They have taken away all of our other games, so why not the local sports talk radio wars, too?
For those of us who report and read about that stuff, the ratings ebbs and flows and personal feuds are as much fun and games as Yankees-Red Sox or Islanders-Rangers.
Now . . . nothing.
Look at it this way: The next meaningful data we see will not come until late December with the autumn ratings book, by which point sports other than Korean baseball, golf and mixed martial arts presumably will be played.
All we will learn on July 7, when the spring numbers are available, is that WFAN and ESPN New York understandably have suffered big declines in listenership to go along with their big declines in advertising.
That is not good for anyone, most of all the freelance hosts whose jobs have been put on hold and full-timers who have accepted temporary pay cuts.
For the rest of us, the most depressing part is the listening experience itself. Again, understandably: meh.
The shows that have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic best are the two that ranked first among men 25-54 during the winter book, and the two that were best positioned to talk about non-sports matters.
That would be WFAN’s morning show co-hosted by Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti and ESPN’s afternoon show headlined by Michael Kay, which long have mixed pop culture, current events and such into their acts.
WFAN’s afternoon show starring Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts is in a tougher spot because of the hosts’ more meat-and-potatoes approach to sports.
Just as they were trying to figure out the transition from middays to afternoons after succeeding Mike Francesa on Jan. 2, there suddenly were no more current games to talk about, leading to many discussions about games past.
But all sports media outlets deserve some slack in trying to keep listeners, readers and viewers engaged in these strange times. (Full disclosure: Since mid-March, I have written stories about events 102, 101, 100, 51, 50, 40, 24 and 22 years ago.)
So it is impossible to fairly judge the long-term viability of Benigno and Roberts until life returns to relative normalcy.
As for Francesa, the plan to have him appear on WFAN for 30 minutes each weekday always was odd, but it would have been far less odd had the baseball season started on schedule in late March.
Having him do a half-hour at 6 p.m. leading into the Yankees pregame at 6:30 would have made plenty of sense. Having him lead into another night of old games or whatever WFAN is offering these days is not the same.
The best sports talk radio drama of recent weeks has featured Francesa and the anonymous Twitter poster “Funhouse,” aka @BackAftaThis.
It began when Funhouse posted a video that went viral of Francesa harshly criticizing the federal response to the pandemic.
Shortly thereafter, Francesa announced on April 2 that Entercom, parent of WFAN and Radio.com, had cracked down on unauthorized video use. Three weeks later, Francesa said Entercom had reversed that decision.
At first, Funhouse said he was uninterested. Then he indicated he might have gone back to posting if Francesa had been conciliatory and had not had harsh words for Funhouse in Newsday.
Then on Monday, Funhouse tweeted that he was so exasperated by Fox Sports Radio’s Colin Cowherd that he was “honestly considering going back to posting Francesa clips.”
The whole thing is more than a little silly, of course. But it is all we have these days. And there is no end in sight, unless Benigno adopts a hapless Korean baseball team to angst over after watching ESPN’s early-morning telecasts.
In 2011, I visited Bill Mazer, two years before his death at 92, to ask about hosting on the first day of what was believed to be the first regularly scheduled sports talk call-in show in New York radio history.
It was March 30, 1964.
“The first call was a kid, and he said, ‘I just want to ask you one question,’ “ Mazer recalled nearly a half-century later. “I said, ‘OK, go ahead.’ He said, ‘Who’s better: Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle?’ ”
At this point, it’s as good a question as any.