Over three years ago we lost a legend in Art Rust, Jr. Outside of New York or to younger generations, his name may not resonate with the masses. However, to all of us who enjoy 24-hour access to sports, we owe him a debt of gratitude.
On January 10, 2010, we lost Arthur George “Art” Rust, Jr. at the age 82. Mr. Rust was more than a sports broadcaster for WRRL, WMCA, WINS, WABC and later WBLS Radio from the late 1950s to the mid 1990s. He was like that friend or neighbor that you loved discussing the sport topic du jour. This Harlem native was literally the Godfather of Sports Talk Radio. Long before WFAN’s Mike and the Mad Dog (Mike Francessa and Christopher Russo) there was Art Rust, Jr. manning the AM radio waves debating on numerous topics, such as whether the New York Jets would be better off without an aging Joe Namath, emphatically stating that the New York Nets were crazy for selling Julius Erving, or wondering if the New York Giants new head coach (some guy named Bill Parcells) would survive his first year.
His outstanding career of 54 years started when he hosted the WRRL’s Schaefer Beer’s Circle of Sports. During this stint, he would combine his two loves, sports and music. During one of these programs, you might hear him interview Jackie Robinson and Miles Davis on the same show.
He moved to television from 1967 to 1973, where he was an anchor for New York’s NBC affiliate. He would later return to radio at WMCA and WINS. But it was at WABC in the early 1980s where he solidified his Hall of Fame broadcasting career. WABC was known for its top-40 music format, yet Rust’s program was one of its most popular time slots.
Some call Rust, Jr. the Jackie Robinson of sports talk radio. But unlike the late great Dodger, Rust did not only open the door for African Americans, he laid the foundation for the 24- hour sports-talk format in general. I can assure you that stations back in the mid-1980s would have not taken a chance on a 24-hour sports-talk format if it was not for the ground work that one Art Rust, Jr. initiated. Think about it; Rust had established himself on the radio and had a loyal fan base three decades before WFAN hit the air. You know that Art Rust, Jr.’s body of work was part of decision makers’
thinking when they launched WFAN.
I was introduced to Mr. Russ by my Grandfather back in the mid 1970s. He worked the late shift at the Grand Old Post Office on 34th Street and usually prepared dinner for the family before he left for work. When I came home from school, the sound of Art Rust Jr.’s voice could always be heard in the kitchen. I remember one day entering the house through the kitchen door to hear Art Rust, Jr. talking about the New York Knicks getting Bob McAdoo. I was so excited I jumped up in air screaming “Yeah,” dropping my school books in the process. And then my Grandfather looked at me responding, “I know that you might be excited about that news, but you can still say hello to everybody first!”
Then I had the pleasure of meeting him when I was around 15 years old. I was playing in the Rucker League Summer Tournament for the Reality House Cavaliers. This distinguished-looking gentlemen was sitting in the stands, and after the game, he came down and spoke to my team’s director Stan Brown, who introduced him to the team. He was as gracious a man that you would ever meet. I told him that I brought my Grandfather his book A Recollection of a Baseball Junkie for Christmas one year and he responded by saying, “thank you for contributing to my retirement fund.”
In addition to his broadcast career, he was an outstanding writer and columnist who authored several books, including the controversial Get that Nigger off the Field and Art Rust’s Illustrated History of the Black Athlete. He also helped write several autobiographies for athletes from Joe Brown to Daryl Strawberry. Art Rust was also a featured columnist for the Amsterdam News and the New York Daily News.
I was glad to see WFAN talk show host Tony Paige and ESPN personality Bill Daughtry pay homage to Brother Rust when he passed, as well as the tributes that all of the daily publications posted regarding the passing of this great man. I just hope that all of the big-name radio hosts who make close to six and sometimes seven-figure salaries thank Mr. Rust, Jr. for his contributions to their industry.