Mike Francesa returned to WFAN six months ago Thursday, a milestone he said he finds “amazing.” But the question for listeners and the station itself is how long he will remain before leaving again.
The afternoon host brought that matter to light last week, when he acknowledged on the air that his return 4 ½ months after a much-chronicled departure had been more “uncomfortable” than he anticipated.
He also said his radio show and app might not be compatible, and that if forced to choose one or the other, it would be the latter.
In an interview with Newsday on Wednesday, he declined to get more specific regarding when or if he might leave WFAN, beyond saying he never would walk out in the middle of a ratings book. The autumn book runs through Dec. 5.
Still, he has no signed contract with Entercom, WFAN’s parent company. Francesa, Entercom and CAA, the agency that represents Francesa, continue to negotiate shared ownership of his app, which launched in late August.
Entercom and Francesa also must determine whether the radio show and app can co-exist in terms of their content. “It is a complicated deal on many levels,” he said. “It’s something that’s never been done before.”
Francesa’s app features video of his radio show, as well as original content such as his Sunday morning NFL show and appearances after major sports events.
But it stands to reason more people might subscribe if they could not hear him on free radio nearly 18 hours a week. Francesa agreed.
“You needed to discuss the app somewhere, so I thought that was the best way to launch the app,” he said. “I think there is a point where being free on the radio creates slower growth than you would have if I didn’t, absolutely.”
For now, the plan is to continue doing both amid public curiosity about how many paid subscribers, at $8.99 per month, Francesa has.
He called most speculation about numbers “outrageously low” but declined to say what they are or whether the app is profitable.
“I don’t care if people think the app’s doing well or not,” he said. “I know the truth. Why would I put my time into it, that I can get paid a lot of money for, if it wasn’t doing well? It just doesn’t make any sense to anybody. Why would CAA be involved with it if they thought it wasn’t something that was doing well?”
Francesa reiterated that he would not give up the app “under any circumstances."
“I’ve been consistent about that from the complete beginning, but people want to run everything down that’s new and people want to run anything down that’s successful,” he said. “That’s human nature. It’s always been that.”
The price of the app raised many eyebrows, but Francesa said he has no regrets about it, and that it was set not by him but by professionals in the field.
“I wouldn’t have a clue what an accurate price point would be,” he said. “I let people who are experts that we paid to come in do marketing and tell us this is what we should charge for this and that’s what the number is.”
He added, “I don’t know if we charged $2 less we’d have X-number of subs more. I’m going to think that if someone wants to buy this, $2 a month is not going to keep them from buying it. But again, this is not my area of expertise.”
Francesa said the app has fulltime employees, and that the staff continues to make tweaks to it.
“This was a challenge to me,” he said. “To just come back and do the same thing, that didn’t appeal to me. I wanted to do something different . . . I wanted to try to create something different, something unique.”
As for the radio show itself, Francesa said he has been pleased with the public reception and his ratings. He finished second among men ages 25-54 in the first month of the autumn book, behind only a Spanish-language music station.
“A lot of people predicted I wouldn’t come back and have any success, but the same people have been predicting that for 30 years, so one of these years they’re going to get tired of predicting it,” he said. “I keep making them look bad.”
Francesa regularly works from a studio in his home in Manhasset but would not say how many days he works there versus at WFAN’s Soho studios. He said he was in Manhattan Monday and Tuesday this week and home on Wednesday.
“There’s no rhyme or reason to when I’m in or when I’m out,” he said. “There’s no schedule.”
He said his longtime driver, Julio Rosa, currently is on a special assignment for the New York Police Department.
Francesa acknowledged the lingering fallout from displacing Maggie Gray, Chris Carlin and Bart Scott, who were hired to replace him but now are heard from 1 to 3 p.m.
“It was awkward coming back because obviously you had to move a show that was trying to make a name for itself and had a tough time,” he said. “I had a lot of trepidation about that . . . There are obviously still scars from that, but that’s human nature.”
Francesa called it a “turbulent” and “transitory” time for the station, but said he likes Entercom management and has spoken to CEO David Field regularly about his situation.
“The bottom line is they have made it very clear they really want me to stay,” Francesa said. “I told them I just want to be comfortable that we’re compatible.”
The challenge, he said, is to ensure “we’re not pulling in different directions, and in some cases there have been some conflicts that we need to iron out. I want it to be comfortable moving forward.
“If it can’t, then we’ll worry about that when the time comes . . . If it comes sooner than later, well then, it comes sooner than later.”