Chris Christie, Mike Francesa and WFAN

Broadcasting, Politics, Uncategorized

chris-christieThe idea of WFAN in New York replacing Mike Francesa with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie sparked the inevitable jokes about the weight of the two men; Christie’s dystopian political future; and the station’s desperation to find a recognizable name with sufficient girth to fit into the groove of Francesa’s chair as well as the one he legitimately created as an innovator in sports talk radio.

On the surface, the response is a justifiable “Chris Christie?!?”

But it does make sense.

First, it must be considered whether Francesa is simply rattling the coins in his empty can of Diet Coke for a better deal when the reality sets in that he’s serious about leaving.

That might make sense were it 10 years ago and his former partner Chris Russo had just departed. He had the station’s financial future in his hands and he easily could have raked them to get exactly what he wanted. Now? Maybe not. The arguments for it being real are obvious. He’s 63-years old; he’s been doing this for 30 years; he has young children; and, for the past decade, has been working alone for up to six days a week – a grueling 30 hours – on the radio.

It’s not easy.

He’s often ridiculed for his frequent vacations, especially over the summer, but with the above factors, he does have the right to take some time off and not have to explain himself to anyone, nor to be unjustly lambasted for it.

On the flipside, this might be a negotiation with him seeking a reduced schedule at the same or more money.

It might be a combination.

Every utterance of Francesa must be judged within the context of an ego-driven agenda. For him to say that Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts are even under consideration to replace him is more of a threat with the between-the-lines statement of “This is what you’re relegated to if and when I leave” attached to it. Of course it’s possible that WFAN would replace Francesa with Beningo and Roberts to predictably disastrous results, but the idea of Christie, with that alternative of Joe and Evan, gets better and better.

Is this a contract negotiation that Francesa is pushing to the hilt? He notoriously serves as his own representative which, after his parting with the YES Network, led to an ill-advised, terribly implemented union for his radio show to be simulcast on Fox Sports 1. He was preempted seemingly more often that he was on with complaints from fans in the Metropolitan area who see the preemptor – European Football – in the following way:

The negativity with Francesa for his arrogance, ignorance, sudden entry into political prognostication and more is justified. However, if the criticism goes beyond a pointed critique of tangible content and it enters a realm of mean-spiritedness for its own sake, then the target can express displeasure and have something done about it. This is where the WFAN morning show of Boomer and Carton steps over the line.

Francesa is certainly not above being criticized, but when the morning show is going into professional wrestling mode and generating “heat” when Francesa has no interest in taking part in the gag, Francesa has the right to protest. Francesa is one of the main reasons that sports talk radio in general and WFAN in particular has become as big as it has. It’s difficult to envision the station having achieved its level of success and relevance without Mike and the Mad Dog, his former show with Russo.

Mentioning Russo is vital because once the pair split, Francesa looked at several options to replace him and then chose to do the show alone. Perhaps that was the intent all along. But that hardly matters. To claim that Francesa is “lazy” or that his threats at retirement are a financial ploy is a mistake.

And for it to come from Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton?

Esiason’s ego is Betelgeuse next to Francesa’s Pluto only with fractional foundation for it. He’s little more than a retired jock broadcasting hack who received every opportunity to be a media star, failed, and ended up having to get up at 4 a.m. to have a job in radio and is another replaceable, faceless, ignorable entity on dull NFL pregame shows and weekly roundups.

Would anyone notice if he was dispatched into obscurity?

Carton is the “me tough” testimony to faux outrageousness.

So yes, Francesa can react when he’s mocked by that entity and expect the station bosses to stop it. Could the failure to step in with workable sanctions to make it stop be, in part, why he’s walking?

francesa

Flaws aside, when he’s on his game and motivated, he still has the power to create compelling radio that few others can.

This is why Francesa still matters.

About how many broadcasters can it be said, “I wonder what ‘X’ will say about this?”

Francesa works alone. In the past, he has gone on crafted rants and tailored his positions to suit an end (see this absurd 2012 rant about the New York Mets). He has also backtracked on things he’s repeatedly said without so much as an acknowledgement, let alone a mea culpa. But the disappointment at Francesa being off this week and missing out on his take of the Randy Levine-Dellin Betances back and forth is legitimate because he still has “it” and we can’t help wondering what his position would be. This goes beyond the deflation when tuning in to WFAN at 1 p.m., not knowing that Joe and Evan are on in his stead, and hearing their moronic singalong with Francesa’s theme song that functions as an allegory to their vapid show.

WFAN will not get away with finding a “star” radio host from Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and expect him or her to seamlessly slide in to take over for Francesa. It won’t work. Nor will the concept of Joe and Evan being moved to Francesa’s slot – the show is unlistenable. Evan and Kim Jones? They could have sex on the air and not get a fraction of the attention or ratings Francesa does. Moving Boomer and Carton to the afternoon? Maybe they could get away with that, but their listeners and Francesa’s listeners are of a different breed making it a risk to ruin two different time slots instead of one.

The selection of Christie is so far outside the box and, apart from his appearances at Dallas Cowboys games as a guest of owner Jerry Jones and his known status as a Mets fan, there’s a limited amount of sports content linked to him so he’s not walking into the studio with any baggage – in that realm anyway. He’s guest hosted on Boomer and Carton with promising results.

The replacement must be based in the Metro area with a feisty combativeness and an interesting potential to say interesting stuff. Christie certainly has the voice, the personality and the interest in sports to make it work.

Francesa leaving can create a gaping chasm in the middle of the afternoon that literally and figuratively could only be replaced by someone as big as Francesa. Christie certainly fits in every aspect for it to work.

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One thought on “Chris Christie, Mike Francesa and WFAN

  1. I’ve listened to Mike Francesa’s show (including the Mike and the Mad Dog original) from the beginning. I’ve been a faithful all-around listener of the station from its humble beginnings. I’ve called in many times over the years and opined with the various hosts on the air. I even got to speak with Mike and Dog ONE time. Got lucky that one afternoon. All good things…well, we know. In listening to his show the past year, in particular, a few things come to my mind.

    I think it was not a great choice to break up the Mike and Mad Dog program for the station. Perhaps Francesa and Russo were/are quite comfortable with their profession career decision. So be it. Factually, I have never tuned in to ANY of Russo’s show because I don’t subscribe to satellite radio (is it on Tune In?). As Francesa’s show was on regular over-the-air radio, it was easy to just pick up where he left off. I just do not think he is as compelling or thoughtful (or accurate) as he was when teamed up with Russo. In fact, as has been focused on the past few weeks during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Francesa’s actual knowledge of sports topics has been exposed as questionable, at best. Do I still listen? Sure, if there isn’t anything else I’m doing/watching/listening to. For that matter, he’s a success, as I still tune him in. Fair enough.

    Tuning in regularly allows me to actually be a more discerning listener of his program and its philosophy. I give him credit for not turning the show into what most morning drive shows have become, which is to say, unlistenable hijinks, prank calls, and empty minutes of blabber. At his time slot of 1:00 pm through 6:30 pm, he is afforded a great potential listening audience with many loyalists. That’s a good thing. Here are some of the disappointing aspects over the years.

    A little humility would have given him a bit more latitude with the listeners and media. We do not need to hear of his wonderful connections to the sports world elite and how many Super Bowls he has attended and how great he seats were for this championship game, etc. He has forgotten that most of his listeners DO NOT have that type of sports privilege. Dishing his sports elite insider connections is not cool.

    His dismissive stance of those sports he deems not worthy of attention has also hurt him. He truly has been shown to be limited to the basic three professional sports (MLB, NFL, NBA) with a grudging acknowledgement of the NHL. He touches on the PGA, horse racing, and some professional tennis. My litmus test is easy for any broadcaster/show host. The more you answer in generalities on a spors subject, the less you actually know of it. If you are hosting a sports talk show ANYWHERE, you should know more than your listeners/callers. Or at least be as informed. To be true, Joe Benigno’s knowledge is far superior to his sports-wise. However, Joe, whom I’ve personally met a few times over the years at Rangers home games, never gives his opinions or facts or experiences in condescending tones. EVER. Mike has never learned this.
    As for the actual posting I am responding to, the answer is easy enough. Every time slot is replaceable. There will never be another Mike Francesa, and that is a good thing. It means he holds a legitimate place in the history of American sports talk radio and media. He had a great run, and I think him for that. However, a fresh voice with a new set of sports eyewear and a greater depth of knowledge of the sports world is what is actually needed. Christie? Nope. The people running the FAN should be interviewing everyone that comes by. They should be doing their due diligence when its comes to sports radio. Here’s an idea, FAN: hire someone who actually loves sports and loves speaking with his audience, rather than shouting and demeaning them.

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