SPORTSCASTER CAN STILL HANDLE DOUBLE DUTY
Courtesy New York Newsday
(December 21, 2007) Warner Wolf woke up for work yesterday before you did - twice.
At 1 a.m. Wolf, a lifelong restless sleeper, awoke and spent an hour checking the Internet for news of the previous night, both the mundane (Pistons beat Celtics) and the paranormal (Knicks win!).
At 4:30, he rose again, this time to meet a car at 5 that drove him the 40 blocks from his home to 2 Penn Plaza and the studios of ESPN 1050 and WABC. By 5:45, he was on the air for the first of 13 times in four hours. In his spare time, he taped two more segments for use later in the day.
Wolf turned 70 last month, by the way.
So if you had Warner and retirement after 46 years in the business, you lost!
"I could never picture being retired," he said between brisk walks down a short corridor separating the studios. "To me, in life you have to have a reason to get up."
Even at 4:30, apparently.
Such is the latest turn in a career that began on radio in 1961, at WLSI in Pikeville, Ky., where he did the weather by checking the vane and rain bucket in the back . . . and changed his first name to Ken at his boss' suggestion.
Between then and now, he was a pioneer in sports talk radio and the use of video highlights on TV, a local news star in Washington, D.C., and New York, a network play-by-play voice and the source of one of the most memorable live, eyewitness accounts of the Sept. 11 attacks.
It appeared his days in the spotlight were through when Ch. 2 dumped him in 2004, but he resurfaced on the radio on WABC's morning show with Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby.
When that show was erased by the return of Don Imus Dec. 3, ESPN 1050 quickly hired him for twice-hourly local commentaries during its morning program.
Then, suddenly, this: Imus' producer, Bernard McGuirk, asked him to rejoin Imus, with whom Wolf had worked dating to the mid-1990s.
When I first was tipped off last weekend that Wolf was coming back to WABC, I posted it on my blog. But it seemed so implausible that on Sunday, I took it down pending further reporting.
Sure enough, just after 6 o'clock Monday, there was Wolf, kibitzing with Imus, like old times.
WABC and ESPN 1050 used to be owned by the same company. Now they're not. So why would 1050 agree to this?
Largely for the promotional benefits, but also out of loyalty to Wolf, with whom 1050 program director Aaron Spielberg once worked in Washington.
"To be on the Imus show is a great opportunity for him, and there's no reason to keep him from that," Spielberg said.
When Imus' new show debuted, comedian Tony Powell handled updates, but he did not seem fully at ease talking sports.
No one associated with the show would confirm that was the motivation for pursuing Wolf, but Imus didn't take long to reach out.
Why? "Because he's a New York sports icon," McGuirk said. "He's lovable, he's huggable and he's funny . . . Who wouldn't want Warner Wolf to do sports?"
Wolf talks to Imus, whose studio is across Seventh Avenue, about 12 minutes after each hour, then has one or two minutes to walk the 20 or so feet to ESPN 1050's studio, regroup and start talking again.
There the décor changes from a "We Support Our Troops" banner at WABC to shelves of sports books and pictures of Michael Kay.
Wolf's 1050 producer, Mike Gunzelman, 23, is young enough to be his grandson.
"It's Warner Wolf, a living legend," he said. "He's spoken to Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Ali, Frazier. He's done it all. You're learning from the best."
The greatest challenge for Wolf is not finding things to say. It is minimizing repetition. He uses a legal pad to keep track of what he says where.
Yesterday one theme was Roger Clemens and reports of the doses of steroids he allegedly received via injection. "Man, that's a sore tush!" he said.
Wolf is done by 10 a.m., which leaves time for movies, shows and "nice, long romantic lunches" with his wife.
Still, doesn't the schedule get to a man his age? Next week he is working 5 a.m. to 6 a.m. in place of regular overnight host Gordon Damer.
"It's not difficult," he said. "But you do have to have proper rest. You can't go out boozing the night before."
He usually is in bed by 9. In his TV glory days, he was on the air much later than that.
Or are these his glory days?
"To me, it's amazing I get paid to do this," he said. "Not that I'd do it for free, but it's very rewarding. You can come on the air on two powerful stations and give your views.
"A lot of people have views, but they're not telling millions of listeners. I don't see how you can beat this situation."
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