WFAN Ratings After Mike Francesa’s Retirement Are Revealing

The New York City sports radio station puts new hosts behind the microphone.

Mike Francesa replacements failing in radio ratings
Cindy Ord / Getty Images for SiriusXM

The New York City sports radio station puts new hosts behind the microphone.

With or without Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Mike Francesa’s long-running show on New York City sports radio station WFAN was typically number one in the targeted demographic. Ratings since Francesa’s final WFAN broadcast on December 15, 2017, tell a different story.

Mike Francesa, who went to work for “The FAN” in 1987 when it was the only 24-hour sports talk station in the country, dominated afternoon drive Monday through Friday since 1989 on the outlet which broadcasts on 660 AM and 101.9 FM as well as streaming on the internet.

Francesa’s departure has changed things up. The ratings for the first quarter of 2018 give a narrow win — for the first time ever — to the Michael Kay Show, another local offering that airs on 98.7 FM, ESPN New York.

Kay, the New York Yankees TV play-by-play guy, works with co-hosts Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg on the radio broadcast which is simulcast on the YES cable network. It may be a Pyrrhic victory, however, since neither show is burning up the airwaves.

Kay nonetheless edged the beleaguered trio of Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray, and ex-NFL player Bart Scott who replaced Mike Francesa on a show called The Afternoon Drive (a.k.a. CMB) on WFAN.

According to Newsday, CMB is not distinguishing itself after the Francesa handoff.

“It was a closely watched race, because this is the first quarterly ratings ‘book’ in WFAN’s post-Mike Francesa era, and it showed Kay outdoing WFAN for the first time in the more than 13 years since he moved to afternoon drive time…ESPN averaged 4.4 percent of the radio audience to 4.2 for WFAN in the key demographic of men ages 25-54 from 3 to 6:30 p.m…While outperforming WFAN is a milestone for Kay, his numbers were down compared to the autumn, when he averaged 5.0 percent of the audience and was fourth overall. But WFAN was down by more; Francesa was second in the market with a 6.6 share in the fall.”

With Carlin (a former Francesa producer) as the CMB MC, the trio has received criticism among other things like their lack of chemistry, hot takes that are stone cold, and that Scott’s sports knowledge extends only to football.

As alluded to above, Mike Francesa was co-host of Mike and the Mad Dog from 1989 to 2008. In August 2008, Francesa began flying solo with Mike’s On when Russo jumped to SiriusXM satellite radio. Whether sports aficionados tuned in because they were Mike fans (small case) or hate-listened because Francesa seemed to come across as overbearing and self-important, he brought home the ratings. When making game prognostications, Francesa would often give himself an escape clause by saying that while team A would win a particular matchup, “it wouldn’t surprise him” if team B prevailed. He also seldom owned up to predictions or player evaluations that were way off the mark.

In a recent appearance on Russo’s MLB TV show High Heat, the ex-radio partners gleefully threw some shade on WFAN, which touched off a mini-feud with the hosts on Francesa’s former station. Carlin even mentioned on the air that he spoke privately with both of his former colleagues to express his displeasure.

Radio stations make most of their money when listeners or potential listers are commuting to and from their jobs, and against that backdrop, WFAN’s morning presentation is also struggling. Formerly the top-rated Boomer & Carton show (Boomer being ex-NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason), Craig Carton stepped down from the station in September 2017 following his arrest in connection with an alleged Ponzi scheme. Carton has denied the allegations and subsequently launched an online show.

The replacement, Boomer & Gio (Greg Giannotti), dropped to seventh place in the winter ratings book, according to the Bob’s Blitz website.

Parenthetically, ESPN’s new morning show Get Up! Is also languishing in the ratings.

Unless this is the new normal, it would appear that WFAN management will have to make some fundamental programming adjustments sooner rather than later.

“Mike Francesa is gone and so is WFAN’s afternoon supremacy atop the ratings…FAN could rationalize that since CMB is likely only making a third of the millions that Francesa was pulling in, then it may not need as high a rating,” the New York Post noted in the alternative about the substantial salary differential in play in the post-Francesa environment.

With his WFAN noncompete clause now apparently expired, Mike Francesa may announce a new gig in sports media sometime this month.