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Michael Kay talks candidly in podcast about radio ratings wars with WFAN

Michael Kay, YES Network announcer, poses for a

Michael Kay, YES Network announcer, poses for a portrait in the Yankee Stadium broadcast booth before the start of a game between the Yankees and Cleveland on Aug. 17, 2019. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

Michael Kay believes he is "somewhat hamstrung" in his ratings competition with WFAN’s Craig Carton and Evan Roberts because of the standards he must meet working for both ESPN and the Yankees.

"My competitive nature gets angry at this," Kay said during a wide-ranging interview on the Sports Media Podcast with Richard Deitsch to promote Kay’s new book "CenterStage."

"I work for two Tiffany brands. I can’t really go low on ESPN. I can’t go low and be connected to the Yankees. Now, Michael Kay the person, if I wasn’t connected, I can go as low as anybody, believe me.

"But I’ve kind of got handcuffs on, and Craig and Evan, they don’t. So it’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out."

After beating Mike Francesa in afternoon drive time for the first time in the fall of 2019, Kay regularly won over Roberts and Joe Benigno in 2020 before Carton returned to the station in November and joined Roberts.

Carton and Roberts out-rated Kay in their first quarterly book together this past winter and are well ahead in the spring.

"They’ve done very, very well since Craig came back, and I will tell you this: He’s an extraordinary radio host. He knows exactly how to push buttons and get people engaged, and it’s going to be another challenge, it really is."

By ESPN’s measure, Kay first surpassed Francesa in the ratings before Francesa initially left WFAN late in 2017. But with streaming data for WFAN included, that did not occur until the autumn of 2019.

Either way, Kay said it was a milestone for him.

"I was so invested in the Francesa stuff that I know this is going to sound childish: That made my career in radio when we beat him before he left," Kay told Deitsch, "because he was just very, very, very out there about how he’d never been beaten.

"When we first came on the scene, he called us a ‘peashooter’ and stuff like that, and that was my goal, I mean, I was going to hang in there . . . It still brings a smile to my face, it really does."

Kay said Roberts and Carton will be "tough to beat," and that unlike in the competition against Francesa, he feels pressure to win because he no longer is the underdog.

"The early ratings would indicate it’s going to be very difficult to do," Kay said. "That’s a destination station, FAN. People think of sports talk, they think of FAN in New York . . . I definitely feel more heat now to hold them off than to try to catch Mike."

Kay said he does not have the "animus or enmity" for Carton that he felt for Francesa. He said he wishes Carton well in his return from a one-year stay in prison that ended last summer.

As he has before, Kay noted how sensitive he is to criticism, saying, "My skin is so thin, it’s translucent."

He told Deitsch, "I don’t know if I’m built for this, because I’m so incredibly thin-skinned and I take everything so personally."

New York Sports