Labor Day has come and gone. The summer is over. The fall is here. Which means the new year begins for local sports talk radio. And there is a lot going on at the moment.
Here is where things stand with New York’s fifth major professional sport:
The mornings are pretty straightforward. WFAN has a juggernaut program with Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti. The station will dominate the time slot until Esiason retires. And even then it will likely continue to romp over ESPN Radio New York’s Rick DiPietro and Dave Rothenberg. It will be damn near impossible for anyone to blunt the momentum that Don Imus, Craig Carton, Esiason and Giannotti have created over the last few decades.
Midday could be a battlefield, but only with a big change. Sal Licata and Brandon Tierney have not had a roaring start to their partnership. Licata made a fool of himself with his sloppy Pete Alonso reporting. Tierney feels a bit lost without longtime partner Tiki Barber. And a show that once tried to do journalism has become an as-the-wind-blows hot take and yelling fest.
That all said … WFAN is basically guaranteed victory in the time slot. As long as ESPN carries Mike Greenberg’s national show that he rarely hosts, it has no shot to compete. Alan Hahn and Bart Scott are playing with arms tied behind their backs when they sign on at noon after two hours of whoever is filling in for Greenberg that day. If ESPN went 100% local, it might have a chance to make things interesting. But that would require a lot of scheduling changes the station has passed on previously.
Everyone is watching afternoon drive. We will say it again: ESPN’s Michael Kay is undefeated against WFAN when it does not have Mike Francesa or Carton going against him. And all the signs suggest he, Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg should be positioned to reclaim supremacy in the time slot.
Barber gave WFAN’s new-look afternoon team a black eye with his bogus Robert Saleh report. And third wheel Shaun Morash tends to hijack the show most days, leaving Evan Roberts — the only proven commodity — as somewhat of an afterthought. It is going to be fascinating to see if Kay can pull back ahead. And if he does, what WFAN can do — if anything — to stabilize itself and fight back. There are no obvious fixes waiting in the wings if one is needed.
Will Audacy go bankrupt? WFAN’s parent company remains in financial peril. We still do not know if Audacy’s reverse stock split maneuver will work. The stock was at 68 cents entering Tuesday — a big improvement from when it was going for mere pennies earlier this year, but still out of compliance with the New York Stock Exchange. And the company still has to restructure debt and sell off assets while admitting many factors are out of its control. WFAN is one of Audacy’s crown jewels, so it is unlikely to feel much pain unless everything falls apart. But if WFAN starts to lose in afternoon drive and slips across the board, that cannot help Audacy’s cause.
Televised sports debating. Carton’s FS1-only existence begins for real, along with ex-ESPN host Dave Jacoby as his new sidekick. It will be interesting to see how Carton does and whether his national prominence grows. You have to imagine Fox is giving him plenty of runway from a contractual and ratings standpoint. Also: Will Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo’s weekly residence on “ESPN First Take” remain as compelling and relevant, especially now that Stephen A. Smith has imported Shannon Sharpe as a new foil on Mondays and Tuesdays?
Podcasts. Mike Francesa’s BetRivers venture remains the second-best program in the market. And it will only grow in prominence if WFAN continues to falter. The semi-retired Joe Benigno also has his own podcast, but the real question with him is how big a role he has on WFAN this fall — and if more is coaxed out of him if ratings really tank.