Mike Francesa is becoming a white dwarf

Broadcasting, MLB

francesa

Mike Francesa’s belief that he is superior led to a series of career mistakes that has culminated in the ongoing and embarrassing display in which he tries to salvage the remaining vestiges of relevance.

Throughout his media career, Francesa’s ego has always been his largest organ/appetite. Well beyond his ample stomach proportions and insatiable addiction to Diet Coke, it’s always been there. From his tenure functioning as “Brent’s Brain” working for Brent Musburger at CBS and feeding the veteran broadcaster the obscure nuggets of information that seemingly no one else had and ghostwriting articles for Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, his sights were set higher.

Despite an accent that came right out of New Yawk and his tacit refusal to use the deep…broadcaster’s…voice exemplified by Ernie Johnson, Francesa had a gimmick few others had when it really wasn’t a gimmick. It was just him.

Put on the air at WFAN while the first all-sports radio station was in its infancy, his takes were unique and generally well thought out. Regardless of the arrogance and self-promotion behind them, he delivered them in such a cocksure manner that it was impossible to ignore and easy to grant credibility even if they were preposterous. Put on the air with a similarly unique voice – who was unhinged and obnoxious – Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, the show took off with the partnership lasting two decades until the desire to be on their own and make more money split them.

A substantial part of his shtick was the tacit refusal to ever admit he was wrong about anything. If that’s an exaggeration, it’s only slight.

The spiral began years ago and began hurtling down the mountain at speeds only a wall would stop. The move from the televised simulcast of his radio show on the YES Network to Fox Sports 1 was half-understandable in that YES – like the Yankees propaganda wing it is – preferred someone who would not criticize the organization in any way except in the meekest, most apologetic tone. While a Yankees fan, Francesa never went that far. Certainly, Michael Kay was an ideal replacement for what the network sought in terms of shilling content. FS1 not only had a fraction of the reach of YES, but it was constantly preempted. Francesa, whose arrogance by then had extended to thinking he could negotiate his own contracts sans an agent, had a deal where his simulcast was rarely simulcast. Eventually, the sides mutually agreed to part and he was never on television again.

Then there was his “farewell tour,” something that was generally limited to legitimate on-field sports stars like Derek Jeter. He bogarted it and wallowed in the accolades and feting for a year.

It was only after the “retirement” that reality hit and the expected litany of high profile, well compensated jobs were not there.

So, as the WFAN replacement The Afternoon Drive with Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott struggled in every conceivable way; as the time slot lost advertisers; with WFAN listeners doing the unthinkable and abandoning ship for Michael Kay, avid Francesa fans lamented his departure and wished for his return, he did everyone a favor. Except it was critical that there be a caveat that he didn’t come crawling back because he had nowhere else to go, but that it was a preplanned decision to promote his app.

Yet it hasn’t gone as he expected.

A vast portion of his fans have had enough. Joining Twitter – something he said he’d never, ever do – was perhaps the biggest mistake, even bigger than the app, its clumsy rollout, Francesa making it sound like a revolutionary creation, and its exorbitant cost for what subscribers are getting. Now, he can no longer deny his most rancid takes never happened. Suggesting the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to trade him for Mike Trout was the worst one in recent memory. He’s giving opinions that would be mocked and ridiculed by Francesa himself had a caller or another media person given them and now there’s a video clip from the app to see it and a tweet to quote it verbatim.

The explanations of how long he plans to stay on the air and what the future holds are generating yawns and shrugs. Fans might have clamored for him to come back, but quickly realized that his indifference grew worse in the interim from his “retirement” to his return. Doing the show from home, being lazier than ever, exhibiting a toxic narcissism that not even his biggest fans can stand – it’s all contributed to the growing indifference of what he says.

He’s been reduced to Twitter screeds that elicit the same “Who cares?” that Francesa uttered when a caller asked him about the death of the Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee.

The condescension, contradictions, self-destructiveness to feed his megalomania – all have contributed to his rapid slide. It’s difficult to say that he should have altered the strategy to that got him to his formerly lofty position in the first place, but there’s been no adaptation. It’s the same. It might even have gotten worse. This is rapidly descending to his worst nightmare of irrelevance.

The ever-present ego expanded like a star’s expansion into a red giant. The metaphor is apt because, eventually, it retracts into a white dwarf and eventually burns out.

Advertisements

The root of the Michael Kay Show freakout about Mike Francesa

Broadcasting, Uncategorized

LaGreca

The Michael Kay Show’s simmering anger at Mike Francesa’s return to New York radio on WFAN finally boiled over with an unhinged rant from Don La Greca.

Francesa’s return is one thing; but they were deprived of the chance to beat him – which they were never going to do – and when they won, they were basically a transitional title holder like Ivan Koloff or the Iron Shiek so the champ could get a break making his return and immediate knockout all the more embarrassing. That is the true source of the anger.

La Greca’s response is comparable in its foundation to the scene in Rocky II when Apollo Creed, over the emphatic objections of his trainer, demands a rematch with Rocky Balboa exclaiming, “Man, I won, but I didn’t beat him!”

Some don’t care as long as they win; others want to beat the best to earn the title. There are arguments for both. When Francesa’s return was announced, the Kay show talked tough, but it was hollow. Presumably even they were self-aware enough to know they would lose, but for it to happen so effortlessly was particularly galling.

During Francesa’s interminable “retirement tour,” there was a somewhat understandable expectation – amid reasonable dubiousness that Francesa was really retiring – that Kay and his show were the heir apparent to winning the afternoon sports talk radio battle, such as it is. Winning by process of elimination diminishes the victory, but a win is a win. La Greca’s rant was visceral as if he and, by extension, Kay are angry not because they lost and they’re being mocked for Francesa simply showing up and taking his title back by snapping his fingers and making their short-lived ratings victory disappear like he’s a Diet Coke-swilling Thanos, but that Francesa took away something they felt they were entitled to.

In the interim of Francesa’s departure, signs were clear that Francesa’s return was not just possible, but likely and then imminent. First, when Craig Carton was arrested and subsequently fired from the WFAN morning show, Francesa, in a faux act of benevolence, made clear that he would be willing to remain, ostensibly to “save” the station from ruin. It never came to pass and WFAN moved on with Francesa’s placeholder show Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott.

Kay beat that show in the ratings, but considering how spectacularly awful it is, had he not won in that ratings book, then it would really be time to find another vocation. In fact, it would have been a fireable offense.

Francesa had to do nothing more than simply return to the radio to immediately regain all the listeners who begrudgingly tuned to Kay. This went beyond a ratings period and the analysis of it. Think about how professionally castrating it is to be so irrelevant that even those who were indifferent to Francesa and flipped to Kay didn’t even think about it before switching back.

It transcends debates about the Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Knicks and Rangers. It has nothing to do with Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Mickey Callaway, Yoenis Cespedes, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Sam Darnold and Eli Manning. It’s more fundamental with who puts on a compelling show where, like him or not, Francesa still has the “What would Mike say about this?” allure and the cocksure attitude to blunt the “Who the hell are you to be saying this?” retort.

Very few have that. The Kay show definitely doesn’t.

If La Greca isn’t screaming like a lunatic, nobody pays attention to what he says because nobody cares.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Francesa if he didn’t make some preposterous face-saving statements and maneuvers of his own. The supposed opportunities he expected once he left radio failed to materialize. Undoubtedly, he had offers, but either they were financially insufficient, were not big enough to suit his ego, or both.

So, he returned. Is Francesa having a private laugh about so easily regaining his title and the Kay show’s reaction to it? Of course. But at the end of the clip linked above, when Francesa was asked about it, his reply was predictable in its dismissiveness. The Kay show was always beneath his notice if he noticed it at all. He won’t punch down because all that does is give validation to any perceived competition where there isn’t one.

The anger stems not from losing to Francesa (they should be used to that); not from the perception that they cannot beat the top dog in the ratings (they can’t); but from their belief that they were the next in the line of succession as if by sheer existence as the only moderately listenable afternoon sports talk radio show in New York, they should therefore have been anointed the top spot. That is not the case and the Kay show staff knows it. La Greca screaming until he turns purple is the illustration of that point and its inherent frustration knowing there’s nothing they can do to change it.

On Mike Francesa and his return to WFAN in New York

Broadcasting, MLB, NFL, Uncategorized

Francesa screenshot

Mike Francesa’s pending return to WFAN in New York caught many by surprise. An onslaught of criticism has inundated him and the station for the ham-handed way this was handled, that Francesa had his extended “farewell tour” only to stage a return four months later, and he usurped his replacements with little regard to anyone other than himself.

Francesa benefited from the poor showing in the first ratings book from his replacements, “The Afternoon Drive” with Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott, and that the station was still reeling from the firing of morning co-host Craig Carton after his arrest for allegations of being involved in a Ponzi scheme.

This was a perfect storm. The decline in ratings was one thing. The content for the Afternoon Drive show and that they lost to none other than Michael Kay appears to have been the tipping point. For Francesa’s  hard core listeners – of which were and are many – a shrieking storm alert text message on a loop is preferable to listening to Kay. Since there is no other sports afternoon radio talk show in New York, those who cannot stand Kay and didn’t like the Afternoon Drive show were left lamenting WFAN’s inability to keep Francesa from leaving and Francesa for abandoning them.

For Carlin, Gray and Scott, the die was cast early in their brief tenure during the New York Giants’ quarterback controversy when Gray launched into an extended rant as to how an NFL team should develop a quarterback as if she somehow knew more about it than experienced NFL front office folk. No, it wasn’t a Francesa rant when he raved like a lunatic with his ample flesh jiggling and his voice and internal organs straining like he was about to have a volcanic eruption with Diet Coke exploding from every orifice, but it was worse. Francesa was so cocksure in his statements – no matter how idiotic they could be – that he pulled it off. Gray tried a calm, rational approach that failed the “Who are you to be saying this?” test. Francesa’s credibility on such a subjective topic as developing a quarterback is likely not any better than Gray’s, but he sold it better and hand waved away the credibility question like one of his callers.

Carlin tried too hard to generate controversy with outrageous statements.

Scott clearly lacked conviction as he spouted memorized lines about sports other than football.

It didn’t work. Like the nightmarish experiment of David Lee Roth replacing Howard Stern, there were two choices:

1) Continue moving forward, refuse to acknowledge a mistake and let the audience wither away to nothing.

2) Cut the ties and make a move that was financially motivated to be sure, but was also adhering to what the audience wants.

The purpose of a radio show is to generate listeners. The listeners are gauged by ratings and the ratings are an overriding factor in advertising rates. Losing listeners means lower advertising rates and lower revenue. After the loss of Carton and the station’s apparent rudderless foray into the unknown, they had no alternative. It’s fair to criticize the station for how it was done, but arguing that it was not a sound business decision is putting what’s deemed to be “fair” ahead of what’s necessary to effectively run a business.

Francesa is not innocent here. It would not be the essence of Francesa if he didn’t try to spin his return into something he was “forced” to do as he made bizarre allusions to a conspiracy to keep him off the air as if he’s the last line of defense against a cabal of shadowy powerbrokers for which his return sabotages a quest for universal domination.

Somewhere inside him, when getting past the rancid soda, clogged arteries, calcified chunks of ego and goo, presumably he knows this. And he doesn’t care.

To say that he couldn’t find a new radio home is difficult to believe. He certainly could have gone to Sirius or gotten a job on a network talking about the NFL and college basketball. The motivation to go back to his radio home could have been the money; it could have been the exposure; or it could have been that he finally got what he wanted from WFAN and his wife was sick of him being around the house micromanaging her all day when she’d grown accustomed to him being gone.

It doesn’t matter. His fans don’t care.

Those rolling their eyes at the extended farewell tour and his subsequent return are ignoring the reality that Francesa has functioned for his entire career – if not his entire life – thinking that he was worthy of feting and fealty just for existing; simply because he granted his listeners the generosity of sharing his wisdom with them. By that metric, he should have been idolized whether he was retiring or not.

As for show content, this was a no-brainer. Like him or not, there are few voices in the media who have that cachet of “I wonder what he/she will say about this?”

Francesa has it.

Wondering about how Aaron Boone is using his bullpen for the Yankees?

What’s wrong with Matt Harvey and what the Mets should do?

If there’s a real chance that Tom Brady will retire and that a rift between him and Bill Belichick will sabotage the Patriots?

Whom the Knicks should hire as head coach?

If the Giants will select Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb, a quarterback, or trade down with the second overall pick in the coming NFL draft?

What the New York Jets will do after having traded up to get the third pick?

Francesa will tell you. You’ll listen. You might agree. You might disagree. You might loathe his arrogance and refusal to admit to ever having been wrong about anything, ever. He’s heading back to WFAN because the station needs him and he needs the forum. How it was done is secondary and after all the conversation, nobody cares if they get the show they want. That show is Francesa’s show.

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.