Mike Francesa rarely owned up to making a mistake during his radio career, but he now admits returning to WFAN after his first retirement was one.
Francesa’s WFAN career can be broken up into three parts. Mike and the Mad Dog, which spanned from 1989 to 2008, the solo era which ran from 2008-2017, and the comeback from 2018-2019. According to Francesa, the comeback was a mistake.
Monday afternoon, Francesa joined Barstool Radio for a wide-ranging interview with hosts Kevin Clancy, John Feitelberg, and Tom Scibelli. During the conversation, Francesa spoke about the pressure he felt after his long-time partner Chris “Mad Dog” Russo departed for SiriusXM in 2008. Francesa justly gloated about continuing to drive WFAN’s afternoon show to No. 1 in the ratings and beating ESPN New York’s The Michael Kay Show every book through his first retirement. But Francesa did ultimately lose the final book of his comeback to ESPN and Kay in 2019, which the radio legend sort of attempted to downplay by scoffing at the decision to return.
“Coming back, I’m not gonna get into, but that was something that was not on my mind,” Francesa told Barstool Radio. “They appealed to me to come back on so many different levels. I didn’t really want to do that. That was the one thing if I could do over since I retired, I would not have come back. I didn’t like that whole thing. It was a mistake. But you live and learn. I wish I didn’t because I left so perfectly and everything was great, I should have kept it at that.”
After saying goodbye to WFAN and the New York sports audience in Dec. 2017, Francesa made his triumphant return in May 2018. Maybe triumphant as far as the listeners were concerned, but not everyone inside the building was as welcoming of Francesa.
WFAN was in flux when they brought their long-time afternoon drive host back. Francesa’s successors, Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott never got a fair shake and were trailing to Kay in the ratings as they worked to find chemistry. WFAN was also under new ownership, with Entercom acquiring CBS Radio in Nov. 2017, and enduring the loss of Craig Carton who had been arrested just three months before Francesa retired.
There’s no doubt Entercom, which has since rebranded as Audacy, recruited Francesa out of retirement. But the Sports Pope still ultimately made the decision to comeback. And for the first few books, it was deemed a good one from a business standpoint, with Francesa and WFAN mutually enjoying ratings success. But that last book remains a mark on Francesa’s career. Had he maintained his undefeated streak over Kay through his last book, it’s hard to imagine he would be so quick to call his comeback a mistake.