Homage to Waldman and Russo…and Radio
Suzyn Waldman speaks Bostonese.
Chris Russo speaks Rabid Canine.
Congratulations to both icons of the New York ear (and head, and heart) who have just been voted into the Radio Hall of Fame.
Their endurance has demonstrated the power of the spoken (or sung) word, for people driving a car or working out or just lazing in a chair. Radio lives. And Suzyn Waldman and Chris Russo have endured for decades, from their early days on WFAN.
Waldman is the radio compañera of John Sterling, the long-time play-by-play mainstay of Yankee games. Sterling, bless his heart, provides shtick and nicknames and operatic exaggeration to back up his long career of calling games.
Suzyn Waldman (from Newton, Mass., and Simmons College; but you could hear that) had an earlier career in musicals – most notably playing Dulcinea in “Man of La Mancha.” Then she gravitated to talking about sports and was hired by WFAN.
Was she a novelty act? She blew up that stereotype by doing what the best reporters do, on any beat. She hung out. She asked questions. And she won the respect of players, managers, coaches and the informed beat writers.
From her time in the clubhouse, she knew what player was favoring a sore leg, or was in the doghouse, or had a weakness for a slider. The listener came to rely on her commentary, always politely but authoritatively following Sterling’s calls. Plus, she can follow the fickle bounces in distant corners of a stadium.
Yankee fans soon realized: Suzyn Waldman knows her stuff.
Not only that, but Waldman became such a moral force that she brokered a reunion between George Steinbrenner and Yogi Berra, who rightfully harbored a grudge against The Boss for having fired him. Blessed are the peacemakers, like Suzyn Waldman.
Christopher Russo materialized as a sports reporter on the radio spectacle called “Imus in the Morning” – dominated by the equally brilliant and vicious Don Imus.
Your ear could not miss Russo’s babbling patter that resembled Daffy Duck in the cartoons.
When the station morphed into all-sports WFAN, he was paired with the opinionated Mike Francesa. (Imus called Francesa and Russo “Fatso and Froot Loops.”) In 1991, I wrote a column about Russo in which I unearthed his secret life: his mom came from England and was reportedly horrified by his diction; he had attended colleges in three different countries – England, Australia and the U.S., and before that he had attended a private school in New York State.
Away from the live microphone, I detected a pleasant, centered, educated and ambitious kid who had taken speech therapy and did not mind admitting it.
My headline (columnists got to write their own headlines in those days) was: “Mad Dog Is a Preppie.”
He and Francesa were wired, babbling about game strategies the night before or pending trades or players who had popped off; I will admit there were times when I needed to see if the odd couple could flush out an owner or a commissioner or an agent. Nobody wanted to be hectored by Mike and the Mad Dog.
It was compelling radio, in its way, as long as they lasted together. These days Russo is on Sirius. Sorry, a lot of new things like Sirius and podcasts are outer space to me. I’m a child of radio.
I can still remember Edward R. Murrow scaring the hell out of me with his war dispatches from London when I was 4 and 5, and when we managed to survive that war, I found Arthur Godfrey’s jovial variety shows and Red Barber’s erudite calls of the sainted Brooklyn Dodgers.
I discovered music on the radio – from Crosby and Sinatra to Aretha and Bob Marley and The Band and Dolly Parton, disk jockeys from the long-ago Jack Lacy on WINS-AM to William B. Williams on WNEW-AM (until I heard him destroying a vinyl record, live, on the air, by some new shaggy-haired kids from Liverpool.)
Radio: Garrison Keillor, NPR, Jonathan Schwartz and Peter Fornatale on WNEW-FM, the doomed classical station WNCN, and nowadays an upgraded WQXR-FM particularly Terrance McKnight from Morehouse, 7-11 PM weeknights, the eclectic John Schaefer on WNYC and the great interviewer Brian Lehrer, WNYC, both AM and FM.
Baseball? It was invented for the radio, or vice versa, never more than when the grubby forces of Major League Baseball condemn Mets or Yankee games to other networks.
Radio is a vibrant medium, all on its own – and Suzyn Waldman and Chris Russo are deservedly in the Radio Hall of Fame.
Alan D Levine
7/26/2022 01:46:53 pm
George, it's a very rare occasion when I disagree with you, but they both annoy me. Was it Russo or Francesca who once told you, on a TV panel you were both on, that someone who wore a Red Sox cap to a Yankee game should expect to be assaulted?
7/27/2022 09:10:04 am
Alan, I don't remember that but it could have happened. I know that a friend of mine brought her nephew to a 1986 WS game in Shea and he was wearing a Red Sox cap and got it knocked off his head by obstreperous Mets fans. (Yes, some of them exist...) Maybe that was it, Long time ago. Be well, GV
7/26/2022 05:37:26 pm
Speaking of radio, George, my friend, I'll never forget about ten years ago in one of the many times you were interviewed on radio by Brian Lehrer, that time mostly about soccer, when a caller at the end of the program threw you a pitch far out of a left field and asked, "If you met God, what would you ask him?" After pausing ever so slightly, and surely without any script, you replied, "I would ask God why he or she didn't give me better answers when I covered religion." You're the best! And your tributes to those who do their jobs well certainly always shows it.
7/27/2022 09:20:34 am
Chief, you and your track-team pal are testing my memory today. Did I say that? One never knows what might get blurted out on live radio. Not a bad response, if I did say that. I covered religion for four years and never tried to pretend that I knew anything, It got a lot of great responses, from the Dalai Lama to Jerry Falwell to Archbishop Romero to Lubavitchers on Eastern Parkway. Brian Lehrer is a great interviewer. Sitting across from him in the studio, I could see his face/intellect at work as he processed what I said, or what listeners asked over the phone. Another great interviewer is Charlie Brennan of KMOX in St. Louis, who just retired in May. But nothing worse than being interviewed by somebody who is already formulating the next question while you answer the current stock question, I won't name names. GV
7/26/2022 06:23:12 pm
George: Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the radio. Radio is the literature of the media. Sterling and Suzyn bring a special color to the Yankee games. I love listening to them. I can get a beat of New York listening to WNYC (Radiolab, All Of It, All Things Considered, The New York Radio Hour), and from Chicago, Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!
7/27/2022 09:25:34 am
Dear Altenir: You know more about US media than I do. You can get these programs in southern Brazil? Your selections are spot-on. Tony Guida is a terrific interviewer, so involved in the subject and the guest.
7/27/2022 12:22:37 pm
George: Yes. I hear these radio shows on my laptop. You're right. Tony Guida goes so deep into the stories of his interviewers, it's amazing. He's incredible.
7/27/2022 08:20:55 am
George, I must admit that my recent experience leaves me unqualified to comment with much insight, but I wholeheartedly agree about baseball on the radio. I seem to remember (but am not checking the Internet to confirm) an almost no-hitter by Mike Mussina vs. the Red Sox broken up with 2 out in the ninth while my young family was stuck in traffic on I-95 near New Haven; a first-inning grand slam by Joe Pepitone batting clean-up - the ideal prototype of the clean-up hitter strategy - only to have the game rained out before the bottom of the fifth in the late 60's when the Yankees were between dynasties. Did these things really happen?
7/27/2022 09:36:47 am
Andy, three Queens guys and a Brazilian in the first four respondents, As a Queens kid from Molloy, you know that word "shtick." I think that covers John.
7/27/2022 10:03:57 am
Oops! I almost forgot, due to the psychological angst of a 10-year-old Yankees fan living in northern Queens, betraying loyalty to any-team-that-opposes-the-Mets and jumping on the frenzied bandwagon then: Swoboda's catch in the 1969 Series, on the radio in fifth grade at St. Luke's in Whitestone, courtesy of Sister Joan.
7/27/2022 10:33:24 am
Andy, nope, God's own bright daylight, baseball as it oughta be.
Alan D Levine
7/27/2022 12:20:15 pm
George, let me shine a light on some of the darkness. We were getting to (and, I think) from school in our first term at Halsey on Louis Oppenheimer's chartered bus. I had told you that I would make a crying towel for you if the Dodgers lost. True to my word, the following morning I presented you with a crudely-drawn picture of Bobby Thomson hitting THE home run.
7/27/2022 07:08:14 pm
Alan: I'm sorry, I don't remember your drawing. I know who made that comment to me in shop class..wasn;t you. I remember that charter bus. Parents arranged it -- from Fresh Meadows along UnionTpke and Horace Harding to Rego Park. Guy was like a failed Catskill comic, always late or didn't show -- mechanical failure, etc. I don't think he lasted til New Year's. Subway was better anyway. Great people on that bus -- Neil Pilson, Ken Iscol, Steve Jelinek, our Jamaica Estates buds, and a beautiful young woman with a great drawl who moved back South after one year.
7/27/2022 11:53:24 am
A big fan of Suzyn here! Having worked in the same field -- and many games / clubhouse / press boxes near her -- it made me proud to know a woman could be such a pro. Baseball more than most sports relies on trust or at least truces between reporters and players/managers. Everyone knows Suzyn is there to bring baseball to life. Good post!!
7/27/2022 07:15:48 pm
Parental Pride: Laura Vecsey was a sports columnist in Albany, Seattle and Baltimore before her hitch as a political writer in Harrisburg. She was in a lot of clubhouses and dugouts -- Pedro Martinez let her inside the yellow police zone tape he set up in crowded clubhouses. Players talked to her. She, like Suzyn, knows the game. It all started when I took her to a ballpark before kindergarten. Casey and Edna Stengel bought her a ginger ale in hotel bar in spring training. How many sportswriters can say that?
7/27/2022 07:49:46 pm
7/27/2022 03:38:51 pm
George—I grew up listening to the radio from about age four or five. I was in bed with scarlet fever, which was very dangerous at that time. No medicine for a cure and complete bed res was required. My father and sister moved out of the house for about three months.
7/27/2022 11:13:03 pm
Ed, I was very fortunate to have befriended Tony DiCicco during the last few years of his life. He said that Scurry was the best goalkeeper he had ever coached and that included some of the best women ever.
7/28/2022 03:00:02 pm
Alan, gang, if you can find the pod cast, of Fresh Air, it is interesting. She discusses the save Andy mentioned, combination as I heard it of developing predictive skills, e.g. kicker distance from point, part of foot to be used, etc….and intuition. She felt, she says, in that split-second assessment, she knew where the kick would be aimed. Confirms Alan’s comment.
8/1/2022 08:28:51 am
Great references to Briana Scurry. Her save in the 99 final was epic....There was a lot of talk that she had moved forward prematurely, but the referee did not call it. I remember there was talk about Tony DiCicco, himself a fine keeper in his day, reaching "anticipation," but others saw it as bending the rules, testing the ref, or in another word, cheating. I know that Donna LoPiano, pioneer athletic director and head of the Women's Sports Foundation, used the word "cheating"... I respect her as much as anybody in sports....but I preferred to call it "gamesmanship" -- i.e., let the ref call it. Cutting the baseball with a belt buckle or a tack in the glove, now that's cheating. I know players who did that....Anyway, Scurry was the best goalie the WNT has had....on merit. GV
8/1/2022 09:01:12 am
Cheating is generally described as various actions designed to subvert the rules.This can include acts of bribery and where individuals are given preference using inappropriate criteria.
7/28/2022 06:32:02 pm
I used to listen Marv Albert regularly before he was removed for some ethical issues. I could tell by his voice whether the Rangers or the Knicks were ahead or behind. The difference was so subtle that it was almost imperceptible .
Alan D Levine
7/28/2022 07:05:53 pm
George--The girl with the Confederate cap was named Carmen Sherry(sp?).
7/28/2022 07:46:25 pm
Alan: well done, but as I remember, it was Carmen Cherry. She was beautiful, and looked eight years older than the boys.
Alan D Levine
7/28/2022 08:18:39 pm
George, I think you've got the spelling of her name correct.
7/29/2022 08:48:36 pm
Baseball on the radio? You bet. I was a certified Dodger fanatic. How much of a fanatic? When I was five years old, a doctor detected the beginning of a cyst above my eye. His advice to my parents: remove it now, before it gets bigger. So they broached with me the subject of going to the hospital (Brooklyn Hospital, of course, about a mile from Ebbets Field) for surgery. There was a problem, though, and I was prepared to take a hard line (I might be embellishing just a little bit here): it was near the end of the 1947 season, and the Dodgers were contenders in the pennant race (I just double-checked this with Google). There was no way I was going to go into the hospital and miss hearing the games on the radio (we didn't have a t.v. and only had one radio). So we negotiated, and reached an agreement: I would go to the hospital, but the family radio would go with me.
Gene, my favorite reading material as a kid were pulp paperback books, also called dime novels. Mostly I read about baseball and sometimes “Westerns.” Era, 40s.
8/1/2022 04:04:19 pm
7/29/2022 09:15:02 pm
Gene, great memories. You were right to hold out.
7/30/2022 02:14:17 pm
8/1/2022 08:38:32 am
I second Alan...good on Gene for holding out for a radio. How many of us smuggled a radio into bed with us at night -- for Dodger games, or WPAT near midnight, classical music, I can't remember the names of the DJs at that hour, but later we had (Harry) Fleetwood, a total character, on WNCN - -I would get him on the FM dial coming home from late basketball or hockey games in the Meadowlands (NJ). Also, the great Nimet, when she is on late at night....And what about the old "Milkman's Matinee" on WNEW-AM with its theme song, "...That's the time the Sandman doesn't have a chance/Although, baby, it's late..." Nowadays, I am a total early bird...GV
7/31/2022 05:19:27 pm
The radio world just lost another great. Larry Josephson's obituary is copied below.
8/2/2022 02:56:55 pm
Thanks for this, Alan. Larry's morning program was my introduction to WBAI; I ended up working there as a reporter. One of my colleagues there, longtime NYC radio journalist Jon Kalish [surely you've heard him on All Things Considered, etc.] has posted a fine obit for Larry: https://current.org/2022/07/larry-josephson-pioneering-producer-and-freeform-host-dies-at-83/ As Jon wrote, "[Larry's] 50+ year radio career had a profound impact on independent producers."
8/2/2022 03:05:56 pm
I'm late to this going to leave the commentary on goalies and sports announcers to my dad and the rest of the learned commentariat here (except that, as a goalie who had a much shorter career than my dad, my sense, or confession, is every last one of us leaves our feet before the kick on every PT, but the trick is not to leave toooo early, though my dad will correct me if i am wrong about this).
8/2/2022 05:21:13 pm
Josh, goalkeepers must adjust to all the laws of the game designed to make things difficult for the them. Not moving until a PK is taken is one of them.
8/4/2022 07:50:33 am
1. The ref says it's okay to leave your feet, Josh, just not the goal line, before the kick. 'Used to be that leaving the line by a yard or less was considered "trifling" and to be overlooked. Now, VAR is stricter. The following cartoon is instructive for 'keepers.
8/4/2022 11:05:16 am
I stand corrected by eminent sources.
8/4/2022 09:23:53 pm
Sorry. Two-episode plot here. 'Keepers should love this.
8/5/2022 10:10:33 am
Funny, we started with a tribute to two giants of radio baseball...and wound up here in a seminar on soccer goal keepers.
Comments are closed.
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.