It did not take long for the biggest looming New York sports talk radio story entering 2023 to get going.
Michael Kay is trending toward the exit after 20 years at ESPN Radio New York, according to The Post. The station is reportedly trying to extend Kay as their afternoon drive anchor. But the Yankees play-by-player is ready to move on, by all accounts, with his contract expiring later this year.
None of this is surprising, of course. Kay and co-hosts Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg have been getting trounced by WFAN’s Craig Carton and Evan Roberts in the ratings over the last few cycles. Kay’s past wins over Carton and Roberts (and Mike Francesa before them) feel like they were eons ago. Couple the lackluster results with Kay’s summer sabbatical and the writing has been on the wall for some time.
Let’s assume Kay’s days are in fact numbered. ESPN Radio New York — which is owned by Good Karma Brands but maintains strong ties to the worldwide leader — has a colossal task on its hands. While Kay lost to WFAN far more than he won, he has been a successful face of the station for two decades. That is not easy to replace. But it is imperative ESPN do that, especially as it moves into a new era that — at least in theory — places more emphasis on local programming.
So who will it be? Here is an early, non-comprehensive rundown of potential candidates. Note: We’re keeping this initial list confined to local names. Did we miss anyone? Let us know.
THE BLOCKBUSTER MOVES
Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo. Marchand reports Doggie’s Sirius XM contract is not up until 2024. That takes a substantial amount of air out of the dream scenario we have been writing about for a while. But if Good Karma and ESPN know Russo is willing to take the job — and they should be able to ascertain that behind the scenes — don’t you go with a caretaker program until he is free? You are already getting pummeled in the ratings. A few more books mean nothing in the grand scheme if Russo is at the end of the road. Because he is the one candidate who changes everything overnight. Until he says no, ESPN has to chase him to the end of the earth.
Mike Francesa. It would be fun. But it is not happening.
Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg. It never made much sense to us how ESPN just had the sidekicks ride out Kay’s summer sabbatical. If the outside world was beginning to picture a post-Kay landscape at ESPN, why didn’t the station do the same? The break could have been a chance to try out different voices and show combinations in a no-risk setting. But maybe the fact La Greca and Rosenberg got the reps indicates ESPN plans to keep it simple and bump everyone one rung up the depth chart. La Greca is a likable, relatable grinder. It would be interesting to see what he can do in the power chair on a permanent basis. Rosenberg is far more polarizing. The one issue with this pairing is you may still need to add a third person given Rosenberg is not a traditional sports yakker.
Alan Hahn and Bart Scott. The midday duo is done no favors with a strange timeslot (12-3 p.m.) and a dog of a lead-in program (Mike Greenberg’s national show he doesn’t show up to much). But you know Scott is going to stir things up and generate attention and headlines with his mouth — good and bad. And he is an entertaining listen. There’s a reason WFAN tried to hold onto him even after putting the screws to him, Chris Carlin and Maggie Gray.
Rick DiPietro and Dave Rothenberg. It’s hard to imagine ESPN wants to move its most successful program to a drastically different timeslot. Especially after adjusting its timeslot to go heads-on against WFAN’s Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti in mornings. But DiPietro and Rothenberg do have momentum right now.
Chris Carlin. There would be a lot of different available options with Carlin. You could turn his current ESPN national afternoon show with ex-Giants lineman Chris Canty into a local show. You could pair him with La Greca and Rosenberg. You could reunite him with Scott and find a new partner for Hahn. You could have him go solo. You could get him a new partner. Carlin would be a stable, steady hand who guarantees you a quality, professional show.
John Jastremski. The former WFAN overnight host seems to be having a blast at The Ringer and on SNY. But the edgy and energetic Jastremski clearly departed with some resentment of how WFAN handled him. And he just had a verbal brouhaha with Carton. We might recapture the raw radio war animosity of Francesa-Kay with this move.
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James Kratch can be reached at [email protected]