Pioneers of Sports Talk Radio Call It Quits After 19 Years
The breakup of sportstalk radio team Mike Francesa and Chris "Mad Dog" Russo was big news in New York. For 19 years, they were the backdrop of afternoon drive sports talk in the NY Metro area.
It may not seem like a big deal to some (especially since Francesa will be retained to continue in that slot) but in radio history terms, it is.
Mike and The Mad Dog was a revolutionary show on a revolutionary station. WFAN was supposed to be an ill-fated experiment according to many media experts. They were the first radio station in America to broadcast sports talk 24 hours a day.
Originating on WHN 1050 in NY in 1987, they landed on the old WNBC frequency (660 kHz) in 1988 and sported a lineup of radio and TV veterans: Pete Franklin, Suzyn Waldman, Greg Gumbel, Bill Mazer, and Ed Coleman.
The station wavered from the format when they landed Don Imus to do the morning slot in 1988. Imus would give the fledgling station an immediate ratings boost and guarantee them a consistent listenership.
They had the volatile, insult-ridden diatribes of Pete Franklin in the afternoon and filled the rest of the schedule with fan-driven conversations about sports and constant news and sports updates.
Francesa was initially teamed with Coleman in the mid-morning spot and Russo began as a weekend fill-in. With Franklin spirallng out of control, the station decided to give hid slot to a team consisting of Francesa—who had deep knowledge in a wide variety of sports—with The Mad Dog—who was completely off the hook. No one thought the show would last more than two months never mind two decades.
Russo would yell and scream at callers and go off on tangents that listeners found bizarre and extremely entertaining. His nickname was earned not only for his propensity to go ballistic on the air, but also because he usually spewed saliva in the process—like a mad dog.
The pairing worked. The duo captivated, embraced and even polarized listeners for 19 years.
Francesa, an insufferable, elitist Yankee fan, was vilified for the way he talked down to baseball callers. Russo, a San Francisco Giants fan, hated both NY baseball teams and his monologues irritated fans of both teams. This led to an increased listener base and an unprecedented stream of audience participation phone calls.
One would think that a show such as this would not be missed because there is a ton of them these days, not only on the radio but on television, the internet and on podcasts. That is true.
Their breakup comes at a time where maybe they finally ran their course. Over the years, the duo has had differences of opinion and many tiffs.
But let us not forget the significance of what WFAN has accomplished and what contributions Mike and the Mad Dog has made to the sports media. It gave listeners a platform to vent and voice their opinions—just like Bleacher Report is doing.
They brought sports to the forefront, increasing interest in the games and making the ESPNs of the world more prominent.
They also pioneered the all-sports format, which has been replicated and expanded throughout the world, changing the way Americans view and consume their sports content.
Mike Francesa can still be heard on WFAN 66-AM in NY from 1-6:30 p.m. weekdays. His show is also telecast live on the YES Network.
Chris Russo is currently looking for the next best thing. There is no question that he will re-emerge on the sports scene in a major way. It has been rumored that he is working on a deal with satellite radio for his own show or channel.