As The Michael Kay Show celebrates its 20th anniversary, nearly nine years have passed since a pivotal moment in their history, when the show replaced Mike Francesa on YES Network.
Feb. 3, 2014, the Monday after Super Bowl XLVIII, was the first day that Kay’s ESPN New York radio show was simulcast on YES. To commemorate the occasion, co-host Don La Greca held a small garbage pail high enough for it to be in view of the YES camera as Kay quietly dropped a bottle of Diet Coke into the bin.
This week, The Kay Show listened back to the moment their show launched on YES and remembered the decision to chide Francesa with the Diet Coke bit.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” La Greca said as he recalled the bit. “I go to my Twitter and it was blowing up. I was like, ‘wow, people must really love the TV show.’ And I was inundated by how we were disrespectful. One guy tweeted me and said ‘I hope you get Lou Gehrig’s disease’…I’m still floored to this day because again it wasn’t really meant to be meanspirited. We didn’t put that much thought in it, we just thought it was kind of a funny thing to do and it really kind of set the tone for the next few years as far as competing with him.”
The bit seemed like an obvious flex, a way of attempting to symbolize dethroning Francesa by throwing his famously favorite drink into the trash. Despite the symbolism, Francesa would go on to remain the king of New York sports radio for another five years.
“I was being meanspirited,” Kay said, somewhat in jest. “Why I did it…was because Mike, and we always honor the fact that he’s a trailblazer in sports radio, amazing. He was so nasty and dismissive about us…that we’d never finish ahead of him, which we did, so it was just a little tweak because he was so nasty to us all the time.
“It was a tweak, it wasn’t anything vicious,” Kay claimed. “But he’s the type of guy who stood atop the mountain and decided to pee on everybody climbing up. We stand on top of the mountain, or we used to, and we never did anything to anybody. We were just happy we were there. So when we took over the show on YES, I just wanted to tweak him a little bit.”
While that’s a rather gross analogy to picture, Francesa was indeed pompous and arrogant as he dominated New York’s radio airwaves, an attitude that fueled his competitive nature and his loyal following. The Sports Pope handed The Kay Show a beat down for nearly two decades until ESPN New York’s afternoon show eventually topped Francesa in his final ratings book for WFAN, in the fall of 2019.
“We were working with the signal on 1050, nobody could hear us, so it wasn’t really triumphant that you beat us,” Kay said of Francesa’s long reign as Numbah One. “And then when we finally got on equal footing we eventually won.”
ESPN New York and WFAN both added FM signals in 2012, which put them on equal footing. It took seven more years for Kay to win a book, which was still a very impressive feat considering the head start Francesa had on WFAN with Mike and the Mad Dog. Currently, WFAN is back on top with Craig Carton and Evan Roberts as its afternoon hosts.