Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images/Tim Whitby Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images/Tim Whitby
By Jon Friedman

I have been listening faithfully to Steve Somers since WFAN came on the air in 1987. It has been my pleasure.

Early on, the word started going around that a new kind of voice was appearing on New York’s sudden sensation — an all-sports radio station. My friends told me that he was irreverent, blasphemous (in that he actually criticized the god-like athletes of the city), and un-self-conscious about poking fun at himself on the air (talk about real blasphemy!).

I checked him out and found all of the above to be true. He made me laugh — and think. He discussed sports in a serious way but with enough proportion for us to remember that we weren’t talking about war or poverty or a presidential scandal. He didn’t resort to the shock jock’s formula of saying stupid or gross things simply to get a rise out of people. His style centered on wit, of all things. I was hooked.

Somers started out at the station as his self-proclaimed Captain Midnight, a voice of reason in the wee hours before dawn. A lone voice can make such a difference when a sports nut just can’t get to sleep. That period was vintage Somers, radio at its best when the presence can feel as much like a friend as a celebrity.

He has since moved to an earlier hour (marriage will presumably propel a man to make saner career choices in life, eh?), but he is no less entertaining, wise, and smart. Lately, he has been gently mocking — as is his style — the pompous, money-stained, season-long tribute to Derek Jeter, who is retiring from the Yankees after 19 memorable seasons. Leave it to Steve Somers to put the retirement in its proper perspective.

Somers is having a field day needling the Jeter acolytes who fully expect their hero to move from the Bronx to Cooperstown, and then perhaps…who knows? The White House? Nah. Sainthood? Hmmmm. Uh uh.

For months, Somers’ tag line has been that Jeter is “No. 2 in our programs and No. 1 in our hearts.”

He has made the endearing, sort of ethnic term “schmoozing” all his own. When someone hears that word on WFAN, you know they’re referring to Steve Somers (and hey, even if “schmoozing” doesn’t have an ethnic whiff any longer, it is Noo Yawk all the way).

My favorite “schmoozing” moment came during the 1987 NFL playoffs when, if my memory serves me well, Somers was interviewing an accomplished Minnesota Vikings’ pass rusher named Chris Doleman.

The Vikings had just upset Somers’ hometown favorite San Francisco 49ers in the NFL playoffs, thanks largely to its front four’s rough treatment of Niners quarterback Joe Montana (yes, this happened long ago).

Somers happily introduced Doleman by saying, “We’re schmoozing here with Chris Doleman,” to which the apparently startled Doleman said, “Whaaaat?” Priceless radio moment.

If not for Somers’ devotion to the New York Rangers, nobody on WFAN would discuss ice hockey. Its army of young, self-satisfied radio personalities is quite pleased to stick to the meat and potatoes lineup of football, baseball, and basketball.

The young fellows on the air know more statistics than Somers and they go to more sporting events. But they have a predictable, time-honored sense of hero worship that I can do without. They sound very pleased with themselves and are not shy about giving their opinions (even though they probably don’t know much than the listeners).

Mind you, Somers is hardly a cult favorite, by the way. He’s pals with Jerry Seinfeld (on the air, at least) when Seinfeld calls in to talk about their mutual heartthrob, the New York Mets (which Somers always calls “the Metropolitans”). Plus, the New York Times profiled him not too long ago. A table is probably waiting for him whenever he wants it at Peter Luger (he sensibly mentions the joint frequently on the air).

When his fans tell him during the show how much they admire and appreciate his work, he graciously says, I’m just glad to be working.

The prominent lesson of Steve Somers’s longevity and success is that nice guys can finish first in broadcasting, even when they thankfully aren’t pounding the table to get attention and secure ratings points. You don’t have to shout or preen or do stunts to get attention in a positive way.

Somers is one of New York’s secret heroes. He makes an under-the-radar contribution to making our city special. Just like any number of teachers or civil servants, he makes the city a better place to live in. Can Steve Somers Save NY Radio from the Shock Jocks?

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