The real challenge for Mike Francesa starts Wednesday, now that a dizzying week in which he shocked listeners — and most of the people at his own station — by returning to WFAN is over and the workaday reality of his situation has set in.
That reality hit home while listening to his 3 ½-hour comeback on Tuesday, which generated massive attention and will generate massive ratings but which sounded an awful lot like the past 10 years of Francesa shows.
Not that there is anything wrong with that for his avid fans, many of whom never embraced Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott and who are just happy to have the big guy back.
Francesa’s many quirks have become social media fodder, but he also is radio comfort food for longtime listeners, for whom another chat with Villanova coach Jay Wright or Ira from Staten Island is like taking a warm, verbal bath.
But for those of us in the wider world of media consumption, the obvious question was: Is that all there is?
Francesa said he was led back to the station by a new digital platform set to launch in August that skeptics have mocked but that makes sense when you hear Entercom executive VP Chris Oliviero explain it.
“For years I think Mike in a way let other media operations, unfortunately, benefit from his content being so widely available digitally with no control,” Oliviero told Newsday. “Now he and CAA and Entercom are being proactive and strategic about taking control of that digital space.”
In the meantime, though, there is a radio show to do, and it is the radio show’s content, and ratings, by which most of us will judge his return after a 4 ½-month break.
On Day One, it was . . . what it was. What it was last autumn, and the autumn before that.
Again, if you love the show, all good. But if I were Francesa and WFAN, I would look for ways to freshen up a legacy show in an increasingly tired genre with something — anything — different.
Add an occasional sidekick to draw out Francesa like Chris Russo did, and does. Schedule a daily rant. Limit the show to one Ira per week, Staten Island or Winderman. Your choice.
And, to borrow one of Russo’s favorite quotes: Say something funny, Mike. Humor is key.
Both the station and Francesa had their chances last year to come up with something completely different.
Francesa gave WFAN two years’ notice to find something fresh, and after turndowns that included Max Kellerman, Adam Schein, Kimberly Jones and Chris Simms, Oliviero and Mark Chernoff settled on Carlin, Gray and Scott.
That certainly was a radical change from Francesa’s one-man band. But ratings trends were headed in the wrong direction, and even without Francesa in the picture it is not clear how much patience executives would have had.
Meanwhile, Francesa himself had ample time to find a new path, and often suggested that was his plan. But after dabbling in ideas such as podcasts and a deal with SiriusXM that included a partial reunion with Russo, he headed back home, admitting he missed the forum but insisting the digital deal was the key driver.
Now what? Entercom so far has been effective in enforcing a public happy-talk policy, from Oliviero to Chernoff to “CMB,” who have taken the Mount Everest of high roads over their demotion.
Morning co-hosts Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti expressed some early dismay over the turn of events, but since then have mostly held fire.
Francesa met with Carlin, Gray and Scott on Tuesday to clear the air, and Francesa said nothing bad about them on his show. He did not say anything good, either. He said nothing at all.
So we even are being deprived of entertaining intramural crossfire!
It is understandable that WFAN is ready for some calm and stability after a chaotic eight months set off by morning co-host Craig Carton’s arrest on Sept. 6.
“Change in the afternoon, change in morning, on a station where the hallmark to its success over the years has been consistency,” Oliviero said. “That’s a lot of change to absorb. The station did really well absorbing it. It was by far the most listened to sports radio station in New York in the winter.”
All well and good. We shall see what late spring brings. Best wishes for happiness and success to everyone involved. Just don’t bore us.