A Q&A with AM 970's Frank Morano
A Q&A with AM 970's Frank Morano
They may call him “the people’s talk show host” on AM 970 The Answer, but after living in Staten Island for more than three decades, he prefers “Staten Island’s favorite son.” A longtime political operative in the borough, Morano now hosts a weekly talk show on Sunday mornings from 4-8:30 a.m.
City & State’s Jeff Coltin talked to Morano about interviewing, slow walkers and why he loves his home borough.
City & State: What are your Staten Island roots? Born and raised?
Frank Morano: Not just born and raised. I believe I am the only – or if not the only, statistically close to the only – first-generation, native-born Staten Islander who has remained on Staten Island. Now what I mean by that is most Staten Islanders fall into three categories. A whole bunch of people who live on Staten Island moved there from elsewhere – mostly Brooklyn. Not exclusively Brooklyn – but mostly Brooklyn. My parents for instance, were from Brooklyn, they moved to Staten Island. Then you have folks who were first generation, born in Staten Island, then as soon as they can make their own decisions, move elsewhere. Brooklyn, New Jersey, Pennsylvania now is big. And then you have Staten Islanders who are second, third, fourth, fifth generation native Staten Islanders. Whose grandparents lived there, great-grandparents lived there. And then, there’s me. To my knowledge, I am almost the only first-generation, native-born Staten Islander who has remained on Staten Island.
C&S: Why so? What got you hooked?
FM: Any aspect of human living, anything that makes a community worth living in, Staten Island has mastered to a “T.” If you like – as I do – good food, we have the finest culinary institutions in the world. You hear a lot about our Italian restaurants, but we have German restaurants, Indian restaurants, seafood restaurants, even Sri Lankan restaurants, all of which are to die for.
If you like the outdoors, we have the most beautiful parks anywhere. If you’re into sports, the streets that you can play street hockey or stickball on as a kid were wide, beautiful, and unlike any other streets anywhere in the city. If you’re into cultural institutions, we have the St. George Theatre, we have Snug Harbor. We have museums. We have a wide variety of cultural institutions that are the envy of the rest of the city. If you’re into history, we have the Conference House where Ben Franklin, John Adams and Edward Rutledge met with Admiral Howe to try to come to an end of the Revolutionary War.
In short, it’s the best of all worlds. It’s a big city, but it’s also a small town. It’s really, I think, the world’s largest small town. Everybody knows each other, but we still enjoy the protections of the NYPD and are just a 25-minute ferry ride away from the heart of Manhattan.
C&S: We’ve asked a bunch of local politicians for one thing that can make Staten Island better, and I think every single one of them said “transportation improvements.” Is it that bad? And what other problems are there beyond transportation?
FM: It’s worse than that bad. If the members of the MTA board or the commissioner of DOT had to commute from the South Shore of Staten Island to midtown Manhattan on a daily basis, you could bet we’d have a vastly different transportation infrastructure. I’ve been a longtime advocate for a South Shore ferry to Manhattan as well as a North Shore ferry, and I certainly think a rail link to New Jersey, which would connect us to NJ Transit, would be terrific. And for intra-borough transportation, we only have the one train right now, the Staten Island Railway. If we had a West Shore rail or a North Shore rail or both, all would be of great assistance.
The other issue is drugs, quite frankly. We’ve seen an incredible uptick in the number of heroin and prescription drug deaths. You see families – middle-class, upper middle-class, even upper-class families – that never dreamed that their children would be involved in drugs, dying of drug overdoses. I don’t know anybody in Staten Island that doesn’t know somebody that has been affected by prescription drugs and heroin specifically.
C&S: What’s your favorite place on Staten Island? Maybe even one that some locals wouldn’t know about.
FM: I love Bloomingdale Park. It’s only 13 years old, but it’s terrific. Before that – and I grew up in that neighborhood – people who lived in that neighborhood had really very little in the way of parks. And this park offers a dog run and a bocce court in addition to the standard baseball fields and children’s playground. Bloomingdale Park is terrific.
C&S: You talk to a lot of political figures on your show, Richmond County district attorney candidates Michael McMahon and Joan Illuzzi most recently. What’s your approach to those interviews?
FM: For years I was very active in Staten Island politics. I was a leader in the Independence Party in Staten Island, so I developed relationships with many of the politicians. The trick with some of them is to not assume the audience knows these people as well as I know them. It’s almost the opposite of how I approach a traditional interview. In a traditional interview, I try to create an intimacy with the guest, even if I’ve never met them. But when I’m interviewing a Staten Island political figure, whether it’s McMahon, Joe Borelli, Nicole Malliotakis, Jimmy Oddo – all of whom I have a longtime relationship with – I almost have to remind myself that the audience doesn’t know these guys as well as I know them.
And the other thing, because our station airs in areas outside of Staten Island, is to make the issues that we talk about of interest to a broader community: New Jersey, the rest of New York City, Long Island, Connecticut, Pennsylvania. So the people who are listening in those places are interested in what we’re discussing and it doesn’t just become Staten Island radio. Though if it were up to me, I’d do Staten Island radio three hours a day.
C&S: So talk radio, and your show especially, are known for good discussion about “social issues that irk you.” What’s the one that irks you most?
FM: There are a whole bunch of phrases that people use that just drive me crazy. When someone uses the term “he’s good people,” that drives me crazy. That, I find irksome. That’s an example of what I call “linguistic linguini.” When I put that out there on the radio, callers call in with thousands of different expressions, many of which also drive me crazy.
In Manhattan, there are two things that bother me as a pedestrian. I walk all over the place. People that walk super slowly when there’s three or four of them and they take up the whole sidewalk, or, if you’re walking at a moderate pace, people that are walking so that they’re one quarter inch behind you. I don’t understand why it’s so difficult to persuade the majority of pedestrians to walk at a moderate pace. So those two things.
In Staten Island, I do see an issue occas
C&S: You’re a big fan of diners, and who isn’t? What do you think of the efforts to save them and other small businesses? Is it too late to save the diners?
FM: No, I don’t think it’s too late to save the diners. Not long ago, we had over 1,000 diners in New York City, now we’re down to less than 400. In Manhattan, the Market Diner closed in Hell’s Kitchen, which was a really terrific spot – I actually covered this in my show on Sunday morning if you want to listen to the podcast. But I think the effort to save diners and other small businesses, particularly restaurants, is a very worthy endeavor. Because this is what makes New York, New York. If you listen to people describe their favorite New York memories, they don’t describe a conversation with a barista at a Starbucks, they don’t describe an interaction that they had in line at a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru, they talk about late nights spent at diners or the Chinese equivalent of a diner like Wo Hop. It’s absolutely essential that we save diners specifically, but small businesses in general. There’s no reason you should be able to have eight chain restaurants on a single block. Especially if it’s a block where a small business owner can’t afford the rapidly escalating rent. So I think this should be a priority for everyone in Staten Island and for the city as a whole. I saw the tears shed at the Victory Diner when it closed in Staten Island on its last day on Richmond Road. Incredible, incredible institution featured in many movies like “Easy Money,” even television shows like “The Education of Max Bickford.” It was a wonderful diner. Not only was the food great, but the atmosphere was second to none. I saw people literally crying in the runup to its closure. To think that there’s going to be a whole generation of Staten Islanders – unless it gets reopened which they’ve been talking about doing – that have no idea what it’s like to go to the Victory Diner. It’s heartbreaking!
C&S: What’s your favorite diner now, on Staten Island?
FM: I would have to say the Annadale Terrace. I have to make that with an asterisk. It used to be the Annadale Diner, they moved next door, now they’re the Annadale Terrace. It is a diner. They have all the great diner food, but they have this whole lounge area aspect of it and a whole party room which goes beyond your typical diner. But I have to say that’s my favorite diner, although there are many other good ones as well. The Page Plaza Diner is great, Andrew’s Diner is great, Z-One is great, but if I had to pick one, it would certainly be the Annadale Terrace.