Mike Francesa may have just been reflecting on his beliefs and career. He may have been trying to throw a brushback pitch at a longtime adversary. Or perhaps it was a little bit of both?
The WFAN legend is back from Saratoga and back podcasting. He answered a slew of listener emails Monday on his latest BetRivers show. One of the inquiries: What is something during his career that is not necessarily well-known, but that he is proud of?
Francesa said he believes he and Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo “made sports talk matter” with their WFAN program. Which, of course, is 100% accurate. They hosted the greatest sports talk radio program in history and are two of the three-most important people in the history of the greatest sports talk radio station ever (the other is the late Don Imus). They revolutionized the industry.
“People had always looked as sports talk as a guy with a bell and a whistle who was on after six o’clock, who either answered trivia questions or yelled and screamed his head off and made a clown of himself. I think we changed all of that,” Francesa said. “We made it be held to a much loftier standard.”
And that’s when Francesa’s comments truly got interesting.
“Now, not everyone does it the same way,” he continued.
“And you know I’ve never been a big guy talk person. I don’t like guy talk. It’s not something we subscribe to. It’s not something Dog and I have ever done. It’s not something we believe in.
“We do sports talk, not guy talk, OK. We don’t do T and A, we don’t talk about girls, we don’t talk about sex, we don’t talk about scatological issues. We don’t do that stuff. We never did. Never had to. A lot of that is an easy avenue to try and get ratings, because you think, ‘Hey, everyone is interested in that stuff.’ And in some places, I’m sure they are, that sensational stuff.
“But the bottom line is, if you do it with a talent to entertain and to inform, and you have a good opinion, you know, you can carry the day with that without any question. And I think that’s the standard we tried to provide, and I think that standard now exists. I’m not saying it’s been held to that everywhere, but I think it does exist now. And I think it’s someone we did change.”
Francesa has made similar comments and expressed similar sentiments in the past. So it would be unfair to declare this a subtle, but specific shot at his afternoon drive successor, Craig Carton. That said, it’s hard to imagine Francesa did not at least have his foe in mind when he spoke. And it is undeniable this discourse — “guy talk” and “sports talk” — is a major facet in the current New York sports talk battle.
Carton and co-host Evan Roberts are trouncing ESPN Radio New York’s Michael Kay, Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg in the ratings. And they are doing so by delivering a product that is light on traditional sports talk and heavy on risqué content. WAG Wednesday is a far cry from guessing the city-by-city ratings for the NBA Finals, no?
Kay has cried foul about this on several occasions, claiming WFAN is allowing Carton and Roberts (but mostly Carton) to say things he cannot say on an ESPN-affiliated station. It is sour grapes, of course. Kay is whining because he is losing. And ESPN voices also say very stupid, borderline offensive things. But there is some truth to it. Which is why we have written several times about how telling this fall will be for WFAN and ESPN.
Kay does a traditional sports talk show for the most part. This fall will bring overlap between two interesting NFL teams and two World Series contenders locally, plus the NBA. If Kay can’t rally under these conditions, what’s the point of keeping him behind the mic? And say Kay moves on. And ESPN is unable or unwilling to do what it would take to get the one guy who would beat Carton and Roberts from Day 1. Will they then push their content closer to WFAN’s in an effort to compete again?
There is also a chicken-and-egg debate with WFAN that can be spun out of Francesa’s comments. You could argue the guy talkish direction new boss Spike Eskin is taking the station in is just good business. That the playbook Francesa and Russo used is as outdated as Russo’s player references on ESPN First Take and WFAN is finally losing its mid-1990s mindset.
Or, you could claim, it is proof Francesa and Russo were generational talents who could win while staying above the fray due to their greatness. They were able to put Marconis on the mantle and hall of fame plaques on the wall without ever working blue. They just gave you the sports anyway that they could. And guy talk is akin to running the four corners offense when WFAN does not have the horses it once had. There’s a lot to unpack. Back after this.
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James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]