It is an honor for WriteOnNewJersey to have communicated with Mark Chernoff, Vice President of Sports Programming, CBS Radio and Operations Manager of WFAN, past and current home to some of sports talk radio’s most distinguished luminaries in the genre’s pantheon. He has graciously answered questions about his career in the medium, including his background and perspectives on music and talk radio. We at WriteOnNewJersey will address each of the two hemispheres of Mark’s extensive career in separate articles. The first, written by yours truly, will concentrate on sports and the second, written by Kathleen Felleca, will center on music.
A resident of New Jersey and a graduate of Rutgers University Graduate School of Business, Mark has been a distinguished figure in radio for more than thirty years. He began his career as a DJ at WNNJ in Newton, New Jersey; later, he progressed to responsibilities as the station’s Program Director. His second stop was WDHA in Dover, New Jersey, where, for seven years, he served as Program Director. Mark’s next move brought him to WNEW-FM in New York City for four years, leading the area’s prominent music station. After a brief stint in Washington DC, Mark returned to the “Big Apple” as program director for WXRK-FM. Four years later, he joined WFAN as Program Director of this extremely popular sports radio station, where he currently resides.
On a personal note, I have known Mark since our days as undergraduates on the banks of the Raritan River. He is a wonderful person with a fantastic wife and two children who make him proud every day of the week. Mark’s love of radio was evident at Rutgers. He spent a great deal of time working diligently at the University’s radio station, where he began to learn the ropes. I am not surprised that Mark has been extremely successful in the radio industry. And so, here goes…
How did you get started in radio?
Building on the love for radio that I had developed as a kid, I joined WRSU, Rutgers University’s station, in 1970 when I was a freshman at the college. After graduating in 1974, I attended Rutgers Graduate School of Business, from which I received an MBA. However, I was much more interested in radio than I was in anything else. While still in graduate school, in late 1975, I began working on a part-time basis at WNNJ in Newton, New Jersey. About a year later, I was offered and accepted a full-time position there, thus forsaking a career in accounting.
What qualities do you need to achieve longevity in radio?
That’s a tough one. For me, my love for just being in the business was a big factor. As with achieving longevity in any profession, I suppose that talent played into it as well. Knowing how much I really wanted radio as a full-time career, I persevered. I sent out many audition tapes until I finally received a positive response; this led to an interview and then a job. Once in the business, I discovered the true meaning of teamwork when I found that I needed to learn and do everything (job related) that I was asked to do. I worked in the sports department, news department, and on-air as a DJ; I also learned the skills required to be an effective manager. Oh yes, when asked to clean the building for an extra $25 (the station was located in a small house), my wife and I did that as well. She also worked at the station; that’s where we met.
What are the keys to your success in the radio business?
I love the business and I love the people. I’ve worked with many talented radio hosts and managers. I have always felt that as a manager, I should let the talent do what they do best, in their own way. Howard Stern, Don Imus, Mike Francesa, Scott Muni and so many others with whom I have worked —they all knew how to succeed. I just wanted to be there to offer assistance, when needed and offer ideas, if asked.
What are the highlights of your career?
There are too many highlights to really choose, but working with the talent I’ve already mentioned and so many others at great radio stations such as WFAN, WNEW-FM, WXRK (K-Rock), and WDHA have made every day so interesting.
What are your career disappointments?
Honestly, I can’t really say that I have any.
What advice would you give to a college student who wants to break into radio?
I would strongly advise the student, “Become involved in your school’s radio station. Spend as much time as possible learning about all of the different departments (programming, accenting, engineering, etc.). Balance this experience with the demands of schoolwork and studying. Of course, you must also know how to navigate your way around the Internet, including keeping pace with constantly changing technology.”
What advice would you give someone starting out in the radio business?
I would counsel anyone and everyone that searching for a job is, in and of itself, a full time job. it’s challenging; for all the people out there seeking, there are few available jobs. I would advise an applicant to ensure that his/her resume is both honest and explains what he/she does best; qualifications should be highlighted. Before applying for jobs, I would recommend getting the names of the people empowered to make hiring decisions and directing the resumes accordingly. Also, I would tell the candidate to follow the station’s protocol with respect to the submission of the resumes (traditional mail, e-mail, etc.). And, one final word of advice. In radio, the job search is similar to training for the Olympics or any big event: stay focused to get what you want.
What qualities do you look for in a sports talk radio personality?
I look for personalities who are entertaining and know the material. It’s as simple as that. Sometimes, the hard part is identifying who is and who isn’t talented.
What is your starting team of sports hosts?
Boomer and Carton go on the air from 6 – 10 AM, followed by Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts from 10 AM -1 PM. Then Mike Francesa takes the helm from 1 – 6:30 PM. After Mike, Steve Somers comes on from 6:30 PM-1 AM (with ballgames usually taking up 3 ½ of Steve’s hours on most nights). Our overnight hosts are Tony Paige and Marc Malusis.
Please briefly describe why you wanted these hosts on your team.
Mike Francesa: there isn’t a better sports talk host to be found. Boomer and Carton: a sports guy and a radio guy together … it works. Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts: a mix of experience and youth makes for passion in midday broadcasts. Steve Somers: just a lot of fun; he’s been here since Day One. Paige and Malusis are local hosts who know how to entertain the listeners during the overnight hours.
How did you come to choose Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton for the morning show?
Following Imus was going to be difficult. We decided to refocus the show more on sports, with the entertainment topics of the day serving as a backdrop. Also, to make a long story short, we put Boomer and Carton together in a studio to audition for the show, and they were great.
Did you encounter problems getting them together?
Surprisingly, none. One thing that wasn’t a problem but might have been was the question of who would take the lead doing formatics, taking the calls, etc. Again, there were no issues with these guys; they get along both on and off the air.
At what point did you know that you had a hit show?
When the first ratings book was published. I will say that I heard chemistry between Boomer and Carton from Day One, but held back my enthusiasm until I saw the actual ratings.
Did you expect the rapid success of this pairing?
I didn’t, but was thrilled about it!
What are some of your greatest sports memories?
What would become my greatest memories occurred in 1964, when I was kid sitting in front of the TV, watching the Yankees and Cardinals duke it out in the World Series. Mickey Mantle hit a home run off Barney Schultz, giving the Yankees a 2-1 win in the bottom of the ninth. What a game! On a very personal level, my best memories revolve around watching my kids play sports, including college and high school baseball, soccer, and lacrosse. I loved cheering them on as well as their teams. I loved going to each and every one of their games.
What are some of your most disappointing sports memories?
Nothing in particular. There were many “losses” that bothered me for a bit, but as time passed, the sting disappeared. It was very frustrating, for example, watching the Mets lose on the final day of the 2008 baseball season and not get into the MLB playoffs.
What are your predictions for the Yankees, Mets, Giants, and Jets?
I’ve learned not to make any predictions, as they’re likely to be wrong, so I just keep my thoughts to myself.
Do you think the Phillies will have a repeat performance as World Series Champions?
I’m a New York sports fan through and through. Because my son works for the Cleveland Indians, I root hard for that team. Otherwise, my answer here is obvious.
Do you ever miss not being at a radio station that plays music?
I’ve been lucky throughout the years. Not only have I had the opportunity to be with WFAN since 1993 but also, CBS has been great to me; they have often given me music stations to work with as well.
Please name the sports personalities and professional athletes with whom you have enjoyed working, and explain why.
A lot of them! I don’t want to be a namedropper (it’s bad enough that I singled out on-air talent earlier!)
Could you provide us with interesting or funny stories about sports talk show hosts or professional athletes that you have known over the years?
Oh, I have many stories but again, I really don’t want to single anyone out.