Running down a dream at WFAN’s audition contest

Take my word for it -- they're actually talking at me in this picture

From when I was a kid, I’ve always loved the medium of radio – sports radio, in particular. Even now that I’m 30, there’s just something so fantastic about the idea of being represented only by one’s thoughts, shot out onto the air waves, deep into the night.

So when I found out about WFAN’s “Fantasy Phenom” competition, in which the winner would get a one-year deal to host a show on the sports radio station I grew up listening to, I knew I’d have to give it a shot – just to know that I did.

Full disclosure: While I like my current job as an editor for a sports web site, my ultimate dream growing up was to host a show on WFAN. Back when I was 15, in need of an outlet, I was what you would term a “frequent caller” to overnight hosts Tony Paige and Joe Benigno, to whom I’d rant about boxing, the Mets and the Knicks. I got very good at getting through despite consistent busy signals, and I’d record the calls and critique myself later on.

I actually ended up hosting my own show for four years at Duke, and I still consider that to be one of my favorite things I’ve done.

Obviously, I have some history here. So when I heard about the contest, I knew I had to get to an audition just because I’d always wonder what would happen if I didn’t, and because I wanted to get that radio rush back in my system again, even if just for one day.

Mike, holding down my spot in lineFully aware of my horrible sense of direction, my friend Mike agreed to drive me to Wednesday’s event at a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant at some town called Port Chester in Westchester County. It was the “Wild Card” qualifier round, meaning 24 people would make the cut to earn a 2-minute rant/conversation in front of a couple of judges, including WFAN host Anita Marks.

Two people would be picked to advance – significantly fewer than the 10 chosen at most of the audition rounds, but this was the only one of these my work schedule allowed me to attend.

By the time we worked our way from North Jersey to Port Chester, the BWW/WFAN folks had pretty much wrapped up their decision process, but they graciously allowed me to be interviewed, and I would have been satisfied to just have that experience. After a brief conversation about my background and a couple of trivia questions, I was excited to hear myself announced as one of the 24 finalists.

I initially decided to do my two-minute rant on the Mets, but I was scheduled dead last of the 24, so I decided to switch it up and talk about the Pacquiao-Mayweather negotiations. I figured it was something I was relatively well versed in, and it would set me apart a little more than being the 11th person to lament Jerry Manuel’s penchant for bunting.

While watching the auditions, I chatted with some of the other hopefuls, some of whom nervously glanced over handwritten notes scribbled on a pad. A few of us exchanged e-mail addresses and agreed to keep in touch. Despite the fact that we were technically “the competition,” I think we all kind of knew by virtue of our presence at this event that we had a lot in common.

And since there were about a dozen audition events, the odds were slim one of us would win the whole thing, but you just never know…

After the other 23 had exhausted the topics of Darrelle Revis and Omar Minaya, I took the microphone and explained my stance on boxing in its current form – which, obviously, has been on my mind lately. I talked for a minute, then had a brief debate with the judges. Ms. Marks did throw a pen at me, but I chalk that up to her being very passionate about Floyd Mayweather ducking Pacquiao.

Honestly, I felt pretty satisfied with how it went. I thought I got my point across about a relatively unique topic without having to resort to shouting, and most of the other contestants proceeded to uneasily congratulate me – I think they actually thought I could win! – on having a solid audition.

A few minutes later, they announced the winners. The first was the one woman who auditioned, a sweet person who really likes A.J. Burnett. The second was a guy auditioning for the fourth time who screamed a lot. I didn’t understand what the hell he was saying, but there was no doubting his passion.

(Both of their audition videos are at right)

As for me? I mean, I had a blast. The whole experience reminded me just what I loved about radio as a kid: Everyone can have a voice.

Sidebar: SportsAngle is now throwing its support behind friend Kerel Cooper of OnTheBlack.com, who advanced to the next round at an earlier audition.

Don’t get me wrong, sometimes sports talk shows – even on the vaunted WFAN – can sound like a bunch of idiots yelling at each other in a phone booth, complete with a lack of knowledge and/or coherency. I’ll leave out the names, but there are certain hosts I can’t listen to for any extended period of time, and I’d venture it’s safe to say I’m pretty much the target audience.

But there’s still something about the mystique of sports radio – especially New York sports radio – that helps me cut through the nonsense, nepotism and Beltran-bashing you hear on the airwaves daily.

I don’t call the Fan much anymore, but once in a while, when I’m driving home from work late at night, I’ll give Tony a holler. And it meant a lot to me last month to be able to interview the man who helped make me a boxing fan for some articles I wrote while covering the Yankee Stadium fights for my day job.

After all these years, the Fan is still there if I need it.

*****

Obviously, I had been hoping my name would be called, and that I’d be able to move on to the next round – to keep the dream alive, so to speak.

But I actually felt all along that maybe that just wasn’t really meant to be. When I hosted my final show at Duke, I said on the air that if I never had another show, I’d be okay with it – at least I had been able to live that dream, if only for a short time.

And having a dream growing up is a good thing, but it’s not really about fulfilling it in particular. It’s about creating new ambitions and finding new horizons that you never knew existed. I mean, I wanted more than anything to be on the radio when I was 15, but I never imagined I’d someday run a marathon, or sit ringside to write about a championship fight.

Life isn’t about wondering what might have been, but rather considering what is, and what could still be.

And there’s nothing like revisiting how great a childhood ambition was to remind you that where you actually end up might not be quite so bad either.

Esoteric

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