For the past few weeks, the WFAN Fantasy Phenom contest has held auditions at various Simon malls in both New York and New Jersey and at select Buffalo Wild Wings locations with hopes of adding a talented unknown sportscasting star to their well-known rotation of anchors, which includes Mike Francesca and Craig Carton.
On Saturday, sports fans from all over the Tri-State area packed inside the Livingston Mall for the chance to earn a one year guaranteed contract to host their own weekend radio show on the WFAN sports radio network.
A large crowd began to form well before 10 a.m., which was when the contest began. By the time the event got underway, a line of hopeful sports fans stretched from the center of the mall all the way back to the entrance to the Sears department store.
For hours, a panel of judges from the radio station listened attentively as local die-hard sports fans gave them a two minute rant about a sports topic of their choice.
Given the fact that Saturday was also the Major League Baseball trade deadline, it was only appropriate that many of the contestants used their knowledge of baseball to impress the panel of judges.
It is important to note that this contest is more than just a publicity stunt. Current WFAN personality and co-host of the midday show, Joe & Evan, Joe Beningo got his big break in radio when he won a similar WFAN contest over ten years ago; that contest was appropriately called Fan Appreciation Day and it allowed Beningo to serve as a guest host. After working his way up the ranks of WFAN, Beningo now finds himself as the co-host of Daily News Live on SNY and he's also an author.
While some participants were strictly fans looking for a new means of expression, others already had some broadcasting experience under their belt. Kerel Cooper, who is the founder and host of OnTheBlack.com, which is a video blog devoted to analysis of the New York Mets, was such a participant. Although he wasn't at Saturday's event, Cooper was recently selected to move onto Round 2 of the competition after a successful audition at the Menlo Park Mall in Edison earlier in July.
Cooper credits former MLB player and now analyst, Harold Reynolds, as an inspiration for the type of host he would like to emulate.
Despite getting in line for his audition at 8:30a.m., nearly two hours before the event began, Cooper did not audition until 11 a.m.. During the wait Cooper remained focused and calm. "While in line I just talked sports with the people around me. I kind of just let it come to me," he said.
However, despite hosting a countless number of sports shows, Cooper admited that he had some trouble deciding on a topic for his audition. "I didn't know what I was going to talk about until about five minutes before I went on stage." Cooper added, "I ended up talking for two minutes about my dissatisfaction how the Texas Rangers, a team with financial troubles, were able to land Cliff Lee and the Mets were not."
The remaining finalists from Round 2 will then have the opportunity to co-host a show with Mike Francesca on August 27, after which a single winner will be selected.
For now though Cooper is taking things slowly. "If I pass Round 2, I'll move onto the finals but one step at a time".
Think you have what it takes to the host of your own sports?
While it may be too late to audition in a Simon mall, there is still time to show off your sportscasting skills. There will be one final audition held at Buffalo Wild Wings on Route 1 South in North Brunswick on Monday August 2.