Friday December 15, 2017 shall forever be remembered as the day when Mike Francesa uttered his final words on the airwaves of WFAN in New York. After 30 years on the nation’s first all-sports radio station, the past twenty eight which have included occupying and dominating the market in afternoon drive, ‘The Pope’ as he’s been dubbed by local fans and critics, will sign off and say goodbye to his audience, leaving a moon sized crater in the hearts of New York sports radio fans.
Whether you’ve loved Mike or hated Mike, it’s impossible to deny his importance to the sports radio industry. Few, if any, have performed on his level for nearly three decades, all while the eyes and ears of the nation’s #1 media market monitored his every move and analyzed his every sentence.
I had the benefit of growing up in New York and experiencing sports radio before many others did. I was 13 when The Fan launched, and tuned in even when the radio station’s original programming left much to be desired. Once Mike and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo were installed in afternoons in 1989, it became a daily ritual to listen after school to hear what New York’s most knowledgeable and passionate sports talkers thought of the day’s stories.
As I became a teenager and young adult, that connection to WFAN only grew stronger. I listened for hours each week, and even took the plunge to make my only phone call to a sports radio station in the late 90’s. As luck would have it, Mike absolutely destroyed me. Fortunately, Chris came to my defense and battled the big fella back. Although I was in no rush to place Mike on the Barrett family Christmas card list back then, his bravado, knowledge, passion and presence made you take notice, and that carried over for the next two decades, even after Chris vacated the show.
As I set out on my own journey to build a career in the radio business, I pursued being a host, and there’s no doubt that much of my early presentation mimicked what Mike and Chris were creating on the air. When you see the best in the business do things a certain way, it’s natural to try and replicate it. I didn’t have a firm grasp on my strengths and weaknesses back then which probably explains why Mark Chernoff littered my inbox with numerous ‘thanks but no thanks’ responses, haha.
While paying my dues and working on my craft, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike and Chris on separate occasions. Each conversation taught me something different. With Mike, you learned that knowledge led to confidence in the subject matter and presenting it with passion and an unwavering commitment to your position could produce a giant impact. With Chris, I learned that energy, insight and a willingness to poke fun at yourself were also positive traits. Above all though, I discovered that even the best swing and miss sometimes. I still remember Mad Dog telling me Albert Belle would end up in LF with the Yankees and Bernie Williams would join the Red Sox as their next CF. Nice try Doggie.
One day after returning home from hosting a show, I vividly recall my father taking me to task after he noticed a crutch in my on-air execution as a result of listening to Mike and Chris. He said, “Hey, the proper phrase is first of all, not first off, use English on the air.” I defended myself by saying, “Well, Mad Dog says it that way, it’s sports lingo, so it works.” When he replied with, “When your name becomes Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo then you can do that, but maybe you should focus on being Jason Barrett instead, and Jason Barrett better know how to speak proper English,” it was time to wave the white flag. I worked my ass off to try and fix that, even though sometimes bad habits returned.
As the years have progressed and I’ve become a media professional, I’ve learned that not everything Mike did in New York works in other cities. It’s impossible to argue against his track record of success but I’ve also used different strategies in other markets and they too have produced strong results. What that taught me was that there’s no one-size fits all formula for creating victories in the sports radio business.
On this day where we pay respect to one of the true giants of the sports talk format, I think it’s important to not only remember how Mike’s show and style rubbed off on us as listeners, but also how it inspired so many talented broadcasters to explore a career in this business. If not for Mike Francesa developing something special in afternoons with Chris Russo, and continuing it after Mad Dog left, who knows how many people would have chosen a different line of work.
Whether you’ve been a colleague or a rival, a listener or a critic, a friend or a foe, it’s safe to say that Mike Francesa’s contributions to sports talk radio have earned your attention and gained your respect. But rather than take it from me, I thought it was important to feature some of the best in our industry who have experienced working with, competing against, listening to or establishing relationships with New York sports radio’s most successful on-air talent, Mike Francesa.
It’s really amazing to see what Mike has accomplished at WFAN. He’s been one of the major reasons why sports radio completely altered the landscape of sports journalism and commentary in this country. I can still remember when Mike was hired. The feeling was, “Francesca’s a genius, but what does he know about radio?” Well, what he knew about radio was how to connect with millions of people for five hours a day for all of these years. He knew how to understand the hearts and minds of New Yorkers, it’s players, coaches and owners and be the voice of an entire region. He knew how to entertain, inform, and sometimes even enrage people who looked to sports as their respite from the daily challenges of life. That’s what he knew about radio.
Mike, I wish you well in whatever the future holds for you, but it goes without saying that whatever you do, you will make a difference in the lives of the people you touch. It’s been great watching you reach iconic status…it is well deserved. Congratulations on a tremendous run. So many of us are so very proud of you.
Mike and I have worked together for close to 25 years. You could always count on him to both entertain and teach you something new every day, whether it was his take or opinion on a subject or just new and interesting facts. Mike’s show (and earlier Mike and the Mad dog) were always “must-listen-to” shows. The sign on at 1pm, the midway break at 3, the re-set at 5, and the interviews with Joe Torre, Joe Girardi, Eli Manning and so many others. Some were regular spots, but many were news of the day spots.
With Mike it was always about Mike and “his” callers. The callers were a part of the show. He expected them to always bring something to the table. Some did, some didn’t and you always knew right away.
Mike is a ground breaker and his presence on all levels with listeners, staff, and me will be sorely missed. He has surely been the all-time leader in sports talk. Much health and happiness to Mike and his family.
Mike has been an icon in this industry, and having had the opportunity to form a great relationship with him on and off the air has been an honor. He gets interviews that no one else can, has information that no one else has and possesses the experience to take the information that comes his way and filter out the biased and irrelevant. Those are the attributes that make him credible and he will undoubtedly be missed at WFAN.
Mike and I didn’t always agree on various business issues and a few times that road was a little bumpy. However, I think he would acknowledge that we had a great run together. I wish him the best of success in his future endeavors. I’m sure there are more chapters to write in that book and we haven’t seen the final chapter.
It’s been great working with Mike. Like many, I grew up listening to Mike and the Mad Dog, so having the opportunity to work with Mike was something I never thought was possible.
Having now worked on the show for 5 years, and at WFAN for 14, to be here for the final Mike show is surreal. This show has been a staple for New York for 30 years, and to be one of the two people (my board op Chris McMonigle is the other) that get to watch the last show live, is going to be awesome.
When I first got to The Fan, Mike and I had a great relationship. When I got let go and moved to Florida he reached out and floated the idea of working on a three-man show with him and Max Kellerman which I was excited about. As it turned out, CBS wouldn’t budge on the idea and Mike began to deny it and we’ve since had our fair share of issues.
All of that being said, there’s no question that he’s on the Mount Rushmore of sports radio hosts. He’s been highly successful for three decades, developed a huge loyal audience, and has been the one guy people turn to for sports in New York City. You name a host in this town and they can’t touch what Mike has established with the local sports fan. He has the voice, the knowledge, and the command, and he deserves his due for what he’s accomplished. Right, wrong or indifferent, he’s been the best, and New York sports fans are going to miss that.
How many people today in sports media do you think of when something big happens, and the first thought is, “I HAVE to hear what they have to say about this.” You can count them on one hand. For 30 years, that’s what Mike has been. To me, there’s no greater connection a personality can have with fans and that’s a testament to the uniqueness of Mike’s persona. What he does can’t be taught.
I drove a delivery car for Hasler’s Pharmacy in New Jersey, listening to ‘Mike & The Mad Dog’ in the early 90’s. I couldn’t turn it off. I couldn’t leave the car until a commercial, in fear of missing something. Later, in producing that show for nearly 7 years, I felt the exact same way – like a fan. Mike wasn’t easy to work for, but he demanded the best. He taught me results mattered, not just the effort. Great effort was to be a given. There wasn’t such a thing as leaving a stone unturned.
I’m about to get the opportunity of a lifetime, in co-hosting a show in the premier real estate in sports radio. He and Chris are the reason it is just that. Even though this is our chance, I still feel like a fan. Something amazing is about to go away, and it will never be the same. It hurts.
Super Bowl 38 was in Houston and featured the Patriots and Panthers. It was the first Super Bowl week that I produced and I had an amazing week of booking guests for the show, topped off by Brett Favre, who won Snickers Hungriest Player. I booked over 70 guests in 5 days, stepping in for Chris Carlin who was covering one of the teams. About midway thru the week, Carlin asked Mike how I was doing and he responded, that ‘I was kicking ass.’ After hearing that, I felt like I had earned my stripes as a producer and proved that I was deserving of the opportunity. It was a nice moment in my young career.
Mike expected the same of his producer that he expected of himself, dominance.
I grew up listening to Chris and Mike and both had an unbelievable ability to move the needle together. They also proved they could do it solo. What impressed me about Mike was not only his knowledge, but his passion for sports, while also having a great understanding of what the New York Sports fan cared about most on any particular day. He knew what they wanted to hear and what they cared about. Love him or hate him, you always listened. He had the pulse of this city and his words carried weight unlike anything the New York market has seen and with the changing industry, will ever see. I worked for Chris and Mike for over 6 years and learned so much about the industry and what makes a successful talk show. For that I will be forever grateful. It helped shape me as an on-air talent.
I remember listening to Mike on Saturday mornings while on my way to call White Plains HS football games. He brought a totally different element to the radio. Most, if not all hosts, were “professional” announcers. Mike sounded more like his listeners. But there was real substance behind it. He had worked at CBS Sports and you could tell that he had knowledge that went beyond what a host read in the newspapers. It was refreshing.
Obviously Mike and the Mad Dog took it to a whole new level. They sounded like sports fans who had inside access. There was nothing better than heading to a big Yankees playoff game or a big series with the Red Sox and listening to them live from the stadium. They put you there even if you didn’t have the tickets. The same for the Knicks and Rangers’ runs of the mid-90’s. They also proved that you didn’t need the traditional sounding “radio voice” to do the job.
One of Mike’s greatest strengths has been his ability to interview high profile guests. He’s at his best with historical figures in the world of sports. Fascinating radio. He’s had a truly remarkable career and like great players and coaches, people won’t realize how much they will miss him until he is gone from the airwaves.
In 1992 I began a new shift at WFAN running the board for Mike and the Mad Dog. I had been producing the 7pm-midnight time slot for over a year and the change in hours would allow me to pursue more on-air work at the station. At the time I didn’t fully grasp that the role on the drive-time program was a broadcasting version of Graduate School. Mike Francesa and Chris Russo were just hitting their stride in a meteoric rise through New York radio, and I was witnessing their unparalleled chemistry firsthand. Mike’s vast knowledge combined with Chris’s frenetic energy was an instant hit and created the template for a lot of the Sports Radio that we hear today. I learned a great deal about preparation, timing, levity—all essential ingredients for a successful broadcast (whether it’s talk radio, a tv show, pxp, etc). But more importantly I got to know both hosts professionally and personally. Even though I was a part of their team for only a year, I’ve always felt like a part of their family (including after the divorce).
Simply put, Mike was put on this earth to be a Sports Radio host in New York City. His dominant run at the station will never be matched. If there was a big sports story, you needed to hear his take on it. He often set the narrative in the city and had the gravitas to back up his bold statements. He brought an analytical approach to the genre while maintaining a steady fervor for 3 decades.
The show definitely changed when Mad Dog moved on in 2008, but Mike’s larger than life persona never waned. He understood what the New York audience wanted, and consistently delivered. Mike leaves an immense legacy behind — he did it his way, and his way always moved the needle—in the sphere he occupied that’s the bottom line. He’s provided the soundtrack for generations of New York sports fans and built a legendary career in the process.
WFAN came on the air the summer before my junior year of high school, and Mike and Chris were paired together my freshman year of college. At that exact time of my life when many of us form a real picture of what we want to do with our lives, I was literally listening to PRECISELY what I wanted to be. If you would’ve asked me then what that was, I would’ve said “Be Mike and the Mad Dog! Who wouldn’t want to get paid to talk sports all day?”
Three years later I became an intern at WFAN, and only a few months after my 24th birthday I was working there, full time. Part of my job was doing updates and occasionally even filling in on their show! You tried to play it cool and be a pro, but the truth was because I was so young, it was the only time in my professional career where I really did have the surreal “I can’t believe I’m sitting here” type of experience. Their show, and that station in general, in the 1990’s, felt like the center of the New York sports universe every single day.
Two weeks ago a nice fan at a game asked me how come he hasn’t heard me on the FAN recently? He was more than a little surprised when I told him I haven’t been on WFAN in close to 17 years. If you worked there, especially on Mike and Chris’ show, you made a never ending connection with the listeners.
Even today when I think of working on Mike and the Mad Dog, and at WFAN, I still get very nostalgic. I made some lifelong friends there and feel like it’s where I grew up. I’ll always miss it, and with Mike moving on, it somehow feels like the end of an era for me too.
Mike has a presence about him, more than any other person I’ve ever been around. The first time I was in the building with Mike and the Mad Dog when I was interning at WFAN and I saw Dog I thought “There’s Dog! Cool.” When Mike strolled into the newsroom it was “Whoa…there’s Mike. Is everyone seeing this? He’s here.” I think that same presence is what allows him to be so commanding on the air. This is his domain and there’s no question about it.
When I was working in Pittsburgh I took a vacation and came back to Eastern Long Island during the summer. One day I ran into Mike on Main Street Westhampton. It was him and two of his kids, smiling ear to ear – happier than I’d ever seen him. We spoke for a minute and then went our separate ways. When I returned to Pittsburgh I wrote “Francesa in Westhampton” on a piece of paper and taped it to the wall right above my computer monitor. It was a reminder to me that I was working so hard to be Mike that day. Successful, happy, confident and at the top of the industry. There will be plenty of great, successful and inspirational broadcasters that come and go over the years. There will never be another Mike Francesa. It’s impossible. Back afta dis.
WFAN burst on the scene when I was 10 and it shaped my life. Mike Francesa and Chris Russo were my idols. I was mesmerized by them. Their passion, opinions, knowledge, entertainment, and riveting interviewing skills were captivating. I knew at a young age that I wanted to be a sports talk show host the minute I heard Mike and Chris in 1989. I’d hang on every NFL schedule breakdown (win, loss, loss), guess the ratings game, and most especially their opinions after a huge NYC sporting event or trade. Nothing mattered in NY sports until Mike and Chris stamped it. I went to college in 1995 and my dad would tape “Mike and the Mad Dog” and send me the tapes to listen to. It was an obsession. Friends would listen to Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I was locked into Mike and Chris.
When it comes to Mike, he’s a legend, a true icon, who’s owned the New York City airwaves for decades. His sports knowledge, interviewing skills, and incredible command and domination of the microphone are the best ever. I can’t thank him enough for being a huge supporter of mine during my career. When I first started at WFAN as a 23 year old in 2001, he was a major advocate. He text me the day before I started at Mad Dog sports radio, and took me to dinner in 2014 to talk shop. What an experience of a lifetime, listening to Mike talk about his path and incredible career and take an interest in my career and what he thought should be ahead for me on radio. He paid me a compliment that I will never forget, telling me that I “cut through”. Of course, at the end of a 2 hour dinner at Del Frisco’s, I ordered the cheese cake. Mike says, “Adam, that’s a mistake. We’ll take 2 lemon cakes.” He then declared it “the best lemon cake ever.” He was right. Obviously.
He’s the “Babe Ruth” of our industry and his former partner is Willie Mays, simple as that. Mike Francesa’s impact is undeniable and his place in the sports radio “record books” is forever safe.
What’s most amazing to me, is not so much how he’s managed to fend off competition, but that’s he’s done so, without evolving one bit. In essence, the show Mike does today is a replication of the shows he did in the late 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, only the names and topics have changed. No social media account, no drops, no music, it truly speaks volumes about his impact and presence, that an antiquated style, with all due respect, still resonates.
I also think in a way, that some of his on-air gaffes the past few years humanized him. And he needed that. It was very important in allowing him to finish his career at WFAN with momentum. He remained an authority, but his fallibility reminded everyone, that he’s not going to be doing this forever. On some subconscious level, it inspired people to stick along for the ride and complete the 30 year journey.
Personally, I’ve seen several sides of Mike. They aren’t all pleasant. The side that is willing to offer sage counsel and the other which can irrationally explode. But it’s all good. I’m pretty sure Mike respects tenacity in others, because it’s what helped elevate him to the top of our mountain. He identifies with that, because he is that. You don’t do battle with New Yorkers for five and a half hours for 30 years without having heart, toughness and confidence.
As much as you wanted to reach thru the speaker to strangle him after he unnecessarily berated a caller or told a team exec how much more he knew about their team than they did, at the end of the day, he will be missed. I will miss having him around.
Mike and I were two of the original on-air hosts when WFAN became the first 24/7, 365 day sports talk station in the nation so I’ve known him a long time. I hosted middays leading into Mike (and the Mad Dog) from 2000-2004 and when I’d get into my car for my two hour commute home I listened to him and Chris because even though I had spent 3 hours talking about the same topics, I needed to know how they saw things. They made two hours feel like twenty minutes.
When Mike went solo, the key was his consistency and knowing exactly what his audience wanted to hear about. Mike could “play the hits” better than anyone I’ve ever heard in the business. He gave his listeners what they wanted day in, day out, year in, year out, decade in, decade out! Until now! I’m pretty darn sure that almost none of his audience want him to shut down the show but to say he has earned the right to call it a day would be a massive understatement. Mike did it his way for 30+ years so it’s only fitting that he gets to end it his way. It has been a privilege and an honor to work with and alongside a radio legend!
I had managed WIP for about a dozen years when the opportunity to run the New York cluster presented itself. If you have any pride in what you do, you jump at the chance to partner with the best brands and people in your industry. Having worked with Angelo Cataldi and Howard Eskin for years, I looked forward to learning from one of the sports radio format’s founding fathers, Mike Francesa.
I was not disappointed. Mike has earned his iconic status and his long track record of success may never be duplicated. But no single personality is bigger than the WFAN brand. The Fan will be well positioned for years to come. With this being Mike’s final day, I congratulate him on all that he’s accomplished.
Growing up in a family of native New Yorkers, WFAN was my sports soundtrack. In an era before internet or cable, Mike and the Mad Dog was my sports IV drip. Mike’s command, combined with Chris’ animation jumped out of the speakers. It just sounded different than anything else on the radio or TV, but was quintessentially the way New Yorkers arguing sports should sound.
I’ve told this story before, but in 1997 for my senior year high school communications project the assignment was to produce a 30 minute TV show which would air on our local cable access station (TKR-8 in Warwick, NY). My classmates and I decided to create a sports talk show. Amazingly, not only did some of the local pro teams allow us access, but so did WFAN. In a wild twist of serendipity, my current boss at CBS Sports Radio, Eric Spitz (then WFAN’s assistant program director), gave us the green light to sit in and film Mike and the Mad Dog one afternoon. Some of the footage was used in their “30 for 30” episode. Both Mike and Chris were generous enough to spend about 10 minutes each individually with me for interviews before they went on the air
I was obviously intimidated, and figured Mike might chew me out for a stupid question, but he not only patiently listened to all of my questions, he thoughtfully answered them, and even threw in a, “As you know, I’m good friends with Parcells” for good measure. He also gave me a three-word salute after we wrapped.
“Not bad, Damon.”
I felt like I was floating in my bulky Nike crosstrainers. I had been knighted by the Sports Pope!
As someone who’s spent nearly 15 years in sports radio, here are a few things I’ve always admired about Mike. His commitment to being the city’s sports authority. Listeners are drawn to someone who they believe has more information than them. His authenticity. There is no caricature or theatrics for the radio. This was exactly who he is, like it or hate it. His desire to speak with the listener. Some hosts look down on callers, creating a disappointing separation, while Mike’s show is built around 5 1/2 hours of calls. And his refusal to go low. It’s easy to take pot shots, call names, and spill into guy talk nowadays. Mike never went there. He always held off on rumor mongering and reserved his criticism for on the field flaws.
Mike’s a hall of famer, and a huge part of the industry I’ve built a career in. He helped define the genre. And while everyone else calls me D.A., I’ll always go by my full name to Mike.
My entire love for this business comes from growing up at WFAN, interacting with their great staff and listening to Mike and the Mad Dog. Since my father was their first producer my birth was announced on the air. I guess that’s where it all started.
As young kids my sister and I would even imitate Mike and Chris. I would often try and skip school to go watch their show live or sneak in a portable radio to school to listen to their show at 1P and rush home after school to listen until 6:30.
Growing up around their show provided me with an experience you couldn’t place a price on and I use it every day now. Some of my favorite memories of Mike was simply tuning in right at 1 on a day after a major sports story to hear his reaction and his presence will be missed! Over the years I have been able to interview Mike and the most impressive part is how his following is always there to listen no matter where he goes. When I was in college he was a guest on my college radio show and mongo nation was live tweeting the entire interview. Mike is not only a WFAN legend but a sports radio icon and his classic rants and insightful interviews will be missed. Congratulations Mike!
If you love sports, are between 25-50 and grew up in the tri-state area, you’ve probably been influenced by Mike Francesa. I was just starting college when Mike and the Mad Dog went on the air and I was hooked right away. I even called their show a number of times as a young adult. I am very aggressive when I am on the air, always ready to make an argument for my point of view, and that undoubtedly came from listening to Mike. His influence on me and all the other guys in the business who grew up in the area is very noticeable.
In my opinion, Mike is the all-time greatest ranter. To this day, he is still must-listen-to radio whenever there is a big story in New York. He proved that once again with the Giants debacle a few weeks ago. Like so many times in the past, I believe the Giants’ decision to fire their coach and GM early was influenced by Mike’s rant on what happened.
Chris Russo and I were best friends growing up and when he and Mike took off it was really neat for me because I got to know Mike. I had so much respect for him because he was incredibly knowledgeable about everything. Chris invited me to the station one day in the early 90’s when I was in town for a Knicks game. That was the first time I met Mike. They actually put me on for a segment and it became a regular thing whenever I was in town, or the Kings were relevant.
Mike paved the way for so many of us. Still to this day I try and do my show the way that he does it. I am a firm believer you must interact with the audience. Mike is big on taking calls and so am I. New York is losing a true icon. Sports radio in New York will never be the same.
Mike is synonymous with New York Sports! Period!
I had the privilege of interning at WFAN in the spring of 1997 before being hired as a producer/tape op for about 2 years. It was some of the best times of my career because I was surrounded by greatness and I wanted to learn from them. During that time, I had the rare experience of being around the likes of Don Imus, Mike Breen and of course—Mike Francesa and Chris Russo aka “Mike & The Mad Dog.” I was a young kid soaking up every bit of knowledge that could help me on my journey into the world of sports broadcasting.
I’m proud to say it was instrumental in my development. Listening to Mike all these years was not only educational from my standpoint, but it was also entertaining. I understood what good sports radio was about—passion, energy and entertainment as well as possessing a deep knowledge of sports.
Growing up as a long suffering Mets, Jets & Knicks fan, I knew 1pm was appointment radio. When the Jets choked away so many games (and there were too many to count), you knew you had to get to the radio on Monday afternoon to hear Mike’s take. Millions of people did. You knew he’d rip them to shreds and justifiably so.
Mike was a pioneer in the business and made an indelible mark on our industry. He was extremely influential too when it came to New York sports franchises making moves. Back in 1998, Mike and Chris spearheaded the charge to pressure the Mets into trading for Mike Piazza. As a Mets fan, I was thrilled beyond belief. I’ll never forget that. That’s what made Mike Francesa a legend in this business. And he always will be.
Growing up in Northern New Jersey, WFAN was the station of record for all New York sports fans. When I was a kid it was right during the heyday of Mike and the Mad Dog when sports radio was really new. I always knew there was NO WAY I was going to make a living playing sports. Mike Francesa provided that first glimpse into making a living in sports without playing and I was hooked.
My first paid broadcasting job in college I was fired from. I was calling high school games for a station in Appleton City, MO and after my first game, the station manager called and said I wasn’t allowed back. ONE GAME IN! I sat down with my college professor Tom Hedrick and he told me, “Bobby Fescoe, you are not Mike Francesa and you are not in New York. You have to be kind here in the Midwest, especially to high school kids. Now go apologize and eat some humble pie.”
I followed that advice but that was the moment I realized that sports talk was in my sights. I still feel like Mike has an influence on me today as I don’t hold back. I hold everyone, including friends in sports and on the teams accountable. I’ve tried to form relationships like Mike has where the “players” in town trust you and go to you first. I think I’ve done a fairly good job in KC but no one will be as good as Mike at it.
I hope today isn’t the end, just the start of something new, and “Back afta dis” is heard loud and clear in the near future. Cheers to Mike on an incredible run!
In the early days of sports radio you looked at Mike and the Mad Dog as the founders of the format. Back then you couldn’t listen easily from afar so my first real experience of tuning in regularly was when I unfortunately had to compete against them as PD of ESPN Radio in New York in 2002.
I laugh now because at first I didn’t think they were that great. I thought they were overrated and could be beaten. Call it being young and stupid but I quickly learned—they were the embodiment of New York sports fans. They were loved, hated, arrogant, passionate, entertaining and everyone listened just to see what they’d say next. Everything you wanted in a show.
Once Chris Russo left I wondered if Francesa could continue to carry the torch and like all great talents he made the adjustments, evolved, stayed true to himself and due to that he continued to thrive. I never met him, but anyone with that long of a track record of success deserves accolades and respect.
As I have done the radio circuit around the country, Mike taught me that every market is different, with its own unique sound and personalities. Unfortunately, I had to learn that the hard way by having him kick my ass for a couple years!
What I’ve always respected about Mike is his focus on winning in the ratings. That competitive spirit is something you can’t teach. He wanted to win and did it for many years. The other thing that he did better than almost anyone else is knowing what was important to his audience. He knew what New Yorkers wanted to hear and delivered it everyday. While the radio industry has changed immensely during his time on the air, he was such a big personality that he was able to do what so many have not – stay on top in an environment that has made longevity almost impossible.
One of my best friends grew up listening to Mike and the Mad Dog and still to this day references specific shows and topics that impacted him. To have that sort of affect on someone is amazing and that’s why no matter how you might feel about Mike and his show, you have to respect everything that he’s accomplished.
As a kid, I remember vividly my Grandfather talking about his buddy “Francesa”. He’d find a way to work it into every holiday dinner conversation, “Well, Francesa tells me…”. My Grandfather talked about Francesa as if Mike came over and smoked cigars with him in the living room every day. For the longest time, I literally thought “Francesa” was a family friend. That bond was unheard of when Mike started his platform in the late 80’s.
As someone who eventually worked within the state of New York, I can say that the format has an incredible amount of respect and understanding in that part of the country. New Yorkers are true and deep sports radio fans because of the life and meaning that Mike and the Mad Dog breathed into the format.
Mike, you taught us how powerful sports radio can be by making the sports fan feel special; connecting with them and giving each listener a voice and an outlet. You have forever shaped what we all feel blessed to do as a “job”. Thank you.
I have always hated Mike Francesa. The way fans hated Barry Bonds. It was a sign of respect.
Say whatever you will about Mike, but we all must acknowledge, without him, without WFAN, where would the sports format be?
Mike, from a far away observer, of what seems like your entire career, congratulations on your run at The Fan, and all that you’ve done for our game!
My dad was a New Yorker. Born in the Bronx, moved out to the Island in his teens. Every summer we came back to the city and my dad always rented a car. It makes no sense to rent a car in the city, but my dad liked his freedom and he loved Imus in the morning and Mike and the Dog in the afternoon.
Funny thing is that he was proudest of me being on with Mike more than even having my own show or calling games.
Mike, and the Dog frankly, understood a couple things about sports radio that work in any market. You don’t have to like each other or like the other one’s opinion in order to make a great show…but, you have to have a strong, educated opinion on a topic or you are going to look foolish. Know the local teams, and especially know the front office people so you understand their philosophies. And here is the biggest difference in Mike and anyone else in that market, lead with your opinion, especially when it is your show.
I don’t think there’s any doubt about Mike Francesa’s influence, good AND bad. He had an everyman quality with plenty of bluster, bravado, edge and a bully pulpit which he was willing to wield at anytime. The contributions he’s made to our business should never be dismissed. Mike’s “style” wasn’t for everybody, but he unequivocally got people to listen and pay attention. For that he deserves the industry’s respect.
Mike Francesa set the standard for all of us who wanted to be in the sports radio business. He was the show of record and the person that every aspiring broadcaster looked up to and wanted to emulate. With that came tremendous ratings success and a true connection with New York sports fans. Congratulations to Mike on an outstanding career and for continued success in whatever is next.
On behalf of all of these individuals above and the thousands of broadcasters across the nation who have been fortunate enough to make a living working in the sports radio industry, thank you Mike Francesa. It has been a pleasure to listen to you. Your influence and excellence paved the way and set the bar for what sports radio should be and can be, earning you permanent residence among radio’s immortals.
It’s understood that afternoons in New York will sound very different in 2018. Replacing Mike is an impossible task, so rather than attempting it, WFAN will introduce a new vision and identity. Although Mike may no longer be there to field phone calls from New York’s most rabid sports fans, there is one call he should be answering soon…a congratulatory call from the National Radio Hall of Fame. Kraig Kitchin, you’re on the clock!
And so to wrap this up, I leave you with a few lyrics from Frank Sinatra’s “My Way“, a song which perfectly describes the man we call ‘Numbah One’, and the King of New York sports radio, Mike Francesa.
What is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows Mike took the blows
And did it his way!