like an idiot.”

There was also this feeling that some players were not all that comfortable with Waldman being in the clubhouse and locker room. That was nothing compared to some of the other nonsense that Waldman had to endure.

“The stuff with players is very overblown,” said Waldman. “It’s much worse when you know that somebody out there is trying to kill you because you have a Boston accent and you’re trying to talk about the New York Yankees. That’s worse and it’s also worse when the people
that you work with don’t talk to you and think that you’re a joke and the people at your own station put you down for years and years and years.”

While all of this was happening, Waldman had one very important person in her corner: Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who passed away in 2010.

The two had a special relationship and he certainly would have relished the moment when Suzyn was elected to the Hall of Fame.

“I think about George Steinbrenner a lot,” said Waldman. “This is something that when I heard that…I remember thinking George would be so proud because he wanted this since ’88.  I just wish he were here.” 

Waldman certainly endeared herself to “The Boss” with her reporting but she also was the driving force behind the reconciliation of Steinbrenner and Yankees Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra. George had fired Yogi as Yankees manager 16 games into the 1985 season and the news was delivered to Berra, not by George, but by Steinbrenner advisor Clyde King.

Yogi vowed never to step foot into Yankee Stadium again, but a grudge that lasted almost 14 years ended in 1999 when Waldman facilitated a reunion between the two at the Yogi Berra Museum in New Jersey.

“I’m hoping that my thank you to him was the George and Yogi thing because I know he wanted that very badly,” said Waldman.

“Whatever I did to prove to him that I was serious about this…this is in ’87 and ’88…In 1988, I remember him saying to me ‘Waldman, one of these days I’m going to make a statement about women in sports.  You’re it and I hope you can take it’ (the criticism). He knew what was coming.  I didn’t know. But there was always George who said ‘if you can take it, you’re going to make it’.”

And made it she did.

And she has outlasted every single person on the original WFAN roster.

“I’m keenly aware that I was the first person they tried to fire and I’m the only one left which I think is hysterical actually that I outlived everybody,” said Waldman.

WFAN recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, but that’s not something that Waldman spends too much time reflecting on.

“I don’t think about it at all because once you start looking back, you’re not going forward,” said Waldman. 

Waldman does think about covering the 1989 World Series between the A’s and Giants and her reporting on the earthquake that was a defining moment in her career. She has always been a great reporter and a storyteller, but that’s not how her WFAN career began. She started as an update anchor and she knew that if she was going to have an impact on how WFAN was going to evolve, it was not going to be reading the news…it was going to be going out in the field and reporting the news.

“I was doing updates which I despised and wasn’t very good at,” said Waldman.

She went to the program director at the time and talked about how WFAN had newspaper writers covering the local teams for the station and that it would be a better idea for her to go out and cover games and press conferences.

“Give me a tape recorder and let me go,” is what Waldman told the program director. “I was the first electronic beat writer.  That’s how that started and they said ‘oh, this works’. The writers knew all of a sudden ‘uh oh she can put something on the air at 2 o’clock in the morning and I can’t’.”  

And the rest is history. Radio Hall of Fame history.

But along the way, there was never that moment where she felt that everything was going to be okay.

Because it can all disappear in a New York minute.

“I’ve never had that moment,” said Waldman. “I see things going backward in a lot of ways for women.  I’m very driven and I’m very aware that it can all be taken away in two seconds if some guy says that’s enough.” 

During her storied career, Waldman has covered five Yankees World Series championships and there’s certainly the hope that they can contend for another title this year. She loves her job and the impact that she continues to make on young girls who now have that dream to be the next Suzyn Waldman.

But, is there something in the business that she still hopes to accomplish?

“This is a big world,” said Waldman. “There’s always something to do. Right now I like this a lot and there’s still more to do. There are more little girls…somewhere there’s a little girl out there who is talking into a tape recorder or whatever they use now and her father is telling her or someone is telling her you can’t do that you’re a little girl. That hasn’t stopped. Somewhere out there there’s somebody that needs to hear a female voice on Yankees radio.”

To steal the spirit of a line from Yankees play-by-play voice John Sterling, Suzyn Waldman’s longtime friend, and broadcast partner…“that’s a Radio Hall of Fame career, Suzyn!”

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No Winners in Pittsburgh vs Cleveland Radio War of Words

“As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity. “

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For nearly 18 months, we’ve known the NFL would eventually have to confront the Deshaun Watson saga in an on-the-field manner, and that day came Monday. After his March trade to the Browns, we also could more than likely deduce another item: Cleveland radio hosts would feel one way, and Pittsburgh hosts would feel another.

If you’re not in tune to the “rivalry” between the two cities, that’s understandable. Both are former industrial cities looking for an identity in a post-industrial Midwest. Each thinks the other is a horrible place to live, with no real reasoning other than “at least we’re not them”. Of course, the folks in Pittsburgh point to six Super Bowl victories as reason for superiority.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when news started to leak that a Watson decision would come down Monday. I was sure, however, that anyone who decided to focus on what the NFL’s decision would mean for Watson and the Browns on the field was in a no-win situation. As a former host on a Cleveland Browns radio affiliate, I always found the situation difficult to talk about. Balancing the very serious allegations with what it means for Watson, the Browns, and the NFL always felt like a tight-rope walk destined for failure.

So I felt for 92.3 The Fan’s Ken Carman and Anthony Lima Monday morning, knowing they were in a delicate spot. They seemed to allude to similar feelings. “You’re putting me in an awkward situation here,” Carman told a caller after that caller chanted “Super Bowl! Super Browns!” moments after the suspension length was announced.

Naturally, 93.7 The Fan’s Andrew Fillipponi happened to turn on the radio just as that call happened. A nearly week-long war of words ensued between the two Audacy-owned stations.

Fillipponi used the opportunity to slam Cleveland callers and used it as justification to say the NFL was clearly in the wrong. Carman and Lima pointed out Fillipponi had tweeted three days earlier about how much love the city of Pittsburgh had for Ben Roethlisberger, a player with past sexual assault allegations in his own right.

Later in the week, the Cleveland duo defended fans from criticism they viewed as unfair from the national media. In response, Dorin Dickerson and Adam Crowley of the Pittsburgh morning show criticized Carman and Lima for taking that stance.

Keeping up?

As an impartial observer, there’s one main takeaway I couldn’t shake. Both sides are wrong. Both sides are right. No one left the week looking good.

Let’s pretend the Pittsburgh Steelers had traded for Deshaun Watson on March 19th, and not the Browns. Can you envision a scenario where Cleveland radio hosts would defend the NFL for the “fairness” of the investigation and disciplinary process if he was only suspended for six games? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous. At the same time, would Fillipponi, Dickerson, and other Pittsburgh hosts be criticizing their fans for wanting Watson’s autograph? Of course, you can’t, because that would be preposterous.

When you’re discussing “my team versus your team” or “my coach versus your coach” etc…, it’s ok to throw ration and logic to the side for the sake of entertaining radio. But when you’re dealing with an incredibly serious matter, in this case, an investigation into whether an NFL quarterback is a serial sexual predator, I don’t believe there’s room to throw ration and logic to the wind. The criticism of Carman and Lima from the Pittsburgh station is fair and frankly warranted. They tried their best, in my opinion, to be sensitive to a topic that warranted it, but fell short.

On the flip side, Carman and Lima are correct. Ben Roethlisberger was credibly accused of sexual assault. Twice. And their criticism of Fillipponi and Steelers fans is valid and frankly warranted.

You will often hear me say “it can be both” because so often today people try to make every situation black and white. In reality, there’s an awful lot of gray in our world. But, in this case, it can’t be both. It can’t be Deshaun Watson, and Browns fans by proxy, are horrible, awful, no good, downright rotten people, and Ben Roethlisberger is a beloved figure.

Pot, meet kettle.

I don’t know what Andrew Fillipponi said about Ben Roethlisberger’s sexual assault allegations in 2010. And if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first to admit it, but I’m guessing he sounded much more like Carman and Lima did this week, rather than the person criticizing hosts in another market for their lack of moral fiber. Judging by the tweet Carman and Lima used to point out Fillipponi’s hypocrisy, I have a hard time believing the Pittsburgh host had strong outrage about the Steelers bringing back the franchise QB.

Real courage comes from saying things your listeners might find unpopular. It’s also where real connections with your listeners are built. At the current time in our hyper-polarized climate, having the ability to say something someone might disagree with is a lost art. But it’s also the key to keeping credibility and building a reputation that you’ll say whatever you truly believe that endears you to your audience.

And in this case, on a day the NFL announced they now employ a player who — in the league’s view — is a serial sexual assaulter, to hear hosts describe a six-game suspension as “reasonable” felt unreasonable. As talk radio hosts, we often try to hold the moral high ground and if you’re going to hold that position, I can’t help but feel integrity has to outweigh popularity.

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