Steve Somers, who signed off from WFAN on Nov. 15, left a legacy unmatched in the annals of the radio ecosystem of New York. Somers carried on a mutual admiration society with listeners for the entirety of WFAN, the city’s first all-sports station. Somers has been broadcasting at WFAN since its inception in 1987.
Some New York personalities have had bigger reputations, garnered more gossipy media coverage, boasted bigger paychecks and had (much) bigger mouths. But nobody talked sports quite like Somers.
First, there was the nickname. To his legion of fans, he is known as The Schmoozer. Can you imagine a more friendly or disarming moniker in an industry where loudmouths seem to get the most media attention? Thankfully, he’s no mad dog – and doesn’t even try to be. If he held down, say, the 11 p.m.-to 2 a.m. shift on a given night, he would introduce his show as “a three-hour schnooze.” When he held down the overnight hours, Somers was known as Captain Midnight.
Next, there was his trademark unconfrontational broadcasting style, when the accent is on wit, not bluster.
Finally, there was the respect that he showed to his listeners. It was heartfelt. You could tell he appreciated their devotion to his show. He never forgetting to thank each of them at the start whenever anybody called in. “Steve Somers here – you there.” Somers never snarled at them, insulted their intelligence or belittled their loyalty to New York’s awful sports teams.
Now that he has left, the table-pounders and screechers have taken over. The rare analytical voices, such as Chris Moore, Lori Rubinson and, on happy occasions, Kim Jones have become overwhelmed by the other kinds of radio personalities who talk breathlessly, as if they are getting paid by the syllable.
Listeners Pay Tribute
A few nights before Somers said farewell for good, I listened in and jotted down some of the remarks made by his listeners. They could have griped about the city’s woeful football teams, but almost unanimously chose to pay tribute to their hero.
Vinnie from Brooklyn said soulfully, “We are selfish. We do not want to let you go. You got us through some really bad times.”
Someone named Jerry – no, not that one – noted he was 17 years old the first time he listened to Somers. He was in high school Now, he is 51.
Somers had an unmistakable effect on his army of fans. Chris, for example, called in to say that he vividly remembered the first time he ever heard Somers’ voice. That occurred while he was riding in a car with his parents, on their way to a family vacation in Vermont. Chris was three years old at the time. “It has been a dream to call in,” Chris said, his thirty-something voice now rich with emotion.
Characteristically, Somers brushed aside the praise. “I’m big with three-year-olds,” he quipped.
From SF, With Love
Somers, 74, is a real New Yorker. His longtime listeners know his history by heart.
The son of a grocer in San Francisco, he went to college at Berkeley and always dreamed of living and working in New York. After stints in the Bay Area, Atlanta and Los Angeles, he finally made it.
He roots hard for New York’s Rangers, METROLOPOLITANS and KNICKERBOCKERS, insisting on giving those teams their full, legal names. He disdains the teams of his youth, mocking Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry, who plays in San Francisco, as “The Mouthpiece and the Shimmy” and doesn’t care for either of the Bay Area’s baseball teams, either.
Somers does not shill for the New York Yankees, even though WFAN carries the team’s games. He is a diehard Mets fan – and that’s that.
“Jerry From ...”
Somers’ most famous fan is New York’s favorite Jerry – Jerry Seinfeld, who has called into the show on many occasions.
It’s not too surprising that the two became friends after a chance meeting at a deli at First Avenue and East 78th Street one day in the early 1990s. They share the same sort of bemused sense of humor, happily winking at the absurdity of the real world.
He and Steve have actual conversations on the radio, each enjoying the other’s observations. Steve appreciates Seinfeld’s involvement, but he is not in awe – which Jerry no doubt prefers.
When Seinfeld phoned in during Somers’ last show, he called his friend “one of the greatest New York sports voices” and praised Somers’ “humanity.”
Seinfeld noted: “You always tried to be decent.”
Perhaps the best testimonial on Somers’ final broadcast came from Bernie Williams, the former New York Yankee great who phoned in. Bernie told him: “You were tough. You were fair. You were entertaining.”
You couldn’t ask for higher praise – or a more accurate appraisal.