It’s been a bizarre eight months for WFAN, a station who’s weekday lineup remained stagnant for nine years following Chris Russo’s departure on August 14, 2008. Nearly a decade later, The FAN has been on a rollercoaster ride of change, beginning with Craig Carton’s resignation last September and continuing through Mike Francesa’s imminent comeback mirroring that of Jay Leno.
“This is for those who started this campaign in recent days,” said Francesa. “I didn’t decide to go back to WFAN until I was told I better not go back. For those behind it, that was the moment I decided to return.”
As someone who follows the New York sports radio scene rather intently, I struggled to find where “this campaign” began. Could it have been the two-year celebratory farewell? Maybe the ESPN 30 for 30, or the sold out event in his honor, Francesa: A Night to Remember. Was it everyone assuming Mike would play the role of hero and remain with WFAN after Craig Carton’s arrest last September?
For someone who left on his own terms, it’s hard to find where any sort of conspiracy to keep Francesa from returning stems from. The Afternoon Drive treated his departure with class, avoiding a response to criticism even when listeners expected one. The only resemblance of poking the bear in recent weeks came from a reported Chris Carlin text containing salty language after Mike and the Mad Dog joked about FAN’s lineup on an episode of Russo’s MLB Network show High Heat.
Good for Chris Carlin for showing some fight, and not backing down from his mentors because Francesa certainly wouldn’t back down from him or anyone else.
Mike’s return will be highly anticipated by fans, but it’s difficult to foresee him being celebrated by many of his coworkers. Carlin, Maggie and Bart took the high road during Tuesday’s show open in response to swirling reports of Francesa’s comeback, however, there’s no doubt tensions will be running high between CMB and Mike. Does it matter? Pick up a New York newspaper this week and it’s easy to see why WFAN wants him back.
The station may prefer things settle down and everyone come together as a cohesive unit, but more back page publicity won’t hurt their attempt to climb to the number one position in the ratings. The previous morning show regime never shied away from initiating controversy with Francesa and it doesn’t appear as though Boomer has since warmed up to the Sports Pope. Between CMB getting bumped, Francesa’s rocky relationship with Carlin and Boomer, along with Giannotti’s spot on impression of Mike, WFAN’s dynamic should be entertaining.
If Carlin, Maggie and Bart move to the 1-3 timeslot as expected, the trio will get the opportunity to grow with less pressure on their shoulders. But for a three-person show that struggled to find rhythm during four and a half hours, developing their style might be difficult with only two hours to work with. It’ll also be awkward hearing them lead into Francesa, the host who couldn’t move on and cost them their opportunity. Still, listeners should expect a fire to be lit under CMB who have the opportunity to experiment and build their show.
The microscope falls on Francesa. CMB’s ratings should perform better against Stephen A. Smith’s national show on 98.7 FM ESPN New York. The Michael Kay Show is no longer expected to win the afternoon drive ratings battle because after all they have never defeated Mike. That means the pressure is on Francesa to return and immediately deliver results, but that challenge, competitive fire and need to be heard on the New York radio airwaves is a big part of what lured him back to FAN.
There are two clear winners in this story. The first is the radio fan, the consumer, because regardless of your Mike Francesa opinion, you are intrigued by the unfolding of his comeback. Few people had the daily sports presence of Mike Francesa during the last 30 years and his return is fascinating to watch. Seeing Mike and WFAN trend nationally on Twitter speaks volumes for a near hundred-year old form of media, but Tuesday’s radio news had people scrambling to find out more.
The second winner is Andrew Marchand. Leaving the Yankees beat to cover sports media could appear to be a downgrade, but Marchand has been front and center, performing a tremendous job of reporting this story.
The move looks hypocritical and desperate, and it comes across as a panic move for both Francesa and WFAN. It’s clear now that Mike had no post-WFAN plan. There were entities interested in retaining his services, but nothing that provided the same platform or paycheck that WFAN did.
The Fan also shares blame because they lacked the courage to standby a new program in The Afternoon Drive with Carlin, Maggie and Bart, which they assembled and knew would need time to gel. Pulling the plug after just one ratings book is perplexing.
Yet with all of this chaos ensuing, I found myself locked in at 2pm to hear CMB react, 6am for Boomer and Gio to respond, 10am for Joe and Evan to offer their thoughts, and I eagerly await the first time Mike cracks the mic to start his new show. His return will make many uncomfortable, but it’s that type of chaos that creates creates attention, and now everyone involved will work to turn that instant attention into long-term success.
Reports have Mike returning to the airwaves as early as next Tuesday. Terms of Francesa’s pending contract have not been released, but speculation is that the deal is for a reduced amount and will run thru the end of 2020. Even with a paycut, the radio legend’s new salary will likely be more than the other high-profile jobs he coveted last fall, the Yankee managerial position now held by Aaron Boone.
Brandon Contes is a former reporter for BSM, now working for Awful Announcing. You can find him on Twitter @BrandonContes or reach him by email at Brandon.Contes@gmail.com.
Barstool’s Big Cat Recalls Awkward Moment of Aaron Rodgers Interview
“If there’s one thing I know how to do well, it’s to reroute a conversation when a guest is like, ‘Oooh, I don’t like you guys.'”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently appeared on the Barstool Sports podcast, Pardon My Take, and the interview seemed to go well.
Podcast co-host, Dan “Big Cat” Katz, who is a die-hard Bears fan and well-documented Aaron Rodgers hater, relished in the fact that Rodgers agreed to take trash talk from him.
But there was one moment where things almost derailed.
Big Cat, in his weekly appearance on ESPN Chicago with Tom Waddle and Marc “Silvy” Silverman, talked about asking Rodgers how many grandmothers he had killed (A reference to Rodgers not being vaccinated against COVID-19 and his beliefs on vaccine mandates).
“That was a good lesson that PFT and I sometimes have to learn,” Big Cat said, before saying he saved the interview by finding a way out of the subject. “If there’s one thing I know how to do well, it’s to reroute a conversation when a guest is like, ‘Oooh, I don’t like you guys.'”
Katz said it was a moment where they had to pause and understand what they were actually asking and insinuating with Rodgers.
“That was one of those ones we really don’t live in the real world, so when we go out into the real world and we say something that we’ve been joking about within the confines of our studio on ears that haven’t heard those jokes before, it’s kind of like, ‘Wait what did you guys just say? Are you really joking about grandmothers that died from COVID?'” he said. “And then when you get it repeated back to you, you’re kind of like, ‘Oh, yeah that is kind of messed up. Right, good point.”
Katz mentioned Rodgers went with the whole bit for the interview the entire time. So while there was a brief second where things could’ve gone south, everyone just let it go.
“Score one for Aaron, but he was smiling,” Big Cat said. “It was all in good fun.”
Jordan Bondurant is a features reporter for Barrett News Media. He also works for ABC8 News and Newsradio WRVA and 910 The Fan in Richmond, Virginia. His prior experiences include working for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Danville Register & Bee, Virginia Lawyers Weekly and iHeartradio Richmond. He can be reached by email at Jordan.E.Bondurant@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @J__Bondurant.
Fescoe in the Morning: ESPN Has a History of Ignoring Non-Partner Leagues
“They are risking being ignored by ESPN now,” replied Klingler.
ESPN is out of the running for the Big Ten football and basketball media rights. Those will be awarded to a combination of other networks and likely a streaming service. ESPN appears to be focusing on NCAA Championships next.
Josh Klingler, co-host of Fescoe in the Morning on 610 Sports Radio in Kansas City, took time on their show on Tuesday to break down what that might mean for the Big Ten in terms of coverage.
“You’re (Big Ten) going to network television, which is better; more eyeballs and what have you,” noted Klingler. “But also, let’s not forget ESPN has a history of ignoring you when you’re not on their air. That’s the risk they are going to run.”
Klingler would add, “They are going to take the money. They are going to get network viewers, which is good. I guess the highlight and the hype and all those things that we are accustomed to doing that ESPN provides. We’ve already seen they ignore you if you’re not on their network.”
Bob Fescoe chimed in a reminder about another prominent league that chose not to partner with ESPN.
“Ask the National Hockey League what happened when they took the money from NBC and ran,” said Fescoe.
“They are risking being ignored by ESPN now,” replied Klingler.
“Right, but I think they are willing to do that for a billion dollars per year,” Fescoe responded.
Fescoe then said that the Big Ten might make up for the perceived shortcomings of not being on ESPN by being on network television.
“If you’re going to be on network TV in all three windows, Josh, quite honestly all your marquee games are going to be free,” said Fescoe.
“That’s exposure,” said Klingler.
NESN’s Dave O’Brien Says National Networks “Blew It” By Not Hiring Dennis Eckersley
“I don’t know how they blew it as badly as they did but Dennis Eckersley should have been a national icon… they made a mistake on that. I hope somebody regrets it.”
On Monday, Dennis Eckersley decided to make it known that this season would be his last with NESN in the booth. He mentioned that after 50 years in baseball, it was time to go be with the grandchildren in San Diego.
His broadcast partner for a lot of those years in the NESN booth was Dave O’Brien. On the latest Sports Media Mayhem podcast, O’Brien joined show host Alex Reimer to talk about the retirement of Eckersley. Reimer pointed out that it took awhile before Eckersley became the main color analyst for the team. O’Brien remembered the time well.
“When he started, he was pre- and post- and he did that most of his career at NESN,” said O’Brien. “It was really, only the last six or seven years that he really started to get on as a game analyst.”
O’Brien was named the lead play-by-play announcer for NESN’s Red Sox coverage in 2016 which is about the same time Eckersley slid into the role of game analyst. In the time since, O’Brien has seen the work of Eckersley up close and is floored that he was working for a regional sports network and not somewhere more nationally prominent.
“I think the national people totally blew it on Dennis Eckersley,” blurted O’Brien. “And that includes Turner. They had an opportunity, I can say that because a lot of those people there now didn’t make the decision. He should have been the lead analyst doing national games. He should have been on ESPN on Sunday Night Baseball or FOX. I don’t know how they blew it as badly as they did but Dennis Eckersley should have been a national icon… they made a mistake on that. I hope somebody regrets it.”