Francesa is finally returning from his 20-month broadcasting hiatus and WFAN fans are pumped, myself included. But when will Francesa realize, once again, that he left his heart in radio?
Along with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Francesa helped create and grow the sports radio format into the platform it is today. And while Russo overcame early hurdles to successfully build his own channel on SiriusXM, Francesa’s digital endeavors haven’t been a patch on the fanny of his radio career.
For 30 years, Francesa was the face of WFAN, dominating afternoon drive in New York. But after being praised as the “Sports Pope,” Francesa’s attempts at moving his career to apps and digital shows felt like he was being housed in a shack more than the Vatican. Rather than attempt to build those platforms up, Francesa quickly scrapped them with a hand wave.
For the last decade, Francesa has been portraying himself as an innovator, beginning with the launch of his “Audio Roadshow App” in 2012. It was a self-dubbed “groundbreaking” app and one that was going to be his answer to avoiding Twitter. The goal was to use the app to interact with fans outside of his radio show, but nothing outside of his WFAN content was ever posted.
Six years later, after Francesa had already left and triumphantly returned to WFAN, he launched his subscription-only Mike’s On app in 2018. “It’s going to be me on it all the time,” Francesa said at the time. “It eventually will be my broadcast home. I will be on it, I will be on it all the time, I will be on it at crazy hours.”
A hefty statement for someone who retired from WFAN the first time in 2017 because he no longer wanted to work the grueling schedule of a daily radio host. Francesa failed to integrate the app into listeners’ regular consuming habits while he was with WFAN, and after just one year, the platform was bought out by Entercom, made free, and eventually scrapped altogether.
In 2020, Francesa again left afternoon drive, this time for a daily one-hour show on Entercom’s Radio.com app and a brief 30-minute segment that aired on WFAN. But the Francesa experiment on Radio.com lasted less than six months, and his terrestrial run ended soon after, officially ending his run with WFAN.
Like the apps, Radio.com didn’t provide the same cachet as WFAN. It didn’t pack the phone lines or offer the same buzz as hosting drive time radio in New York. Without WFAN, Francesa was no longer at the center of New York’s sports scene. Francesa didn’t have the desire to build those platforms into something successful and who could blame him? A mid-60s sports radio host with a hall-of-fame legacy and a show built around live callers, creating an app or a podcast never made much sense.
But why should we believe the BetRivers venture will be different? The paycheck might be big enough to convince Francesa to create more podcast episodes, but it can never recreate the feeling of drive time on WFAN.
He can get the old band back together with producer Brian Monzo and one of his favorite guests Bobby Valentine, but it will still just be another podcast. Millions of people can handle having “just another podcast,” but not Francesa, not someone who was once at the pinnacle of sports radio.