It’s Mike Francesa’s last day on WFAN-AM this Friday.
Mike’s been doing a radio show on the FAN (660 on the AM dial) for 30 years. I’ve been with him as a loyal listener every step of the way since I arrived here 20 years ago. As you probably know from what I’ve written here over that stretch – I really admire him.
Francesa is not completely going away. He vows to reemerge on a different platform once the dust settles. His exit from the FAN has been looming ever since Mike said firmly on the air almost two years ago that he would not extend his contract with the FAN’s parent company CBS past the end of 2017. As the final weeks and days of his career at the FAN have dwindled, Mike has made it clear to his audience that he has no regrets. At the same time, he’s said he still has more gas in the tank.
Mike is 63 years old and hasn’t lost a thing off his fastball. He opens his daily weekday program at 1:05 PM with an unscripted opening monologue that hones in on the city’s top sports issue. It could be a rant but more often than not it’s a measured breakdown of strategy or isolation of a key moment from a game the night before. Those opening fifteen minutes set the stage for five hours of short bursts of phone calls from fans in a three state market that has made Mike’s show the talk of the town for three decades.
Why is Mike leaving? He says it’s time.
But the fact he’s anxious to talk sports again at a different company indicates his departure from the FAN included animus. He was clearly annoyed by a complete lack of respect given to him by his co-workers working morning drive – and by extension – his longtime boss Mark Chernoff.
The morning duo of Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton mocked Mike endlessly on the very radio station Mike was largely (along with Don Imus) responsible for making a ratings powerhouse. They made fun of his weight, they made fun of his passion and they laughed when he made a mistake or raised his voice (which happens sometimes when you’re doing a five and a half hour show by yourself). Esiason and Carton would play snippets of bloopers from Mike’s show and laugh at his expense. It had to sting although Mike claims he never listened to the morning show.
Chernoff, the FAN’s longtime program director could have drawn lines protecting Francesa from the mockery but he let the popular morning show run wild – zoo style. Only when Carton was arrested by federal agents earlier this year on fraud charges connected to a Ponzi scheme was the radio bully sent for a timeout – eventually banished from the station.
The city’s two big tabloids also routinely disrespected Mike via their radio/TV columnists Bob Raissman and Phil Mushnick. Neither advanced cogent criticism of Francesa. Both were obsessed with the idea that Mike thought he was always right in a way that made him sound cocky.
I never saw it that way. There were some topics – like horse racing and hockey – in which Mike talked a bigger game than perhaps he knew. But almost always, he could back up his opinions with sound and well-articulated reasoning thanks in large part to the fact he watched the game or games the night before. He had no real conflicts of interest other than deep admiration for guys like Bill Parcells, Andy Reid and Jay Wright. No doubt he got mixed up a bit when A-Rod was at his low point but even then he was taking a nuanced position much like he has been lately with Goodell and the NFL.
Mike has three young kids. He adores talking about them. By leaving the daily grind of the talk show, hopefully he can enjoy that part of his life more. He occasionally talks on the air about how his father was completely absent while he was a kid growing up on Long Beach. Perhaps Mike can now have more time to be a Dad.
On Friday’s final show, Mike says he’ll have no guests. Just callers. I’ll be working but will listen to the tape after it’s over. I’ll miss Mike’s show a lot. He was my favorite voice on my favorite medium and nobody did it better.