Mike Francesa and Chris Russo were sports radio pioneers, but are they versatile and talented entertainers or a product of their time?
As Craig Carton’s time on WFAN dwindles, he took a sort of parting shot at the hosts who helped build the station more than three decades ago. Carton, who is departing WFAN to focus on his FS1 morning show, claimed he holds more sports knowledge than he lets on, but always prioritized generating ratings over talking sports.
Mike and the Mad Dog, however, prioritized talking sports and it similarly generated great ratings. But according to Carton, Francesa and Russo’s brand of sports talk wouldn’t work if they were attempting to launch their careers in 2023.
“I know more sports than everybody that’s ever worked here in the history of the station, I just don’t like talking about it.” Craig Carton pic.twitter.com/BIXnz8BGAP
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) June 29, 2023
“There’s a matter in which you talk sports that just does not work anymore,” Carton said. “If you take all the successful hosts that started this radio station, and I mean this, and you ask them to start their careers today doing the exact same type of show they did back starting in the late ‘80s into the ‘90s, they would have all failed. I want to be clear about that, every one of them would have failed.”
Francesa continued his success as a sports host into the 2010s, while Russo is still succeeding today. Their longevity was certainly helped by the followings they built earlier in their careers, but Russo also proved the ability to adapt with the success he’s enjoyed alongside Stephen A. Smith every Wednesday on ESPN’s First Take.
“The great ones adjust,” Carton’s co-host Evan Roberts argued. “Mike Francesa could have played in this era.”
“Is that why he lost to Michael Kay?” Carton asked while omitting the fact that he similarly lost one book to Michael Kay too during his WFAN tenure in afternoon drive.
Carton later acknowledged Francesa and Russo may have been talented enough to adapt to what the modern sports fan seeks for entertainment on radio and television, but attempting to launch a career by mimicking what they did in the ‘80s and ‘90s would not work today.
In that sense, Carton’s right. If no one knew of Mike Francesa, and he hosted his first ever show today by opening the phone lines to yell at callers with ignorance and arrogance, he might not get a second on-air opportunity. But Mike and the Mad Dog, although sports-centric, was not bland sports talk that relied solely on caller interaction. At their peak, it was compelling, opinionated, informative, passionate radio with unmatched chemistry. The qualities that made Mike and the Mad Dog appointment-listening at their height could certainly have translated to the future.