The top ten New York City radio moments

From integration and elation to extraterrestrials and rock tragedy, NYC’s radio waves have caught—and created—some of the most major moments in our city’s history

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Illustration: Eric Piatkowski

1. Martians invade the East Coast

Orson Welles’s “War of the Worlds” stunt on Mercury Theatre on the Air in 1938 freaked the hell out of a lot of listeners. (Reports by the press of mass hysteria were exaggerated, though.) His tale of aliens landing in New Jersey, broadcast from the CBS studios on Madison Avenue, resulted in listeners suing the station for mental anguish, and 23-year-old Welles thought his career was over. (Spoiler: It wasn’t.)

2. A hipster from Billyburg calls The Best Show

In 2009, “Terrence from Billyburg,” a.k.a. rock drummer Jon Wurster, called in to host Tom Scharpling to perfectly lampoon the BK hipster of the aughts. The manchild bragged about building a baby-crib venue “big enough to play kickball in” and other ironic pursuits. It’d be funny…if it didn’t all sound so plausible for Bedford Avenue bros. Download the clip here.

3. The shot heard ’round the world

Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning homer off Ralph Branca in 1951 was the most dramatic moment in the long rivalry between the Dodgers and the Giants. Russ Hodges’s frenzied call on WMCA (“The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”) captured every drop of excitement.

4. Welcome to New York, Mr. Freed

New to WINS, DJ Alan Freed, whose late-night shows introduced millions of listeners to black music for the first time, hosted two sweaty sold-out, 6,000 capacity dances on January 14 and 15, 1955 at Manhattan’s St. Nicholas Arena, quickly anointing Freed the leader of those crazy kids.

5. Mister Cee comes clean

Amid rumors last year, Hot 97 DJ Mister Cee came on the air to admit that, yes, he’d had received oral sex with transgender women, adding, “I don’t consider myself gay.” The broadcast sparked a much-needed conversation in the hip-hop world, which is often fraught with homophobia.

6. Stern vs. O.J.

During the peak of his reign as King of All Media, Howard Stern exploited the O.J. case for everything it was worth. His most outrageous bit? The day after the verdict on the Juice came in, Howard sent Gilbert Gottfried (dressed in a Dracula costume and speaking in a ridiculous Bela Lugosi accent) to Harlem to ask locals what they thought. Tasteful? Not at all. Funny? We hate to admit it. Yep.

7. WFAN scores

When WFAN debuted in 1987, few believed that a station devoted to 24 hours of sports talk could succeed—and at first, it didn’t. The initial roster of hosts tanked. Then, on September 5, 1989, the Mike and the Mad Dog show premiered, becoming a smash success, and an important lesson was learned: New Yorkers actually enjoy being yelled at by other New Yorkers.

8. Vin Scelsa announces John Lennon’s death

Music purist Vin Scelsa has entertained from behind the mike in New York for 40 years, but his WNEW show on the night of December 8, 1980, when John Lennon was gunned down in front of the Dakota, is his most memorable. “We began what became a radio wake for John Lennon,” Scelsa later told NBC News. “We opened up the phones. We took calls. And what came across in those phone calls was this incredible sorrow and rage.”

9. This American Life takes Brooklyn

Just a month ago, Ira Glass staged a remarkable night of radio dramas at BAM. Composer (and the host’s cousin) Philip Glass turned the true story of an opera singer trapped inside an NYC hotel closet into a minimalist opera; SNL’s Sasheer Zamata transformed a stand-up bit about a bus accident at La Guardia into a War of the Worlds–style tale, complete with actors and sound effects. Apparently, Brooklynites love retro. Go figure.

10. Murray “joins” the band

As soon as the Fab Four landed at JFK in advance of their Ed Sullivan appearance in ’64, WINS DJ Murray Kaufman was on the scene. He hung out with them at their hotel, took their requests on the air and became New York’s unofficial ambassador to these oddly coiffed Liverpool lads, at one point naming himself “the fifth Beatle.” No word on what happened to the elusive and mysterious band after that.



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