Joe Benigno’s WFAN Departure Leaves Huge Void: A Tribute to One of My Radio Heroes

After 25 years on the airwaves of WFAN, Joe Benigno calls it a career on Friday with his final show.

I will never be able to properly describe the impact that Joe Benigno has had on my life, but I’ll do my best. He has been a major part of my routine for many years. Joe became the WFAN overnight host in 1995. I was an avid listener, but rarely called the station.

That changed in 1998. I started calling Monday-Friday. Most of the callers were regulars. You could name them, and even predict when they would call. We were a family. You know how that goes. Think of a holiday gathering. There are some people that occasionally get on your nerves. Perhaps you make up with them and move past disagreements. Other people annoy you to no end. It was like wrestling. One feud would eventually fizzle out, and another would develop.

I was pretty shy before becoming a regular caller. It was big for my confidence. I felt comfortable. People were often given several minutes. Especially if they could contribute something interesting. I would talk about betting. Maybe antagonize one of the callers. Joke around. Get into basketball and football or baseball. Some people would say I was their favorite caller. Others hated me. You might think getting through was easy at about 2:45 in the morning. Far from it. You could spend an hour or two trying to get through, and then wait a long time on hold. The wait was worth it.

Many people either stayed up to catch the start or woke up early for work. There were also a lot of older people who had retired and would wake up during the show. Having just left my job, I was able to stay up through the overnight and hear Joe’s entire program. He even inspired me to attend CSB (Connecticut School of Broadcasting) so I could land a job in the sports world like he did. Older folks were impressed with somebody who was decades younger than them but knew his sports.

WFAN's DraftKings pitchman Joe Benigno on fantasy football: "I want nothing  to do with it..." | Bob's Blitz

Yes, I was actually a youngster back then. Just 20 years old. I had a great memory, but could look up things on a computer as well. This wasn’t true for everybody before 2000. It also wasn’t that easy to find things back then. There were far fewer sites. Information was pretty limited compared to today, so I mostly went off my general knowledge and memories. 

Lots of people enjoy reality TV. Well, Joe’s show was reality radio. Kind of like a show where different people are crammed together in a house. Like I said, some of us went after each other. People from Canada even listen and call WFAN. Joe tried to fix me up with somebody from Nova Scotia. She talked about betting on sports. We never ended up meeting, but there were times when callers seemed more interested in discussing us than the games and teams.

Joe watched Lennox Lewis fight Mike Tyson with me at my Sportsphone job in 2002. I think my boss was jealous when I eventually told him about it. My former boss and I rarely keep in touch these days. He recently sent a text about Joe. It was the first time he sent me a text in years, with the last one also pertaining to Benigno. 

After nearly a decade of hosting overnights, Joe was promoted to middays in 2004. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Life would not be the same. He now had a partner. There were more guests. Shorter show. Additional commercials. Phone calls from callers were measured in seconds instead of minutes. Overnights were also not the same. Some hosts were better than others, but nobody was Joe. Even today you can hear fans fondly remember his overnight days. Not just the epic rants. It was a show for the callers.

Although the number of times I called Benigno had been drastically reduced, we remained close. Even before leaving overnights, Joe had started to host a Monday night football show with Tony Siragusa at Tiff’s in Pine Brook, NJ. Meeting up with him before the show gave us time to chat off the air. I ended up making it my hangout spot for the next 15 years. Joe’s last time there was probably 2005 or 2006, but his shows there had an indirect impact on me for many years to come.

His popularity continued to grow with the daytime shift, and he made numerous appearances. Some were in Yonkers, but he popped up in various locations. New Jersey. Long Island. I followed him around. A number of callers would show up, but I was his most loyal follower. John from Glen Cove was one of the callers I met. We often joined Joe at Buffalo Wild Wings or Dave and Buster’s. Again, Joe helped me without knowing it. I was getting out and enjoying myself. Meeting new people. Changing and growing as a person. 

Joe And Evan Appear On 'Good Morning Football'

There is talk that Joe might do some part-time work on WFAN in the future. One can only hope. Joe will never understand the impact he has had on people. Especially me. We will treasure whatever time remains. Oh yeah…thanks for including me in your book!

Countdown Continues Until WFAN Turns The Paige

Just one month. That is how long we have left until the Tony Paige reign of terror on WFAN wraps up. I need to continue celebrating the end of his awful radio show, and also explain how terrible his program really is to those who don’t spend their overnights listening.

For years Tony has joked about how fans are “on the ledge” when they panic about a team. He talks about how the ledge is full when things don’t go well. This is pretty much deep analysis by his standards. Tony also likes to say that he will make fans think by coming up with a topic. Usually this happens if he feels like nobody will call and there is an extra need for him to urge the hardcore overnight listening audience to participate. It reeks of desperation and incompetence.

Joe Benigno never came up with some corny topic and begged listeners to chime in on a specific survey question just because the previous evening was a slow sports night. Paige has even said that when both baseball teams win there are usually not many callers complaining, so he prefers when at least one team loses. He gets excited when neither one wins. Even though he’ll try to claim that he roots for both teams. I recall a number of times that prove otherwise. He wanted the Mets to lose ten straight after firing Willie Randolph, and didn’t want a Mets win when Vargas pitched. Sounds like one loyal fan.

Aaron Heilman left the Mets following a 3-8 season in 2008. Tony often stated that he would win 23 games in his first season with a new team. One assumes that there was some sarcasm or at least exaggeration, but Paige seemed somewhat serious. I think Tony honestly believed that Heilman would do well. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he would have congratulated himself and repeatedly reminded us of his prediction if it was anywhere close to happening. I remember this well because Tony constantly said it. Not just daily. Paige usually would repeat himself after about 5-10 minutes. This became a crutch for him. That’s how the show would usually go. Lots of repeating. If there occasionally were callers, they usually brought very little to the table.

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I was very tempted to call and say that I was quite sure about Heilman not going on to win 23 games in 2009. I’m pretty sure that Tony would not have accepted a bet. Heilman went 4-4 in 2009. He won a total of 13 games in his three seasons after leaving the Mets. I wonder if we could have made a bet about Heilman getting 23 more victories before his career ended. Tony would have lost either way.

One great example of a regular caller to Tony is Terry from Amenia. Paige mistakenly calls him Terry from Armenia. The guy lives in New York. Dutchess County. Not Eurasia. This has gone on for many years, and really sums up the host. Nobody corrects Tony. They have had ridiculous conversations. Terry listens to baseball on the radio, and apparently other sports as well. One time Terry spoke about listening to the Patriots winning a Super Bowl with field goals in a blizzard. Tony “corrected” him by saying that it was the AFC Championship game. Also not true. I think we can all talk about fond memories of the many classic Super Bowls that were played in horrible snowstorms. Obviously I’m being facetious.

Tony and Terry have also discussed the 1985 World Series. An obvious wrong call was made. Terry, who again apparently was not watching or hasn’t seen the replay in recent years, talked about how today they would catch the mistake but back then there were not many cameras or the quality has improved. This didn’t happen when all screens were black and white with no replay. It was known within seconds that a terrible call had been made. However, plays were not reviewed or challenged back then. The umpire simply made a really bad call. Terry makes terrible calls to Tony almost every week. That’s the irony. He just doesn’t understand what happened in the World Series and NFL playoffs. Also, he doesn’t realize that his contributions are comical. Terry keeps begging Tony to stay. Maybe Terry at least knows that somebody like JJ would catch his mistakes and call him out.

Another overnight regular is Stewart from Brooklyn. He called back recently after Tony hung up on him. Stewart changed his name, but the voice is pretty recognizable. Not many people address Tony as sir, so that was another telltale. Of course he got right back in with no callers on the line. If you couldn’t figure out that Stewart was on again, he praised the caller who was just on. I don’t ever remember another caller talking about how great Stewart’s call was. It could only be Stewart.

A caller asked Tony if he was going to Fanfest last month. Paige was apparently not planning on it. Tony didn’t seem to be aware of the event, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that nobody associated with WFAN invited him. Eventually Tony decided to show up. Even if management hadn’t asked him.

Tony took score predictions before NFL games and wrote them down. I can remember my boss criticizing this. Actually, I thought it was okay. A great show would have some other highlights, but at least Tony was being fan friendly. More importantly, he documented what people predicted. Callers predict scores. This happens a lot. I remember somebody called in the afternoon and spoke about how the Stars were a good NHL team that had a chance in the postseason.

He called back after they had playoff success, but of course his call had been forgotten. Not by me. I just wasn’t hosting. So, taking predictions and then giving proper credit after the fact isn’t an awful idea in my opinion. Naturally, Tony screwed this up. He forgot his pad one day and wrote scores somewhere else. People called in the following week to brag about their predictions. Paige did not have them. In fact, Tony told callers that they had not given their picks to him. He accused at least one person of being mistaken, and said the call must have been to another host.

It reminded me of a scene from Friends. Phoebe wrote about Chandler and Monica. However, she used fake names. Phoebe wrote down their conversations. Marsha and Chester were not on the same page. She knew there would be a problem. The two thought their meeting was supposed to take place at different times. This was basically me watching Tony and callers from a distance. I saw it coming.

Going over these great moments makes me feel like Gorilla Monsoon roasting Bobby Heenan on his Prime Time Wrestling anniversary. I’ll enjoy these final weeks. You really can’t get this type of entertainment anywhere else.

More Changes Coming Soon To WFAN

A recent Newsday article by Neil Best profiled Tony Paige and John Jastremski. The two WFAN hosts take listeners through the overnight. Jastremski seems destined for greatness at WFAN. His knowledge and passion have the rising star gaining attention. John already has a loyal following, and his recent appearance with Mike Francesa left callers comparing him to Chris Russo. The segment (and Jastremski’s similarities to Mike’s former partner) had people speculating that perhaps Francesa could team up with Jastremski at some point.

In addition to hosting shows on WFAN, the 30-year-old Jastremski can be heard on CBS Sports Radio. He also makes appearances on SNY. In the article, John mentions how people think it’s easy to get through overnight. It’s not. I know from experience. At least not when John is hosting. Honestly, it depends who is working.

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As for Paige, he mentioned only wanting to stay for another year before leaving to pursue other interests. Tony said that he doesn’t want to die on the air. Paige spoke about never asking to work during the day. I’ll be nice and leave his comment alone without throwing in my own two cents on this subject. Tony will be 65 in September.

Perhaps the WFAN Fantasy Phenom contest will return. At some point, Jastremski will probably land a daytime gig. That would leave both overnight slots open for the station. Joe Benigno figures to be nearing retirement. He speaks about it often. Francesa already left before returning. He might not stick around much longer, but with Mike, you never know.

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Steve Somers has been at the station for over 30 years. Like Paige, Somers also missed some time this year. Steve is in his 70s. The CMB program already lost their drive time slot. That show does not figure to be around longer than their current contract, but one or two hosts could potentially stick around and get repackaged. So, we will likely see a lot of changes in the next couple years. You youngsters who stream radio shows will not understand this term, but don’t touch that dial!

WFAN’s ‘CMB’ Continues to Mediocrely Chug Along in New Timeslot

The trio of Carlin, Maggie, and Bart has been hosting weekdays from 1-3 on WFAN for almost a month now. Except for the occasional day when Francesa needed off or the Yankees had an afternoon game. I feel like there has been very little talk about them lately. In this case, no news is bad news. You want some kind of buzz for your show. When the people stop complaining, it often means that they no longer care. With radio, it probably means that they have stopped listening.

I will usually listen to the end of Joe and Evan. Mike comes on a couple hours later. If I’m sitting at the computer and have my radio on, I will usually start listening to them. Even if that was not necessarily my intention.

As I told Lord Treesap, Francesa did not come back making less money to work all summer. Mike recently talked about the summer finally getting here. Although he mentioned that this year was different because he wasn’t working all winter, Francesa said nothing about working on more warm days this time around. Mike has downplayed the summer months and said that ratings don’t matter then. So, it looks like CMB will probably get their long show back for a bit. We know that Benigno wants no part of those hours. Of course, the race card comes into play a lot with Bart Scott. I don’t want to get too much into the specifics right now. They only have two hours. When you spend the first hour on anthem stuff, it probably chases away much of your audience. A popular cry from fans is that they want to watch their sports without being preached to. Fans look for an escape from their problems and want a pleasant distraction. I have to believe that most people also would like the same from WFAN.

One time Carlin talked about Travis Kelce’s behavior. He said this was tolerated because Kelce is white, and accused Kansas City of basically being an extremely racist area. I don’t know what his experiences are in this part of the country other than turning down a job in radio there. Even Maggie had to chime in and point out that Tyreek Hill did something way worse but still played there and didn’t seem to be unfairly blasted by the crowds.

I feel like there could be a great SNL skit about these three if more people knew who they were. The storylines are so obvious. Bart saying ridiculous things and mispronouncing names. Carlin laughing way too hard at things that are marginally funny at best. Maggie referencing Seinfeld. Asdrubal Cabrera is now the ass man when she talks about him. That is from Seinfeld for those who don’t know.

Throw in her knocking Friends, talking about being from Binghamton, and mentioning Sports Illustrated. Maggie used to work there. If you have spent any significant time listening to them, you probably know that. Forget just one skit. Make it a regular program. People thought Seinfeld was a show about nothing. Oh wait. They already have a show. For now.

Mike Francesa’s Return to WFAN Makes Life Meaningful Once Again

I have been very depressed lately. Ever since March Madness ended. You just can’t find that thrill anywhere else. At least I can’t. Football comes close, but we are still months away. Plus, I’ve been struggling to come up with good writing topics. I had some lingering March Madness thoughts, but time got away from me. It became too late to go down that road again. Other than previewing and reviewing HBO’s Andre The Giant documentary, I have not had much to say.

Last week I was ready to write about all the postponements in baseball. Evan Roberts discussed this. He hit on all of my points. Writing an article that recapped what he said seemed foolish. People who had heard him would think I just stole his ideas, and even giving him credit would not really accomplish a whole lot. I’d just be typing points that had been said on WFAN earlier that day.

Suddenly, the sky brightened. Mike Francesa will be returning to WFAN. People never thought he would leave. They said they’ll believe that when they see it. I remember thinking that he had a chance to change his mind when Craig Carton was arrested. A friend texted me the same thing. Mike offered to stay around. At least for a little bit. This was our first hint about Mike regretting the decision to leave.

After Mike’s departure, we started to hear that he missed it more than anticipated. Everybody except Francesa knew that he would miss it, and we also knew that his fans would miss him. More importantly, WFAN was missing him from a ratings standpoint. Clearly losing to Michael Kay was unacceptable. The way to fix their ratings was obvious. I kept thinking about when Jay Leno left. Conan replaced him. They tried putting Leno on before Conan and local news. Leno ultimately proved that you could go home again. I figured, “Why not Francesa?” Mike always said that you didn’t want to replace a legend. Only Francesa could replace himself. Kind of like when Mike called in during the summer as Joe and Evan filled in for him. Benigno would say that only Mike could come on his own show as a guest.

Carlin and the gang handled an incredibly tough situation with class. I wonder if they will work from different studios. They are likely going to be signing off when Mike gets ready to come on. Seeing each other would be extra awkward. Anyway, remember the important thing. My life will once again have meaning.

The Legend of Funhouse: The Account For Everything Mike Francesa

*** Written By Joe Saponara***

By now you probably know about Sports Funhouse. Maybe not first hand, but chances are you have at least heard about him. The guy who catches Mike Francesa making mistakes or telling lies. Probably both. Occasionally Mike will reference him in an interview or on WFAN. Producer Brian Monzo has gone back and forth with Funhouse on a number of occasions. On Twitter Monzo mocked Funhouse when his account was suspended. Big mistake. You had to think he’d return. After temporarily posting under another name, we indeed have an account once again run by the man who calls himself Sports Funhouse. All indications are that the account suspension had to do with posting sports highlights. Not the clips of Mike contradicting himself or giving incorrect information. Little is known about the man himself. He likes to be secretive. The current account says that his location is Rhode Island. I knew he was from somewhere in the New England area.

One WFAN host speculated that Funhouse might be a tech guy when we spoke for about 20 minutes earlier this year. That could explain his schedule and ability to maintain the account. Think about it. Recording every show. Posting clips. Funhouse has said he likes to wake up at 1:00 for Mike’s show. He listens to overnight radio. Funhouse has been known to bet and post about gambling. One would assume the guy makes a decent living. Years ago I used to blog about WFAN. Particularly the overnight. Often I would document the mistakes from hosts, and callers. However, there was no audio posted by me. Funhouse has taken it to another level. He has revolutionized how we follow Mike’s show. Years ago I felt like listening to WFAN had almost become more important than the games themselves.

Now Funhouse seems more important than listening to the program. If something important happens, chances are you can find it on his account. Plus, I want his take on the show. Similar to how I anticipated Mike breaking down big games. I hear Mike say something and instantly think about how Funhouse will have a ball with the particular comment or take. You know Funhouse will go over Mike repeating certain phrases. Sometimes I wonder how much of this would catch my attention if Funhouse had not pointed it out.

Of course nobody is perfect. Occasionally Funhouse might nitpick or go too far in my opinion. His dislike for Evan Roberts bothers me. Funhouse does not like Joe Benigno, either. It almost seems like they don’t do a bad enough job for him. The lack of incorrect information means he has little to mock them with. Those guys don’t provide enough foolish clips for Funhouse. Being stubborn and posting sports content minutes after it happens apparently cost him the old account. Still, it’s hard to picture life without him. I felt lost after the suspension. People like Neil Best of Newsday were thrilled when Funhouse resurfaced. He has captured the hearts of local sports media members.

I’m a little concerned about the new account. So far Funhouse has been pretty quiet. He also vowed to be nicer. Who wants that? Funhouse says he’ll retire from frequent tweeting when Mike goes. None of this is good. I guess the big question has to do with whether he’ll follow in Mike’s footsteps. We need to see if Funhouse will leave with several farewell celebrations.

My Frustration With WFAN Has Hit An All-Time High By Joe Saponara

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            *** Weekly Contributor Joe Saponara Returns ***

Sunday I was going to work and listening to the Yankees when they paused for station identification. I’ve debated whether or not I would name the person who came on, but I’ll let him remain nameless for this article. It was Father’s Day. Maybe the guy is a father. He said Tony Paige followed the Yankees on WFAN. I don’t ever remember Tony working Sunday night, and thought that was odd. He might have been reading the schedule for Saturday. It was in fact a mistake. Not really very important, but this was just the start.

I used to blog about such things, but it is no longer 2007 and I’m not logging into myspace. The ride was about 20 minutes, but this person came on for literally 10 seconds and made a mistake. I knew this was wrong. He also should have. If someone else gave him that information he should have been suspicious and double checked. Somebody who has worked there for years has to have an idea about when the on-air talent works, right?

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During my break at work I wanted to see if the Yankees won. Their postgame was in commercial (and Lori Rubinson was the host when it ended). Another station had a sports update at 7:45. That same person from WFAN did the update over there. He talked about how Yankees pitchers tossed 8 shutout innings, except for the third. This was quite awkward. He had me convinced that they won at first. Oakland did not even hit in the ninth, so that would mean 7 shutout innings other than when Oakland scored. Very strange. Absolutely awful. Just come on and say that the Yankees won. Then tell New York it is just a joke. Now I have been in the car for a combined 35 minutes. He came on twice for about 100 total seconds and has been brutal. I’m going nuts. I could do a much better job. To be fair, so could anybody who knows how to read.

On my way home I listened to Boston go ahead against Houston. I switched to WFAN for their 10:20 update. Here was my friend again. He informed the audience that Boston was losing 2-1 after saying that it was good news for Yankees fans. Of course I had heard the score change about five minutes earlier and knew better. Some of us old people have flip phones and count on WFAN for information. Especially when driving. At that time even those who have scores available on their phones find themselves counting on the radio.

Sadly, things like this happen quite often. It wasn’t just a bad day, and he is not their only shaky update person. Just for good measure this guy said that the Dodgers had beaten Cincinnati, and also Philadelphia. I knew the second team was Arizona and not the Dodgers. As for Boston, put it on television when there is one game to cover. That is often the case on Sunday night. I don’t even care about your Internet connection. Give good updates. Get your other information straight. Also, stop using Sportsticker. I used that 15 years ago at Sportsphone when reporting scores. It was horrible. Now any number of sites can give current scores. The final tallies: 55 minutes in the car. Numerous mistakes. Three awful segments. It’s not even like he hosted a show and kept talking. I probably heard him for a total of 3-4 minutes. If you are going to continue these 20/20s, please do them properly. This is the number one sports station. At least it is supposed to be.