Mike Francesa
Asbury Park Press

Mike Francesa does not talk about WFAN directly. But he does occasionally talk about his former station indirectly. The Aug. 9 edition of his BetRivers podcast was one of those instances. And Francesa made a point — intentionally or not — that sums up where his former employer stands as it begins its new era.

Francesa fielded a listener email asking about how sports talk radio has become more of a “comedy hour.” He offered a lengthy and thought-provoking response (which is transcribed at the end of the post). But one part particularly stood out.

“I think that if you’re a real sports talk host, OK, you don’t have to go down that (risqué) road,” he said. “You can be entertaining, you can be compelling, you can be passionate, you can be knowledgeable. You can offer takes that people care about.”

The common refrain is that WFAN does not talk about sports any longer. But that is not really the case. They do talk about sports for the most part. But that does not mean it is good sports talk. Or that the talkers themselves are all that compelling.

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Craig Carton did guy talk in afternoon drive. And Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti do it in the morning to an extent. But they are the exception, not the rule. They have the talent to color outside the line. And they also still color inside of them. Carton was always more educated about the local teams than he let on. And Esiason’s resume gives his show immense sporting credibility, especially with football.

The issue is that — and we concede it is still early — WFAN has not given anyone a good reason to care about the new midday and afternoon programs. Sal Licata and Brandon Tierney just yell. And Licata has looked foolish in recent days with his inflammatory Pete Alonso comments that do not seem to be based in reality. Tiki Barber and Evan Roberts should be valued voices around town. But they are too busy trying to make Shaun Morash go viral.

People care about what Francesa says. About what Joe Benigno says. About what Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo says. Even about what ESPN Radio New York’s Michael Kay says. But we are not sure if the same can be said about all the names in the preceding paragraph. At least on the scale that WFAN wants and needs.

Again, it is early. These personalities and shows could soon mesh and take off. And even if they do not, it may not matter. It is entirely possible — maybe even probable — that WFAN will keep steamrolling ESPN in the ratings. But our doubts are growing.

We do not have ratings results yet. But our gut tells us Barber, Morash and Roberts will find themselves in a dogfight with Michael Kay, Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg. And recent history tells us Kay might pull ahead again. And if ESPN can ever go 100% local in middays, it would not shock us if Licata and Tierney also have a serious challenge. Anyway, just a hunch. We will see how it all plays out soon enough. But we agree with what the big guy says.

Here are Francesa’s full comments from the podcast:

I hear this more than I hear anything else. There are a lot of young hosts who have been influenced by some success from certain people. Namely Howard Stern. Don Imus first, but then Howard Stern. Many, many, many of the people in the radio business were influenced by Stern because of his unbridled success. And there are a lot of program directors and a lot of people who make those decisions who believe that scatological humor, sexual innuendo and comedy is the way to go.

I think that if you’re a real sports talk host, OK, you don’t have to go down that road. You can be entertaining, you can be compelling, you can be passionate, you can be knowledgeable. You can offer takes that people care about. I did it for going on now 40 years. I never went down that road, ever. And I never had trouble getting an audience. If you have the ability to do that, you can do that. It can be done. But a lot of people sell a lot of people short that they can’t do it. And they’re right; some of them can’t. Some of them won’t garner an audience unless they go down that road. But you’re right.

They’ve become too much about — listen, Imus did bits. Imus told stories and vignettes and stuff like that. And it worked because they were a talented group of guys who knew what they were doing. They wrote funny stuff. They had great ability to do voices. And you had a professional comedian in Rob Bartlett as part of the show. And Imus was funny. So the bottom line was that was what they did. But not everyone has that ability. And a lot of people who think they have that ability don’t. So it leads to a lot of lousy shows.

And I hear that more from fans than anything. They want sports. Hey, I’m sure there are still people out there doing — Dog does sports, when I do podcasts I still do sports 90% of the time. We might do movie reviews or something that bothers us or politics, but for the most part we’re doing sports.

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.