Mike Francesa will leave WFAN effective after his show on Friday, marking his second and presumably final departure as a regular presence at the station, he announced late in his Thursday evening program.
“I had an incredible run,” Francesa told Newsday. “I wouldn’t trade my broadcast career with anybody. I’m very proud of it, and I think I’ve been incredibly fortunate.”
The longtime afternoon host left the station in December of 2017, only to return the following May, then handed off most of his old drive time slot to Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts last December.
Since January, he has maintained a limited role at Entercom, WFAN’s parent company, first doing a streamed hour on Radio.com and a half-hour on WFAN, and since late May working from 6 to 7 p.m. on WFAN.
Francesa, 66, will not do his Sunday morning NFL show, either.
He said he was motivated largely by a desire to be free of daily commitments, allowing him to do more traveling with his family – including upcoming college visits with his three high school-age children – to spend more time at his Florida home and to pursue other interests, including partnerships in seven thoroughbred racehorses.
“I’ve been pinned down to a daily schedule my whole life, and I want to be free of that so I have some flexibility,” he said.
Francesa said he will not appear on any other New York-area radio station and does not expect ever to have a daily show on radio again.
By leaving now, he also could save Entercom enough money to preserve other people’s jobs. Revenue has plummeted during the COVID-19 pandemic, putting financial pressure on the company. Early in the pandemic, WFAN’s biggest on-air stars, including Francesa, agreed to take pay cuts through July.
But he said the company never asked him to step aside to save money for other payroll needs. Chris Oliviero, Entercom’s senior vice president overseeing WFAN, said finances never were part of the discussion with Francesa about his departure.
Francesa said the pandemic had an impact on him and his thought process, and played a big part in his decision to leave the station.
“That’s been a little life-altering for all of us,” he said. “We are living in a different time now. We took a lot of things for granted. It made me change my perspective a little bit, it really did.”
Francesa said the interruption in sports also makes it difficult to judge the original plan that had him doing an online hour followed by a half-hour on WFAN. His audience on Radio.com was believed to be small.
“It really isn’t fair to say, because we were launching a new thing with Radio.com and we never really got a chance to get the whole thing off the ground with this thing,” he said. “So I don’t really know the answer.”
Oliviero said he first met with Francesa about his future at the host’s Manhasset home shortly after Oliviero took charge in early June.
He said the idea was for Francesa to stay on until Yankees baseball retuned to the station. Now on nights the Yankees play, Benigno and Roberts will be heard until the pregame show starts.
Oliviero said he first met Francesa in person when he spoke to Oliviero’s freshman class in high school in Brooklyn.
“It’s a little melancholy, because he’s always been around,” Oliviero said. “It’s kind of sad from that standpoint. But when you look at it, everybody knew at some point this day was coming and Mike was very clear . . . You have to respect that it was a personal decision and it clearly was a personal decision.”
Francesa joined WFAN shortly after its launch in 1987 and rose to stardom as co-host of “Mike and the Mad Dog” with Chris Russo from 1989 to 2008.
He then worked solo in drive time until 2017, and again from May of 2018 through December of 2019.
Francesa lost a full ratings book to ESPN New York’s Michael Kay for the first time in his final quarter, in the fall of 2019. Kay has extended his lead over WFAN in the first two quarters of this year, trouncing Benigno and Roberts in the spring.
Entercom has been reluctant to make sweeping judgments about hosts given the lack of sports since mid-March. But it seems likely there will be changes come 2021.
Former morning co-host Craig Carton, who was released from prison in July, figures to be in the mix as a potential future host, perhaps paired with a former athlete.
But another name to keep an eye on is Mike Valenti, who is from New York and has been highly successful at an Entercom station in Detroit.
“Change is inevitable, and when it happens it can be stark,” Francesa said. “But you know what? It’s what life is all about. It’s time for FAN to go to a new generation, and I think they’re getting there. They’re taking their time to get there and they will get there in the next couple of years.”
Oliviero said he does not envision a scenario in which Francesa will change his mind and make another return, saying, “This is a firm decision. We’re moving on, he’s moving on, and it’s the right time for everybody.”
Olivier added the station “loves” its current lineup and called it “permanent” in the sense that he has no plans for any changes in the near future.
“There are no discussions, there are no meetings, there are no lineup changes coming,” he said. “This is the lineup . . . I can be crystal clear with you: This is our lineup.”
Francesa praised Entercom management and said he hopes to maintain a relationship with the company, including possible guest appearances on the air and at company events.
But his time as a daily on-air presence will end on Friday.
“I don’t think this is going to be a big deal, because of only being on the air an hour a day,” he said. “In my mind I had stepped away anyway. I was no longer the guy. It was no longer my afternoon drive. I had already had that transition.”
He added, “I still have a lot of life left and a lot of things to accomplish that I want to do personally with my family, and I’m really looking forward to that.”
Mike Francesa helped revolutionized sports talk radio at WFAN with Chris "Mad Dog" Russo. Nine years since they split up, Francesa remains the top-rated host in New York. After 30 years at WFAN, 2017 is his last. Watch his final year unfold as Francesa's fans, colleagues and athletes from the New York area spoke about what it will be like to no longer have this icon on the air.