One On 1: Steve Somers More Than A Schmoozer
Updated: Updated 07/27/2010 01:45 PM
By: Budd Mishkin
For many, there is something very personal about the radio – a medium that forces us to use our imagination and, at its best, creates a close bond between host and listener. For Steve Somers, it's a strong bond created over 23 years. NY1's Budd Mishkin filed the following "One On 1" report.
His is one of the most recognizable voices in New York.
"I don't sound like you, like a normal person. I'm nasal, with the smoking I've done over my lifetime, I have this nasal sounding, slow, old sounding voice, right? And now I fit my voice perfectly," says sportscaster Steve Somers.
Welcome to the nighttime at WFAN with Steve Somers, a host on the sports talk radio station since its inception in 1987.
"Twenty-three years here. I mean, I can't believe that. I think maybe it's because management isn't up late, what?" says Somers.
His nickname is "the schmoozer," and his friendly and funny style has created a family of devoted listeners and callers -- Martin from Flushing, Carmine from the Hunts Point Market, Doris from Rego Park.
In this age of sports talk radio screamers and know it alls, Somers sounds more like a friendly old disc jockey from the 60s, except he's talking sports, often about his beloved Mets.
"Ed Coleman, who's been here as long as I have said, 'I think the secret of your success is you say please and thank you,'" says Somers.
Why is Somers different? He recalls a conversation with his best known fan, Jerry Seinfeld.
"When I was first meeting him and getting to know a little bit about him. I said, 'Do you think I'm funny?' He goes, 'Not necessarily, it's your humanity, you have a heart and you're not afraid to show your heart,'" says Somers. "The please and thank you comes from my father, the way he ran his grocery store. I couldn't believe that he was nice to the pimps and the hookers and all of the red light district people that populated and frequented and came into his grocery store."
The irony is that for a guy who is known for his voice, much of his preparation time is spent poring over the written word. The monologue that opens his show has become one of his calling cards, and he prepares it meticulously.
"Howie Rose used to say, 'Where's Somers? He's somewhere writing his ad libs,'" recalls Somers.
The general good nature of the program perhaps belies what goes into it.
"Performance anxiety, a Type A personality. A lot of people think I'm very laid back, very calm, with the patience of Job, but I'm very driven. And very much an A-type personality," says Somers.
But what comes out over the air is like a cup of coffee with friends.
"I talk and talk and talk and talk and say nothing. And make a living out of it, can you believe?" says Somers.
Steve Somers has lived in New York for more than 20 years. But his heart has always been here.
"You know you have three kinds of New Yorkers -- the native, the commuter and the person like me who had as a goal and destination, New York. I had to play Broadway, even if it meant I was going to fail," says Somers.
Somers grew up in San Francisco, raised by his parents Kaya and Sam, whom he calls his heroes.
"If you had a problem and you went to him with a problem, he usually had a way for you to solve that problem by using common sense. My hero. My father Sam," says Somers.
He has an older brother who Somers describes as "special." The memory of the pain of his brother's condition growing up is still vivid.
"It's no fun, Budd when you're 10 or 11 and you're back in your bedroom and you hear down the hall in the kitchen your mother crying," recalls Somers.
He loved sports. A friend helped get him a job at KNEW radio in San Francisco, but doing news talk, while Somers was still a teenager.
"People in their 50s were talking to a 17, 18-year-old kid getting advice about what to do. Once somebody called and said, 'You give some very sound advice, obviously you've lived a long life. How old are you?' I said, '18,' and he hung up. True story," says Somers.
Somers eventually worked as a sports anchor and reporter in some major markets including Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles. While working in Atlanta, he got into the ring once for a promotion with Muhammed Ali. But Somers says he didn't take the work or himself seriously. And, he had a drinking problem.
"I thought everything was okay. I thought the problem was more with other people thinking I had a problem. Eventually Budd I realized that yes, I do have some issues that maybe getting out of hand and will continue to get out of hand and maybe worse than that if I don't address those issues, which I've done," says Somers.
By the mid 1980s he found himself back in the Bay area, out of work for two years.
"My mother was saying, 'You know, you should become a shoe salesman.' Why she said that I don't know. I told her I didn't have a foot fetish. My father was saying, 'Maybe real estate.' I said, 'Real estate? I can't pay my rent, what with real estate?' But they were both behind me because I wouldn't let the dream go," recalls Somers.
In 1987, he sent a videotape to a radio station preparing to go on the air, WFAN, and his dream of doing sports in New York was realized.
"For most people it would be a six hour flight from the left coast to the right coast. It took me 22 years to get here," says Somers.
Somers quickly built a loyal following on the overnights. He met one of his early fans during a late night run for ice cream on the Upper East Side, getting Jerry Seinfeld's attention by handing him a business card.
"He looks at the card and he looks up at me and he makes eye contact and he goes, 'You're Steve Somers? I listen to you all the time!' I almost dropped already. I mean I came this close to fainting, I mean it. I couldn't believe it. It was the most fun I ever had with my clothes on, take my word," says Somers.
His listeners have become accustomed to him talking about his family and his personal life, including his long time girlfriend and now wife Robin, known on the air by the nickname he chose for her -- "the hocker from Hackensack."
"The thing I like most, and Robin will tell you, even though I'm married -- get me into bed, get me a pillow, my notepad, a scorecard, and put a game up. Lemme watch the Mets, lemme watch the Knicks, the Rangers, the Jets or anyone else as well, and I'm in heaven, heaven. Make that read 'Heaven!' I'm not normal and you know it," says Somers.
By his own admission, Somers thought he was a big deal when he was younger, working on television in some pretty big cities. It seems that he is that rare person who found solid ground once he landed, and stayed, and flourished, on the biggest stage.
"There are more nights that I go home and kill myself because I don't think that I've lived up to New York standards of radio," says Somers. "And there are other times, Budd and you know this too. Where you feel so satisfied and so gratified and you feel like a million dollars because you know everything was in place and worked out the way you wanted it to."
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