It’s not often that a person whose regular shift starts at 2 a.m. can gain much recognition. Most people up at this time are trying to stay awake at work or are insomniacs.
For sports fans, no matter what the reason was that you found yourself up at all hours of the night, there was one constant who would be up with you — Tony Paige.
This past Saturday, Paige hosted his final overnight program on WFAN, a New York-based 24-hour sports talk radio station, after 16 years in the position.
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Paige, who announced his retirement in June, assured listeners that the decision to retire was solely his own choosing and that he was not being forced out or leaving due to illness. Paige has given WFAN listeners a unique point of view over the years as both the station’s primary boxing expert and only main black host.
I first stumbled upon Paige when listening to WFAN after a Mets game before the team switched stations. I was pulled in by his soft-spoken voice and well-articulated points, something that suits the night shift far better than the yelling of the loud afternoon hosts the station currently employs.
Paige being a Mets fan himself (like another great late-night host on WFAN, Steve Somers) understood the ups and downs of the fandom, both ready to celebrate each win like it was a playoff game or comfort fans who couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel after yet another tough loss. And trust me, through the early 2010s there were many more Mets losses than wins.
What separates Paige from other hosts though, is his ability to be such a naturally genuine and optimistic person. You could fill any of the New York sports stadiums to maximum capacity with the number of callers he cheered up over the years. Paige even had a few emotional moments over the course of his career, such as the time he stayed strong fighting back tears speaking with a caller who had lost his home in Hurricane Sandy and just needed someone to talk to.
Paige had a knack for making his show about more than just sports. As he noted during the last segment of his final show, he always felt that it was important to focus on things other than just game scores and recaps. In particular, Paige always opened up the phone lines for callers to talk about their parents on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day or even asking listeners what they were thankful for on Thanksgiving day shows.
As many great guests, commentary and debate Paige experienced from his callers over the years, he also made sure to thank the non-calling listeners who never felt inclined to be more than just an observant participant. Around Christmas time of 2014, I fell into this category as well.
I was trying to stay strong while my father was in the hospital. After long nights hoping things would be ok, something didn’t sit right with me turning on the television as a distraction. It felt wrong for me to get entertainment in a moment where I had so much pent up emotion and fear. Instead, I decided to turn my bedside radio on and listen to Tony Paige. He was just doing his thing, hosting shows as he typically does, but he provided a calming feeling for me at a time where it felt like nothing else could.
As he said himself during his final show, “Family means a lot to me, and I’ve noticed family means a lot to all of you too.” I’m just one of many hundreds of people who Paige impacted during his career at WFAN, as he truly made the most out of an opportunity that was not originally in the cards.
Paige’s career began at WFAN after interviewing for what he thought was an opening doing the updates (providing scores to all of the major sports games in progress every 20 minutes on the station). After speaking with Mark Chernoff, a top-level executive at the station, Paige was offered an audition to host overnight shows. As fate would have it, Paige won over the hearts of his bosses and the station’s listeners.
Paige, who is also a father, often incorporated family values into the show. This included anecdotes of coaching one of his sons in high school sports. His advice for parents on his final night on the air? “Talk to your kids. You are their first coach, whether it’s on the diamond, on the court, or in the living room. Always try to be better than your parents treated you, and go the extra mile.”
As much as Paige encouraged being a strong support system for children, he also acknowledged one of the hardest things to do as a parent is at a certain point “you have to let go, let them fail.” Letting go is something Paige learned to do himself, and as his callers on his final night echoed, it was refreshing to see him walk away on his own terms seeking something new out of the rest of his life at 66 years old.
Paige mentioned some plans in the works to finally write a book, stating his passion has always been writing, and perhaps most importantly to spend more time with family.
I was lucky enough to fight through busy phone lines to say one final thank you to Paige and wish him luck in those future endeavors, and I was happy to hear him say in his final segment that he’d continue to root for the Mets, the same way I’d continue to root for him.
In his closing moments, Paige stopped taking callers and set the stage for an intimate goodbye with his listeners. Paige admitted he was overwhelmed by all of the praise he received his final week from callers thanking him, but he remained humble as always saying, “You praise me endlessly and that’s a little unfair because I should be praising you.”
The song Paige often used to transition back into his show from commercials, “When Somebody Loves You Back” began to play, signaling the end for Tony Paige on WFAN. The chorus of the song goes, “It’s so good, loving somebody, when somebody loves you back.” Fittingly, the last thing listeners heard from the long-time overnight host was “Tony Paige signing off, all I can say is, I love you back. Take care.”