Sexism Struggles for WFAN’s First Voice, Suzyn Waldman: They Were ‘Terrible to Me’

America’s first, all-sports radio station – WFAN – had its first, full-blown workout on July 1, 1987 at the stroke of 3 p.m., and at 1050 on the AM dial. Not so incidental is the fact that Suzyn Waldman was the first talent to grace its airwaves.

“I was sitting in my place in the studio, and you could see into the control room, which was all glass,” Waldman recalls. “And the people from WHN were standing there… holding hands, and people were crying. I was very aware that when my voice hit the airwaves, WHN would cease to exist.”

She provided updates that inaugural afternoon for Jim Lampley’s show.

For the next 14 years, she was heard constantly at the ballpark or in-studio, as host (two years in midday with Jody McDonald) or reporter. But beneath the surface, right from the beginning, it was not the greatest time of her career. The primary reason was sexism.

“The first thing I remember, after my update, was hearing the owner of the station, Jeff Smulyan yelling outside the door, ‘Get that smart ass woman with the Boston accent off my airwaves in prime time!'” Waldman contends. She recalls Lampley telling her to “just keep going.”

She says Smulyan, who has become friends with Waldman, now denies making the remarks, “but he did.” Thus, started a difficult time for a female in what was then still regarded by many as a man’s profession. “They were terrible to me,” Waldman admits.

Waldman stepped into radio after 15 years in theater, another dog-eat-dog business. She was no stranger to missing out on parts for any subjective reason. “I’ve never had people hate me because I was a woman,” Waldman says. “It was a real shock to me.”

A guaranteed contract precluded management from firing her. But quitting was a different matter. After only a few weeks, Waldman was moved to overnights, providing updates for Steve Somers.

She fought through the adversity, finding her niche for the next decade. Recognizing that the station employed newspaper reporters to cover games, she went to program director John Pruder with an idea. Waldman was willing to drive to every arena and stadium in the New York metro area, while still working with Somers. “Nobody wanted to go and hold a microphone to people,” Waldman says.

That foresight led to her being a radio pioneer, of sorts. Waldman says she’s the first electronic beat reporter, male or female, covering sports, in this country. “That didn’t make the newspaper people happy, at all,” Waldman recalls.

Despite being on location from a remote “office,” a handful of staffers still kept her miserable. “I got tape. Then the guys in the control room would take my tape, cut it up, and make me look like an idiot,” Waldman remembers. It didn’t stop there for Waldman’s uphill climb at WFAN.

“People would get up and walk out of the room when I was on the air,” Waldman says. As she looks back a quarter-century later, the analysis is albeit unfortunate as she was considered the wrong gender.

“It was very different back then. I can’t even go back in that timeframe because it was so confrontational, Waldman admits. “I’d get used condoms in the mail and death threats. Horrible things happened in those first few years.”

Those difficult times only hardened Waldman’s resolve. “I don’t like people telling me I can’t do something when I know I can,” Waldman says.

That’s why covering games not only got her out of the station, it made her indispensable. Due to her coverage, Waldman quickly became associated with the Yankees and Knicks. But not until she had a battle with station brass.