It’s been a bizarre eight months for WFAN, a station who’s weekday lineup remained stagnant for nine years following Chris Russo’s departure on August 14, 2008. Nearly a decade later, The FAN has been on a rollercoaster ride of change, beginning with Craig Carton’s resignation last September and continuing through Mike Francesa’s imminent comeback mirroring that of Jay Leno.
“This is for those who started this campaign in recent days,” said Francesa. “I didn’t decide to go back to WFAN until I was told I better not go back. For those behind it, that was the moment I decided to return.”
As someone who follows the New York sports radio scene rather intently, I struggled to find where “this campaign” began. Could it have been the two-year celebratory farewell? Maybe the ESPN 30 for 30, or the sold out event in his honor, Francesa: A Night to Remember. Was it everyone assuming Mike would play the role of hero and remain with WFAN after Craig Carton’s arrest last September?
For someone who left on his own terms, it’s hard to find where any sort of conspiracy to keep Francesa from returning stems from. The Afternoon Drive treated his departure with class, avoiding a response to criticism even when listeners expected one. The only resemblance of poking the bear in recent weeks came from a reported Chris Carlin text containing salty language after Mike and the Mad Dog joked about FAN’s lineup on an episode of Russo’s MLB Network show High Heat.
Good for Chris Carlin for showing some fight, and not backing down from his mentors because Francesa certainly wouldn’t back down from him or anyone else.
Mike’s return will be highly anticipated by fans, but it’s difficult to foresee him being celebrated by many of his coworkers. Carlin, Maggie and Bart took the high road during Tuesday’s show open in response to swirling reports of Francesa’s comeback, however, there’s no doubt tensions will be running high between CMB and Mike. Does it matter? Pick up a New York newspaper this week and it’s easy to see why WFAN wants him back.
The station may prefer things settle down and everyone come together as a cohesive unit, but more back page publicity won’t hurt their attempt to climb to the number one position in the ratings. The previous morning show regime never shied away from initiating controversy with Francesa and it doesn’t appear as though Boomer has since warmed up to the Sports Pope. Between CMB getting bumped, Francesa’s rocky relationship with Carlin and Boomer, along with Giannotti’s spot on impression of Mike, WFAN’s dynamic should be entertaining.
If Carlin, Maggie and Bart move to the 1-3 timeslot as expected, the trio will get the opportunity to grow with less pressure on their shoulders. But for a three-person show that struggled to find rhythm during four and a half hours, developing their style might be difficult with only two hours to work with. It’ll also be awkward hearing them lead into Francesa, the host who couldn’t move on and cost them their opportunity. Still, listeners should expect a fire to be lit under CMB who have the opportunity to experiment and build their show.
The microscope falls on Francesa. CMB’s ratings should perform better against Stephen A. Smith’s national show on 98.7 FM ESPN New York. The Michael Kay Show is no longer expected to win the afternoon drive ratings battle because after all they have never defeated Mike. That means the pressure is on Francesa to return and immediately deliver results, but that challenge, competitive fire and need to be heard on the New York radio airwaves is a big part of what lured him back to FAN.
There are two clear winners in this story. The first is the radio fan, the consumer, because regardless of your Mike Francesa opinion, you are intrigued by the unfolding of his comeback. Few people had the daily sports presence of Mike Francesa during the last 30 years and his return is fascinating to watch. Seeing Mike and WFAN trend nationally on Twitter speaks volumes for a near hundred-year old form of media, but Tuesday’s radio news had people scrambling to find out more.
The second winner is Andrew Marchand. Leaving the Yankees beat to cover sports media could appear to be a downgrade, but Marchand has been front and center, performing a tremendous job of reporting this story.
The move looks hypocritical and desperate, and it comes across as a panic move for both Francesa and WFAN. It’s clear now that Mike had no post-WFAN plan. There were entities interested in retaining his services, but nothing that provided the same platform or paycheck that WFAN did.
The Fan also shares blame because they lacked the courage to standby a new program in The Afternoon Drive with Carlin, Maggie and Bart, which they assembled and knew would need time to gel. Pulling the plug after just one ratings book is perplexing.
Yet with all of this chaos ensuing, I found myself locked in at 2pm to hear CMB react, 6am for Boomer and Gio to respond, 10am for Joe and Evan to offer their thoughts, and I eagerly await the first time Mike cracks the mic to start his new show. His return will make many uncomfortable, but it’s that type of chaos that creates creates attention, and now everyone involved will work to turn that instant attention into long-term success.
Reports have Mike returning to the airwaves as early as next Tuesday. Terms of Francesa’s pending contract have not been released, but speculation is that the deal is for a reduced amount and will run thru the end of 2020. Even with a paycut, the radio legend’s new salary will likely be more than the other high-profile jobs he coveted last fall, the Yankee managerial position now held by Aaron Boone.
NBC Sports Names Al Michaels To Emeritus Role
The partnership will keep Michaels on for the Olympics and NBC’s NFL playoff coverage.
NBC Sports, which had been the home of Al Michaels since 2006, will still feature the veteran broadcaster despite Michaels’ moving to Amazon for Thursday Night Football.
The network announced that Michaels will still be a part of NBC Sports’ high-profile broadcasting properties including the Olympics and NFL Playoffs. Michaels’ last broadcast with the network had been Super Bowl LVI in February, his eleventh Super Bowl.
NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua said in a statement, “Revered by viewers and colleagues, Al has been the soundtrack for many of the greatest moments in sports television history. We are thrilled that he’s staying in the family and raising the stature of our events for years to come.”
“I’m looking forward to continuing my longtime NBC relationship while also launching the Thursday Night Football package on Amazon this fall. A special thanks to NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua and the folks at NBCUniversal for their help in making this happen,” Michaels said.
Michaels moved to Amazon Prime Video this season for their Thursday Night Football package. He will be paired with ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit. This season will mark his 37th NFL play-by-play campaign in primetime.
Following another historic broadcasting moment in which Michaels deftly demonstrated his expertise and versatility, he became just the second sportscaster in history to receive a News Emmy nomination for his coverage of the San Francisco earthquake during the 1989 World Series.
In addition to the 11 Super Bowls, Michaels has worked nine Olympics and called eight World Series.
In December 2020, Michaels was honored with the 2021 Ford C. Frick Award for excellence in broadcasting by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Michaels is one of only five distinguished broadcasters to be recognized with the baseball honor and the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Award (Dick Enberg, Lindsey Nelson, Jack Buck, and Curt Gowdy).
One of television’s most respected journalists, Michaels has covered more major sports events than any sportscaster, including 20 years as the play-by-play voice of Monday Night Football. He is the only commentator to call the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Finals and host the Stanley Cup Final for network television. In addition, Michaels called the classic 1985 championship boxing match between Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns and “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler.
Among his many accolades, Michaels has captured eight Emmy Awards – seven for Outstanding Sports Personality – Play-by-Play and one in 2011 for the Lifetime Achievement Award, and has three times (1980, 1983 and 1986) received the NSSA Award from the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association; he was inducted into the NSSA Hall of Fame in 1998. Michaels was named Sportscaster of the Year in 1996 by the American Sportscasters Association, and, in 1991, he was named Sportscaster of the Year by the Washington Journalism Review.
Thom Brennaman Continues to Search for a Second Chance
Brennaman has been searching for a broadcasting gig since he spoke a homophobic slur in August 2020 on a Cincinnati Reds broadcast.
The last time Thom Brennaman sported the microphone for a major broadcast was August 19, 2020. It was game that featured a doubleheader between the Cincinnati Reds and the Kanasas City Royals and in between the two, Brennaman blurted a homophobic slur that has thus far kept him off radio and television.
Brennaman has struggled to find his footing since that error. Recently, Brennaman recorded an episode of Tell Me A Story I Don’t Know, a podcast hosted George Ofman. That episode was available Tuesday and in it, Ofman asks where Brennaman thinks he’ll be in six months.
Brennaman said, “I have no idea. I really don’t. There were a couple of times I thought that maybe somebody out there was going to give me a chance to broadcast again and then this same thing comes up again.”
Brennaman sounded baffled that he’s still searching for work, citing other influential local leaders and what they opined in the days after the incident. “You know what you find out George, the guy who’s considered to be the leading voice of the LGBT community here in Cincinnati, he’s a big executive with Johnson and Johnson, a guy named Ryan Messer. He had written, and I had never met Ryan Messer at this point in time, like two days after what I said, he wrote a letter to the editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, local paper, that Thom Brennaman should not be fired. There is room for growth here in so many areas and a great opportunity for him, for the gay community, for the Reds, for our society.”
Brennaman added that the two met as well as did Brennaman with other leaders in the LGBT community at the time. “I reached out to the guy and made contact with him and he’s the guy who’s house we went to that I made reference to earlier in listening to a bunch of the stories with some gay leaders. But anyway, I said ‘if you have people there – and I know you do – that are gay that work there, I would put up the amount of hours that I have spent in the gay community in some form or fashion over the last year against anybody you have that works in that office that’s gay’.”
Despite his efforts, the broadcasting veteran is dismayed that it’s failed to sway opinion, “it’s almost like in some cases it just falls on deaf ears.”
Regardless of where he is at now, he’s confident that eventually he’ll be afforded another opportunity. “But I ‘d like to think there’s somebody out there – and there will be and all it takes is one – is just to say ‘you know what, this was a mistake. Here’s the documentation of what the guy’s tried to do since then. We’re going to take a chance – answer some tough questions – and take a chance and get him back in the booth.”
And if another opportunity doesn’t present itself? “If it doesn’t happen, it’s not going to be the end of my life.”
The Rundown With Jeff Michael Coming To SportsMap Radio
“The Rundown with Jeff Michael will debut on June 6.”
Jeff Michael is getting a promotion at SportsMap Radio. He is moving from the part-time staff into a new midday show.
The Rundown with Jeff Michael will debut on June 6. The network describes the new two-hour show as energetic and fast-paced.
“Sports talk radio always meant the world to me,” Jeff Michael said in a press release. “Having an opportunity to reach such a large national audience is something I do not take lightly. While I’m so grateful for the opportunity, my focus will always be on creating captivating and informative content.”
Michael has been with SportsMap Radio since 2020. He has also been a prolific host in the podcasting space.
“I feel this is a perfect format for Jeff to excel,” CEO David Gow added. “From listening to fill-in appearances, you can tell he has tremendous command of his audience. You cannot easily teach what Jeff Michael already possesses.”