Mike Francesa
Asbury Park Press

Mike Francesa has been delivering well-timed radio industry wisdom on his BetRivers podcast.

The WFAN legend railed against “guy talk” on Monday’s episode, perhaps taking veiled shots at successor Craig Carton. And on Tuesday — hours before Audacy refuted a report it is headed for bankruptcy — he went in-depth on the state of the radio business during an interview with Jeff Smulyan, the founder of Emmis Communications, WFAN’s first owner and a recent Radio Hall of Fame inductee.

“People have always been wrong about radio’s death, because it is unique and incredibly popular,” Francesa said. “It is a great medium. It’s theater of the mind. When done well, it is a great medium. I look at the economics now of podcasting. I look at the economics now of radio stations, and I don’t see anything that makes sense anymore.”

WFAN’s parent company trading at 53 cents a share on the New York Stock Exchange would certainly fall in that category.

“Nobody loves radio more than I do, but it is challenged. It is challenged for a thousand reasons,” said Smulyan, who added Emmis is in the process of selling off its remaining stations.

“Death by a thousand cuts with streaming and social media and podcasting. A lot of people still listen to radio, but they listen less and fewer of them listen. … Running a radio company is like pushing water uphill. And it gets very tiring.”

The most interesting thing Smulyan said: Music stations used to look at a 30% profit margin per listener over the air. But when that listener moves to streaming, it becomes a minus-10% loss margin due to data charges and licensing. The drop is not as steep for talk stations like WFAN, but still. And when a streaming app is a raging dumpster fire, as Audacy’s is, things are not going to go terribly well.

Smulyan also said there are roughly three million podcasts and “maybe 200 of them make money.” Francesa said he came to the same conclusion after he retired from WFAN, which is why he stiff-armed several podcasting opportunities. But he agreed to the BetRivers project because the objective is to generate exposure for the sportsbook — a more attainable measure of success.

Radio “is squeezed between television and social media,” Francesa said. And while Audacy currently denies it is heading for bankruptcy, the possibility seems very real. The stock price has plummeted, the company is on double-secret probation with the NYSE and there were just layoffs nationwide. Things are clearly not good. And while WFAN has not felt an impact yet, that could change.

“Radio will always be around,” Smulyan said. “There is a need for the localism, there is a need for the community involvement. But it is such a different business.”

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Stephen A. Smith says Knicks’ ‘soft’ Leon Rose is ‘scared’ of media
Mike Francesa has well-timed thoughts on ‘guy talk’ vs. ‘sports talk’

James Kratch can be reached at james.kratch@xlmedia.com

James Kratch is the managing editor of ESNY. He previously worked as a Rutgers and Giants (and Mike Francesa) beat reporter for NJ Advance Media.