One week from now will be Mike Francesa’s final show on WFAN, ending a 30-year run at the pioneering sports talk radio station. With his sign-off so close, Francesa is taking something of a victory lap as media reporters and observers seek to sum up an unprecedented career in talk radio and New York sports.
A profile by Neil Best in Newsday recaps Francesa’s run on sports radio and the impact he had on the New York sports scene, particularly for the athletes who played there. Former Mets pitcher Ron Darling has one of the best quotes in the article, saying, “He holds so much power in this town that if he likes you from 1 to 6 [p.m.], you have a chance.”
That five-hour time slot is definitely something rarely heard on radio these days, too. Most sports talk shows throughout the country go two to three hours. Four is even considered long. But to be on radio for five hours a day, and largely by himself since he and Russo split in 2008, essentially made Francesa the voice of WFAN for many listeners and fans.
How many other sports talk hosts have had such an impact, especially broadcasting from a local market — even if it’s the largest media market in the country? How many have devoted fans like Funhouse (@BackAftaThis) who records the show and posts clips online every day?
The Sports Pope himself has a great quote in Newsday about his sustained popularity, especially online.
“I became gold for page hits . . . For some reason I’m internet gold, and that’s why I get so much attention.”
Francesa began as a weekend host focusing on college sports in 1987 and was popular enough that he began doing fill-in work for other shows. Within two years, he had his own show, co-hosting with Chris Russo on the legendary Mike and the Mad Dog program. Nearly 30 years later, the show is still remembered so well that it was the subject of an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary earlier this year.
The question now becomes what Francesa does next. He doesn’t sound like he’s interested in retiring. WFAN wanted him to stay on in light of Craig Carton’s firing to help prevent ratings losses from the station’s two most popular personalities leaving. But as Francesa puts it, station executives gave him no reason to remain.
Is his future in podcasting? In an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch, Francesa said that Bill Simmons had reached out to him about possibly working together and doing his popular weekly football picks on his podcast. Maybe the two will collaborate on television, where Francesa believes Simmons just hasn’t found the right vehicle yet. “Mike and the Sports Guy”? That could become the sports internet’s next great currency.