Mike Francesa trying to get things straightened out on Fox cable

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Mike Francesa at his home in Manhasset on Mike Francesa at his home in Manhasset on Thursday, March 13, 2014. Photo Credit: Chris Ware

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

For a dozen years, fans of WFAN's afternoon radio show knew exactly where to find its television simulcast: within the predictable confines of the YES Network, usually displaced only by weekday afternoon Yankees games.

But since Mike Francesa left YES in February and moved to Fox Sports 1 and 2 in March, finding his show on TV has become a daily chore -- and an impossible one for homes that do not get FS2, which is most of them.

The host feels your pain.

"We have an issue here," he said Monday in a telephone interview before his show. "I do have a high level of frustration."

Francesa emphasized how much he likes the people at Fox both professionally and personally, and he said he and executives there are in the process of trying to "correct" the issue.

That issue is Francesa repeatedly has been pre-empted on Fox Sports 1, for everything from soccer to NASCAR to baseball, and pushed to FS2. Sometimes he has been knocked off both channels.

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"We've been pre-empted far more than I ever thought possible," he said.

Even on a clear day, he moves from FS1 to FS2 at 5 p.m. (Until last week, the switch happened at 4 p.m.)

"They have told me they're very happy with the show," Francesa said. "But I have to continue to find a way to take care of my daily loyal audience and to take care of Fox right now."

There have been two "major meetings" trying to find a solution, "but we have not worked it out yet," he said.

Fox declined to comment on the matter.

From the New York viewers' perspective, Francesa and CBS Radio, which owns WFAN, would have been better off moving the show to MSG -- as had been widely speculated -- and having a local, consistent simulcast partner.

But Fox is believed to have offered a lucrative deal that was difficult to turn down, not to mention national distribution.

Might there be a way for Francesa to leave Fox and turn to MSG, assuming CBS Radio would be willing to accept a lower price? Francesa and Fox declined to comment on that notion.

There would seem to be two ways to improve the Fox simulcast situation: Limit pre-emptions on FS1 or expand the reach of FS2, which is in about 2.3 million homes in the New York area -- a figure that will rise to 3 million this summer -- vs. FS1's 5 million. (FS1 also tends to have more favorable channel locations than FS2.)

Neither will be easy. Some live events on FS1, such as Champions League soccer, far out-rate Francesa.

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"All I'm thinking about is trying to work out a solution on Fox," Francesa said. "My concerns are not monetary. My concerns are not ratings, either locally or nationally.

"My concerns are my very loyal audience having the ability to see the show every day."

Radio show simulcasts are like innings-eating, bottom-of-the-rotation pitchers for television networks -- a relatively inexpensive way to fill programming hours, with ratings performance a lesser concern.

Francesa's morning counterparts at WFAN, Craig Carton and Boomer Esiason, do not even get ratings for their TV simulcast, because CBS Sports Network has not yet signed up to be measured by Nielsen.

WFAN and ESPN New York hosts are judged by their radio ratings, not TV numbers. Still, Francesa's paltry viewership on FS2 does illustrate the problem -- that many of his fans can't see the show.

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The saga has benefited Fox in increasing awareness of its cable sports channels, especially in New York, which is an important consideration. But that is not Francesa's concern.

"I owe my fans," he said. "They have been great to me. They have been the most loyal audience anybody has ever had. I owe them, and I'm trying to get them the signal."

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