The great living inventor of sports talk radio as we know it opened himself up to ridicule this year after returning to WFAN-AM less than six months after quitting the radio station built largely by him.
Mike Francesa orchestrated a frilly, drawn-out farewell tour culminating in an emotional on-air goodbye a few weeks before Christmas last year. In May of this year, suddenly he was back.
We now fully understand why the awkward drama took the twists it did.
It’s the app.
The last guy one would expect to embrace new technology is now trying to deliver an array of sports-related content with much of it bypassing the 50-thousand watt transmitter blanketing the New York City radio market. Francesa’s 30-plus years talking sports here won him a big, loyal following. He’s now hoping some of his listeners will pay a hundred bucks a year for the “Mike’s On” app launched last Friday.
Francesa left WFAN last year believing he could succeed on his own – without the burden of answering to the corporate CBS/Entercom parent he doesn’t admire. As a free agent, Mike met with a bunch of new technology outfits. He sought knowledge about how to monetize an app or podcast platform reluctantly embraced by him after watching his pal Bill Simmons reach a large audience with that model.
So, in May of this year Mike returned to WFAN at a cut rate – with a shorter time slot. It was a post-divorce reconciliation by necessity. The radio station needed him. The afternoon trio that filled his vacancy was doing poorly in the ratings. Craig Carton was in big trouble with the law. And as we would later learn – Joe Benigno was in hot water of his own – with a harassment claim that has kept him off the air for months.
The FAN was desperate to win back the afternoon drive slot that Mike’s presence could guarantee.
In return, Mike needed the exposure of the radio show to stay viable until he got the app up and running.
Along the way, sports gambling was deemed legal by the US supremes. Now left up to the states – Jersey pounced and New York should not be too far behind.
Mike is more of a stocks guy – but he’s cognizant of point spreads – especially in football. Corporate-owned media doesn’t seem immediately ready to put their foot on the gas on gambling but Mike is already linked up with DraftKings (the bookmaker taking legal bets at the Meadowlands) and hasn’t be shy saying expanded betting will be a boon to sports talk.
So, while FAN management can’t be fond of all the app hype – and the amount of output Mike is putting on a platform outside of its control – both parties will coexist as long as Mike wins afternoon drive.
“This is something I’ve had in my head for years,” said Mike in introductory remarks to his app audience from his home studio in Nassau County. “Content delivery. We’re at the front end, rather than chasing.”
I personally have no problem paying the $98.99 annual for Mike’s app because I believe the promised content is worth the money. All of Mike’s regular radio shows will be archived (audio and video). Mike will pop up on “the air” via the app from home to react to various important New York sports moments like a Yankee playoff game. And there’s a commitment from Mike to put young broadcasters on the platform, guys like John Jastremski who Mike clearly likes. “Give ’em a voice,” he said. “Let you the audience get to know these guys. They’ll be the broadcasters of the future. I get to shape a content machine to what I want. To what I think is important.”
The usual cynics working for the tabloids – and those who mock Mike on Twitter – say the app will fail because of its price tag. They cite the roughly comparable monthly subscription fees of Netflix – or Sirius XM – and point to the heft of content on those services vs. what Mike will offer.
It’s still just barely off the ground, but I’m inclined to agree with Mike who has faith a good chunk of his fandom will come along for the ride. While doing a show from home this morning on the app (he’s off from the radio station on vacation all week), Mike acknowledged that subscriber numbers will tell the story about whether this gambit pays off: “The audience always gets to make the final decision,” he said.
-The availability of hazy, flavorful and dank-smelling IPA’s has become an embarrassment of riches in NYC with the addition of Grimm Artisanal Ales in Brooklyn. The beer scene here was slow to build but has totally exploded now to the point that the options are mind-boggling. Joe and Lauren Grimm have been selling their admired creations from the wave’s inception but only in June of this year were they finally able to open their own place with their own tanks. The brewery and tap room space on Metropolitan Avenue in East Williamsburg is beautiful. The people who work the taps, sell the four-packs and collect the glasses off the tables all have warm dispositions and are eager to talk beer. They’re open on Mondays which is big for me. One beertender told me Joe and Lauren want to be open on Monday so industry people can enjoy their beer. Also unique is that even their most highly-anticipated can offerings are not selling out until several days after they debut. Demand is not outstripping supply for those who can’t stand on a Saturday morning line. That’s really nice. Grimm’s can label art is incredible – often penned by Lauren. And in half a dozen visits on Sundays and Mondays so far, it has always been not overly packed with people.
-With the close of another long string of Kevin Morby Euro-shows over the weekend comes significant news from Zurich that guitarist and singer Meg Duffy is leaving the band. Instagram statements by both Duffy and Morby celebrate the decision given Duffy’s great potential for artistic growth in her own blossoming musical project Hand Habits. Less certain is how Morby will fill the new hole in his band. Said Kevin via IG: “I have big plans for next year and those details will unfold in due time. But for now – I put the KM Singing Saw / City Music full band touring cycle to bed.”