Counterfeit Pennies: Linking Talk Radio, Don Imus, and Pro Wrestling

As a native Long Islander, I have listened to the Imus in the Morning radio show on WFAN-AM in New York for the past 20 years. WFAN – otherwise known as The FAN or Sports Radio 66 (660 on the dial in the Metro area) was Don Imus’ home base and is also home to the #1 afternoon sports talk show in the country, Mike and The Mad Dog.

In wrestling terms, while Don Imus and his crew were considered the main eventers/top earners for the FAN, the radio station was chock filled with radio personalities and regular callers who became beloved characters in their own right. There were people like Joe from Saddle River – a man who could serve as the poster-child for Jets, Mets, Knicks, and Rangers misery – who then won an on-air contest to become the overnight host, a post that he held for ten years before shifting to the mid-day slot just two years ago. There was Jerome from Manhattan, who wouldn’t be happy if the Yankees went 161-1 and is still calling for Raul Mondesi to be traded even though he’s been out of the pinstripes for years. And of course, there was a woman named Doris from Rego Park who was so close to my heart that when she past away in November 2003, I had no choice but to post the following tribute on Moodspins when the site was in its infancy stage:

And Doris from Rego Park is on the FAN (Tribute)

I don’t know how many of you listen to WFAN 660 radio in NY, but on this past Monday, at around 12:55 pm, sports talk radio hosts Jodie MacDonald and Sid Rosenberg closed their show with the unfortunate news that Doris from Rego Park – one of the FAN’s most loyal callers and a very intense Mets fan – died of complications associated with cancer. I was really upset to hear the news of Doris’ passing, because she was so passionate about baseball and ever since I can remember listening to WFAN’s late nite programming, Doris was ready to talk Mets baseball year-round. She wasn’t the most insightful caller, but she more than made up for it with her unrivaled dedication to her favorite team.

Personally, I don’t call WFAN that much, but every day I listen to parts of Imus in the Morning, Mac and Sid, Mike and the Mad Dog, the “Schmoozer” Steve Somers, and Joe Benigno on the overnights. I listen to the FAN at least three or four hours a day, and the regular callers and the on-air talent really have become a community that I know I can count on to be there for me when I want to talk sports or just hear some familiar voices. I hate the fact that people are saying that some day regular radio will be obsolete, because in all honesty, the radio is what keeps me going when I am at Hofstra University doing work or what wakes me up when I am home on the weekends. I love the radio more than I even love television, and the atmosphere emitted from WFAN is, in my opinion, unrivaled in the sports talk arena.

I can listen to WFAN and recite Joe Benigno’s “Umberto’s Clamhouse” promo word for word. I can listen to WFAN and tell that Sid is upset because when he does his Aamco (double A, M, C, O) promo he doesn’t go bonkers on the last O. I can listen to WFAN and become awestruck by Steve Somers’ perfectly scripted opening monologue, which he always opens with something along the lines of “Well good evening to you and how you be on the FAN New York City, Steve Somers here and you there.” Whatever the case may be, WFAN is a very special place for me, and I really couldn’t imagine my days or nights without it.

To find out more about Doris from Rego Park, you can click here to read her entry in Wikipedia under WFAN’s history. I will say here that she was the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and suffered her entire life from a rare condition called Neurofibromatosis, and yet every day she had the courage to call the FAN despite struggling with a chronic cough.

Doris, you will always be remembered by this very upset Mets fan. Just like the way you always ended your calls, I would like to say Doris, thank you for your time and courtesy.

That’s all for now Peace.

– Chris

As you can see, there are some striking similarities between my relationship with the FAN and my relationship with professional wrestling. There are characters that I learn to love and others I learn to tolerate, there are unique interactions between the hired help and the regular everyday people who feed off of each other, there are untimely deaths from people you grow to admire, and of course, there are moments that make you cringe because certain things should just never make it to the airwaves.

Now I am not defending Don Imus’ poor choice of words in what was ultimately a bad joke that cost him his job, but just like with professional wrestling, there are times when pushing the envelope will inevitably cause lines to be crossed. Some critics will argue that WWE crosses these lines regularly by playing up unflattering stereotypes of African-Americans (Cryme Tyme), objectifying women (see any Divas Gravy Bowl match or the Trish/Linda/Vince love triangle), and getting away with things in the context of scripted, premeditated storylines that could cause a media firestorm on a daily basis. For instance, here’s a laundry list of actual WWE angles that personally didn’t sit well with me:

The Un-Americans
Triple H / Kane / Katie Vick necrophilia angle
Val Venis / Kai En Tai “We choppy choppy your pee pee” vignette
Vince McMahon utilizing a Jim Ross mannequin to mock his colon cancer
Muhammad Hassan

Just because I didn’t like these five storylines, does that mean that I should blatantly ignore all of the inspirational moments? In addition, the one item from this list that particularly sticks out is Muhammad Hassan, since the angle was discontinued due to media pressure and Hassan was unceremoniously fired as a result. While I was not a fan of the Hassan gimmick by any means, I had an even bigger problem with the idea of WWE caving into the media pressure since a can of worms was open that even the Boogeyman will find hard to digest.

Digressions aside, let me explore the idea of context further and recount a story not yet reported that may shed some light onto why I believe that Don Imus’ firing for a split-second, non-premeditated error in judgment is simply unacceptable and ludicrous.

Just two weeks ago, Don Imus had the widow of the late Bishop G.E. Patterson on his show. Bishop Patterson was an African-American who spoke from the heart about his religion and faith. He even had a show on BET on Sundays at 8:00 am that was watched by his faithful fans all over the country. He died of heart failure on March 20, 2007.

In this interview with Bishop Patterson’s wife, Imus’ true heart showed. He expressed his sincere condolences, recounted stories of how the Bishop truly impacted his life, and played several audio clips as his personal tribute to Bishop Patterson.

Now, can someone tell me if they actually believe that Don Imus is a racist?

On top of this, Don Imus has campaigned for cancers and SIDS charities for the past 15 years, and even on the day he was fired the WFAN Radiothon raised approximately 1.3 million dollars for the Tomorrow’s Children’s Fund and the Imus Cattle Ranch for Kids with Cancer.

Doesn’t someone with that kind of track record deserve a little bit of slack?

Yet here we are, with Don Imus fired and a hypocrite like Al Sharpton left as the last man standing.

As the realistic version of myself laments the last days of truly free radio, the wrestling fan inside me just sits, waits, and wishes for that one final swerve

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