Michael Kay
Mitch Stringer | USA TODAY Sports

Craig Carton walked out of WFAN last month having accomplished what he was rehired to do: Bury Michael Kay and ESPN Radio New York.

Kay won the Fall 2021 quarterly ratings book, the biggest victory of his radio career. And then Carton and co-host Evan Roberts steamrolled him. Seven straight books, 10 of 11 overall and periods where WFAN was tripling ESPN’s share in the all-important men ages 25-54 demographic.

But here is the inconvenient truth that has to concern WFAN executives: They have not beaten Kay without Carton or Mike Francesa in going on six years. Say what you want about Kay and sidekicks Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg. And believe us, we have said plenty. But facts are facts.

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Yes, some context is needed. Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott were screwed — by Francesa and their bosses — before they ever had a chance. And Joe Benigno and Roberts inherited a momentum-less show — and during a pandemic at that — after Francesa ran out of steam prior to his second retirement. Still. Kay has proven he can win when WFAN does not have an all-time talent in the power chair. And that he can even get one over when it does.

We may be totally wrong. But our gut tells us Kay will gain ground on the new duo of former Giants star Tiki Barber and Roberts. The ratings are about to get tighter again. And there is no station legend waiting in the wings to save the day if Kay pushes back ahead. Or a splash free agent to acquire. Not with parent company Audacy in such financial peril.

Our Crossing Broad compadres recently examined their own state of radio affairs. WIP — WFAN’s sister station — owns a commanding edge over 97.5 The Fanatic. One of the key takeaways: The Fanatic is capable — and comfortable — running a business where it can make money while being pummeled in the ratings. As long as it has hosts that can schmooze sponsors and drive sales, they’re happy. And ESPN seems to be in the same boat. They did not give Kay a massive new contract out of the goodness of their heart.

That is not WFAN, though. WFAN is about winning. WFAN does not play second fiddle. WFAN cannot be happy just making a profit in afternoons. It has to be at the top of the mountain. Which is why so much is at stake, for the ‘FAN and for ESPN, in this new era. We may have a real radio war again. Back after this.

James Kratch can be reached at james.kratch@xlmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @jameskratch.

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.