WFAN is celebrating is 25th anniversary. And Mike Francesa has long argued that it would not even have lasted 25 months, had it not been for the show that Don Imus hosted every morning.
So naturally, Francesa welcomed the longtime WFAN morning man, whom he referred to as “my old friend” and “the smartest man I ever knew”, on the program, because as Francesa told listeners on WFAN, as well as viewers on YES Network, “it would not be a 25th anniversary program without” him.
In his first appearance on the station since his controversial ouster five years ago – though his likeness was actually heard on their air back when the station commemmorated their 20th anniversary – Imus, speaking by telephone from New Mexico, began by joking, “I’m out at the ranch currently, trying to figure out how to breathe.”
Certainly, WFAN was able to breathe a little easier ever since the move from AM 1050 to the blowtorch at AM 660.
“Emmis Broadcasting, Jeff Smulyan, I guess he bought ‘NBC,” explained Imus, because ‘FAN had already been established on 1050… which you can’t hear, by the way, if you parked next to the transmitter in your car.”
A laughing Francesa, in perhaps a veiled swipe at his competitor, ESPN Radio, which up until April had only been heard on AM 1050, replied, “That’s true.”
Imus: “So that was moved over then, to where we were at 660, which is where you guys are now, which is one of the great signals in the history of broadcasting; at night, you can hear ‘FAN in 38 states.”
“And then, we inherited you,” Francesa said to Imus.
“At that point, the sports talk thing, which is a great idea – it was Smulyan’s idea, I believe – was not taking off [due to] a number of things; they didn’t have any great talent, I don’t think they did, I don’t want to disparage anybody; and then, they had a horrible signal [on 1050]. So by coming to 660, getting us, I think that’s some decent talent, and then along came you and Mad Dog…”
“And the thing took off,” Francesa added, “thanks to you.
“As I always told people, how do you start a sports talk station? I said, ‘go get Don Imus, that’s the way you start, and you take it from there’, because without you, it never would have got off the ground. You carried us for a long time before any of us figured it out.”
And just as he had told Chris “Mad Dog” Russo earlier, Francesa let it be known that Imus has not only greatly influenced WFAN, but the “Mike And The Mad Dog” show, as well.
“There wouldn’t be a Mike and the Mad Dog, or an ‘FAN, without you,” Francesa informed Imus. “You carried us for a long time before we kinda figured everything out, so this is all credit to you.
“It was a wonderful run that I will never forget, both the years with Dog – which I’ve tried to forget through the years as much as I possibly could – and obviously, the time with you.”
Francesa remembered how, on some days right before his show started, he would spend quality time with Imus in his office, “and someone would come down and talk to us, and we’d have him running down the hall within five minutes.”
“I was a horrible influence on you,” Imus recalled. To which Francesa countered, “You taught me everything I knew, as a matter of fact.
Francesa remembered one morning, in anticipation of WFAN’s move to 660, doing the sports updates for Don Imus’ WNBC-AM show. “You couldn’t have been worse to me if –”
Imus: “That’s not true.”
“You were terrible to me that day.”
“That’s just lies.”
“Oh, you were throwing your gum at me and stuff –”
“That was a form of affection; it had to be.”
“And then after that, you learned to love me, so it’s unbelievable.”
Francesa also reminisced about when he started filling in for the precursor to “Mike And The Mad Dog” on WFAN, Pete Franklin. Imus immediately jumped in with a “Brief Franklin” crack – he had been on the air for about as long as WFAN was on 1050 – then added, “What a psycho.”
Imus then shared what may have been the weirdest moment during his tenure at WFAN – a moment that turned out to be an inpatient stay.
“[Mark] Chernoff was reminding me that one time… at ‘FAN, my lung collapsed when I was on the air.”
Francesa: “Is that true?”
“Yeah. So I’m doing the show, and Bernie and Lou are making fun of me, because I’m gasping for air… I didn’t know what it was… [Joel] Hollander and Chernoff take me to the hospital for a collapsed lung… Long story short, I had to have a lung operation, which was horrible… So Chernoff and Hollander would come see me all the time, they were great… They come over to see me, and they had moved me to another room for some reason. So they go in the room, the beds were all made up. I thought I was dead.”
“No,” Francesa advised Imus, “you got it wrong, they were hoping you were dead… after what you put them through.”
Imus: “They got me on the days I wasn’t drinking and doing drugs.”
Francesa told Imus that he remembered when “Imus In The Morning” emanated right from Imus’ hospital bed. “You went in, got your lung done, and you didn’t miss one show the whole time,” an amazed Francesa remarked. “I think you did a show from the operating room one morning.”
In closing, Imus had heartfelt words for Francesa: “I’ll always appreciate, for the rest of my life, the loyalty of both you and certainly Chernoff, and by the way, Mad Dog… You guys are very standup guys. A lot of people don’t know that you actually put your job on the line and tried to save mine, and I really appreciate it. It all worked out fine and God bless you.”
In April 2007, after WFAN had fired Don Imus as a result of the backlash following his infamous “nappy headed hos” comment, the station had been placing various substitute hosts in morning drive for several months – for the first two weeks of this period, it was none other than Mike and the Mad Dog, who had actually done both the morning shift and their regular afternoon drive program on WFAN later in the day. And while Imus had been dismissed by WFAN and MSNBC, the program was still being syndicated via Westwood One for a short time thereafter, so some listeners across the country – that is, those who didn’t jump ship when Imus got the ax – got to hear “Mike and the Mad Dog” in Imus’ old timeslot – on Imus’ old affiliates.
And while Imus returned to national radio via Citadel (since acquired by Cumulus last year), WFAN is thriving in morning drive with “Boomer And Carton.”
So when Don Imus tells Mike Francesa, “it all worked out fine,” it has – on both sides.
The final words of Don Imus on WFAN on their 25th anniversary, five years after being fired from the station: “May the ‘Fan have 25 more.”