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WFAN's Mike Francesa narrowly tops ESPN's Michael Kay in autumn ratings book

The ratings race in afternoon drive time was reignited by Francesa's return to WFAN on May 1. This fall was the first full ratings book since he came back.

WFAN radio host Mike Francesa talks to New

WFAN radio host Mike Francesa talks to New York Giants wide receiver Sterling Shepard as he does his radio show on location at Giants training camp at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center in East Rutherford, NJ, on Friday, July 28, 2017. Photo Credit: Brad Penner

Mike Francesa of WFAN edged Michael Kay of ESPN New York in the quarterly autumn ratings book, averaging 5.9 percent of the over-the-air audience among men ages 25-54 to Kay’s 5.8, according to data Nielsen Audio reported on Wednesday.

The two shows ranked second and third overall in the market in that key, advertiser-friendly demographic, behind only a Spanish-language music station, WSKQ-FM, for the period Sept. 13 through Dec. 5.

Kay never has beaten Francesa for a full book, but he has narrowed the ratings gap through the years, and consistently is the highest-rated show on his station.

The raw ratings data only touches the surface of a complicated picture in assessing the shows’ audiences.

For example, Francesa had an additional 0.5 percent share from WFAN’s live stream, while ESPN’s streaming data is included in the same number as its over-the-air rating. With streaming included, Francesa’s 6.4 overall share surpassed that of WSKQ, at 6.3.

But the Kay show does not get credit in the radio ratings for its YES Network simulcast, and its ratings include only one station while WFAN has both AM and FM frequencies that are added together.

Listeners who use Francesa’s app also are not counted in the radio ratings.

And remember this: Men under 25 and over 54 and women of every age are not counted at all. ESPN tends to do better at the younger end of the ratings range, and WFAN wins among older listeners, including those over 55. But the 25-54 demo is how the stations measure themselves, and sell advertising time.

The ratings race in afternoon drive time was reignited by Francesa’s return to WFAN on May 1. This fall was the first full ratings book since he came back.

Kay finished the quarter strongly after Francesa took an early lead in October. He will get another shot in winter, assuming Francesa sticks around for that. He has said that he might have to choose between his app and over-the-air radio, and that if he does have to pick one over the other, he will choose the former.

The bigger picture story is that the two English-language shows with the biggest shares in afternoon drive time are talk radio programs, illustrating the ongoing health of the genre.

Tim McCarthy, the senior vice president who oversees the New York station for ESPN, said he “couldn’t be happier” with the Kay show, citing the chemistry among Kay, Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg.

Kay’s ratings have increased since Francesa’s return, as have WFAN’s in that time slot. McCarthy agreed with the notion that a rising tide might be lifting all of New York’s sports talk boats, even with most local teams struggling.

“You can’t replace the fandom in a market like New York,” he said. “People want to talk about it. They want to discuss and debate.”

Apparently that includes Francesa vs. Kay. “It keeps it interesting,” McCarthy said. “It’s good for the content. I’m a firm believer that it’s good fun.”

WFAN led comfortably at other times of the day, with the morning show finishing third at 5.6 percent of the audience and ESPN 12th at 3.8. WFAN’s streaming number from 6 to 10 a.m. was 0.6, which added to the 5.6 would have made that show second overall.

From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., WFAN tied for fifth with a 5.5 (plus a streaming average of 0.9) and ESPN was 11th at 3.3.

From 1 to 3 p.m., WFAN was fourth at 6.0 (plus a streaming average of 0.4) and ESPN 12th at 3.6. That time slot features Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott, the show that was displaced from afternoon drive time when Francesa returned.

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