The first official day of fall is Sept. 21. But the fall really starts Tuesday when a new season begins for sports talk radio in town. Everyone is back on the air, we are a few days from Week 1 of the NFL season and the baseball postseason is a few weeks away.
It’s go-time. And this is going to be an entertaining, newsy fall around the dial in this region. These are the storylines we will be watching:
Michael Kay’s last stand? Kay’s marathon sabbatical from afternoon drive on ESPN Radio New York ends Tuesday. He will return to the air with co-hosts Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg. And it’s fair to wonder how much longer Kay wants to do this.
The ratings wins over Mike Francesa in 2019 and Craig Carton and Evan Roberts last year feel like ancient history. WFAN is boatracing Kay and company right now. The spring book was a 6.3 to 3.3 smackdown. And the gap may have widened during Kay’s extended vacation. That said, if Kay has a rally in him, this is the moment.
The fall is the most sports-centric season of the year. We will have the Mets and Yankees in the postseason, the Giants and Jets will be compelling and the Knicks, Nets and Rangers will be on the periphery. Kay proudly does traditional sports talk and cries foul about the “guy talk” that Carton and Roberts do. So he needs to own the Xs and Os over the next few months — breaking down games, getting the important interviews, etc. — and hope listeners respond. If they don’t and ESPN gets trounced again, it might be time for Kay to bag it.
Kay’s contract is up next year. He’s been doing two full-time jobs for 20 years now, and with limited success against WFAN on the radio side. If he can’t fight back now, WFAN has probably pulled away for good.
Craig Carton’s FS1 show. “The Carton Show” will debut Tuesday at 7 a.m. ET. And that’s about all we know about Carton’s new venture. A press release said there will be a rotating cast of co-hosts, but no details were provided. All we know is ex-Jets lineman Damien Woody won’t be one of them. The content and format of the show is also a mystery. And this quick intro video for the YouTube channel sheds no light.
We find the Carton-FS1 pairing fascinating. He doesn’t do traditional sports talk. He doesn’t do the type of “LEBRON OR JORDAN?” hot takes that have powered FS1 forever. And he can’t lean into sports betting. Plus he can often be crass and cruel on air. His national appeal remains to be seen. And will be be able to mesh with a rotating group of foils the way Stephen A. Smith can on First Take? This feels like it will either be a train wreck or a smashing success with no middle ground.
Also: will Carton’s FS1 show impact WFAN afternoon drive? The expectation right now is no. Carton’s television role is not supposed to impact his radio role in any way. That said, being on the air 35 hours a week, plus all the other obligations before and after the programs, is a lot. It’s fair to wonder if Carton might start taking days off. Especially with Joe Benigno now available again in the bullpen. And if the FS1 show becomes a hit, could that opportunity become too lucrative for Carton to keep pulling double duty?
The podcasts. You could make an argument two of the region’s top five or six voices are not even on radio. Mike Francesa’s BetRivers venture has steadily improved since launch and football season is his time. If he can pull off a podcast version of a traditional football Friday show (with all the trimmings, of course), that will raise his profile. The same goes for any Sunday show. And if they can figure out a way for him to take calls, look out. John Jastremski’s Ringer podcast also made a recent splash by landing a weekly spot with Giants quarterback Daniel Jones — something that could become must-listen with Jones’ career here at stake. It’s still hard to believe WFAN and Jastremski couldn’t find a way to stick together.
Bad times at Audacy. WFAN’s parent company denied a report it was headed to bankruptcy. But Audacy is clearly in a bad way. Its stock price has nosedived, it’s currently out of New York Stock Exchange compliance and Chapter 11 seems quite likely at some point. WFAN is a behemoth and Audacy’s recent layoffs did not impact it by all accounts. But if the ship keeps sinking, WFAN’s risk increases.
This and that … Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti are a powerhouse in the morning. The only suspense there is whether Carton’s FS1 show somehow takes shine from them (which seems doubtful). … Tiki Barber and Brandon Tierney also have no real competition in middays. … WFAN seems determined to push Keith McPherson, but we’re not sure how receptive the overall listenership will be to his Yankees superfan schtick. … Will we see more Spike Eskin-driven changes at WFAN? And would ESPN make a run at Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo?
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