It has been eight months since Mike Francesa publicly questioned his near future at WFAN, saying his dual role on the air and on his app had “become overly complicated” and that he might leave the former to focus on the latter.
He has not had much to say on that subject of late, but Susan Larkin, regional president for Entercom, WFAN’s parent company, has a clear preference.
“Are you kidding? I would love to see him be here forever,” she said Thursday in her Manhattan office, from which she oversees Entercom’s seven New York-area stations.
Larkin joined the company in the spring of 2018, just as Francesa was returning after a much-chronicled departure from WFAN that lasted only 4 ½ months.
She and David Field, Entercom’s CEO, quickly established a strong relationship with Francesa, who had feuded with their predecessors at CBS Radio. They have been pleased with the ratings and ad billings since his return.
“He’s very highly talented and has a strong personality and our listeners love him and our advertisers do and our team here does,” she said. “And he’s highly engaged. He cares very much about WFAN winning.”
Larkin said she “absolutely” hopes Francesa stays beyond this year. But will he? He turned 65 in March, and come Labor Day, it will be 30 years since the debut of the “Mike and the Mad Dog” show.
Larkin said she does not know what Francesa will do. Reminded that he said in October he might not be long for the station, she said: “He says a lot of things. Look, I don’t know. I can’t answer the question because I can’t predict how he’ll feel about things six months, a year, two years from now.
“Would I like to see him here a long time? Yes, I would. We haven’t made decisions on what things look like a year or two years from now, other than what we’re doing now, and that’s the truth.”
Francesa’s status is but one piece of a scheduling puzzle that is almost certain to change by the end of the year. WFAN is paying eight hosts on four shows from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and the contracts of 1 to 3 p.m. hosts Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott — whom Francesa displaced in afternoon drive time — are up after this year.
“It’s business as usual,” Larkin said. “It is our job to develop talent, grow talent, retain our listeners and think about the future. We talk about it every day. I have no news to report to you. There is no scoop here.”
Pressed on whether it is fair to assume there will be changes of some sort, she recalled unexpected plot twists of the past, such as Craig Carton’s arrest in 2017, Francesa’s return in ’18, even Don Imus’ firing in 2007.
“So I can’t predict it; I can’t,” she said. “I’m not really trying to hold back here. I don’t know. We’ll let you know when we know, because we haven’t made any decisions.”
Larkin did say that looking ahead, WFAN will continue to seek hosts who can expand the listening audience. That includes groups such as women and people of color, but perhaps most importantly, younger people in general.
The core of the audience currently is men from their mid-40s upward. “Just from a math situation,” she said, “it makes sense that for us to grow our audience, we have to grow a younger audience.”
While Mark Chernoff, who joined WFAN in 1993, continues to oversee day-to-day operations, Larkin has emerged as a powerful figure there.
Larkin grew up a Yankees and Giants fan in the Bronx and Rockland County, attended SUNY Oswego — at the same time as ESPN’s Steve Levy — then began a radio sales and management career that took her to Syracuse, Tampa, Columbus, Minneapolis, Orlando and San Francisco before “coming home” to New York last year.
Entercom’s sports footprint was one of the factors that appealed to her. It had the rights to Yankees games when she arrived and since has added the Mets on another of its stations, WCBS-AM.
She said hers is “a sports family.” Her husband has played and coached lacrosse. Her daughter, Sarah, is a lacrosse player at USC and knew Jets quarterback Sam Darnold there.
Professionally, Larkin long has been intrigued by sports talk radio “because of the engagement with the listener.”
Not 10 minutes after Larkin spoke, the Mets were blowing another late lead to the Phillies, prompting a rant by Francesa that attracted enormous attention on social media. That is the sort of impact Entercom hopes to continue tapping into.
So about Francesa’s contract status and future at the station . . . “He can say whatever he wants to say, and he does, and there’s no problem with that,” Larkin said. “Trust me, he doesn’t tell me how to do my job, I don’t tell him how to do his. We have a great relationship, a really good one, for real, and with a lot of respect. He can say whatever he wants to say, but I’m not going to.”