Chris Christie, Mike Francesa and WFAN

Uncategorized, Politics, Broadcasting

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?

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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.