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Will Mike Francesa leave WFAN's airwaves by year's end?

WFAN radio host Mike Francesa attends the "Uncut

WFAN radio host Mike Francesa attends the "Uncut Gems" premiere during the 57th New York Film Festival at Alice Tully Hall on Oct. 3, 2019. Credit: Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP/Brent N. Clarke

WFAN has been on the clock for a year now, ever since Mike Francesa opened the door last Oct. 22 for a second departure from the station, acknowledging he had “upset the apple cart” when he returned on May 1, 2018.

“I knew it was going to be uncomfortable,” he said on the air at the time, referring to reversing course after his four-month absence. “Maybe it was more uncomfortable than I thought. It probably has been.”

Ever since, his near future as WFAN’s afternoon host has been in flux, with no signed contract and no apparent plan to remain on the job for the long term, even as station executives encouraged him to stay.

In June, Susan Larkin, regional president for WFAN’s parent company, Entercom, told Newsday, “I would love to see him be here forever.”

But now more than ever in the past year, it appears the station is preparing to transition into a post-Francesa world, at least when it comes to the traditional afternoon drive-time role.

There has been no announcement about when he will leave that job, and things always could change in the coming weeks, but the smart money now is on him giving up his current role sometime after the end of the autumn ratings period on Dec. 4.

Larkin, Francesa and everyone else involved declined to comment, consistent with what has been a disciplined operation when it comes to media matters since Entercom completed a merger with CBS Radio two years ago.

If Larkin and longtime WFAN executive Mark Chernoff are close to finalizing a post-Francesa lineup, they have done a fine job keeping it to themselves.

The assumption is that the morning team of Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti will remain in place.

Evan Roberts and Joe Benigno are believed to be under contract through 2020 and Maggie Gray had an option for 2020 picked up by Entercom, so all three will be part of the mix in some form at WFAN or the broader company. (Chris Carlin, who was hired in 2017 to succeed Francesa along with Gray and Bart Scott, was let go by the station last month.)

If Francesa does depart, that leaves Scott as a wild card. His contract is up, and he has told friends he has an interest in returning to TV work, at least some of the time. ESPN could give him a chance to do both TV and radio.

If Scott stays, pairing him with Roberts could work as an afternoon show, and might be the sort of higher visibility platform to entice him to re-sign. If not, the station could simply slide Roberts and Benigno from middays to afternoons for the time being.

Kimberly Jones, a popular fill-in at the station who turned down an offer to be a part of the afternoon show in 2017, is believed to be under contract at the NFL Network but could and should be a consideration for a regular WFAN show in the intermediate term.

Overnight host John Jastremski also has filled regularly in daytime slots and might fit in a new midday role.

Presumably, the station would like to return to a more normal schedule of three shows between 6 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. after going with an unwieldy four in the 20 months since Francesa returned.

As for Francesa, 65, he has said on the air that when he leaves WFAN, his content home will be Radio.com, which is owned by Entercom and which recently purchased his app and added it to the digital outlet’s inventory.

The growth of Radio.com clearly is a high priority for the company, and Francesa will be a part of that in the coming years. But WFAN also could seek a way to give him a limited presence on terrestrial radio as well when he leaves his full afternoon drive time shift.

When he first dropped his bombshell one year ago Tuesday, Francesa said his dual role launching an app and hosting a radio program had “become overly complicated” and that he might have to choose the app over radio.

But regardless of the particulars, one thing has been consistent over the past 1 ½ years: He always viewed his return to WFAN as a relatively short-term proposition.

That term could be up soon, forcing WFAN to play its next hand.

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