Thirty years in – and 30 hours after everyone else counted down to 2018 – WFAN began a new era at 6 a.m. Tuesday with assembled audio snippets of Mike Francesa counting down numbers to a virtual ball drop.
It ended with clips of him yelling, out of context, and closing with, “I don’t want to hear this garbage. Happy New Year? What’s the Happy New Year for?” Auld Lang Syne played in the background.
So: Out with the old, including Francesa, whose last afternoon show was Dec. 15. In with the new, starting with Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti, or “Boomer and Gio,” in the morning – to be followed later in the day by Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott on “The Afternoon Drive.”
The new afternoon show has gotten far more attention than has Giannotti succeeding Craig Carton in the morning in the wake of Carton’s arrest and resignation in September.
That is in part because Esiason remains, and because Giannotti is a familiar figure, including some fill-in shows in the fall.
Still, there will be pressure on the show to perform in the coming weeks and months, in part because with update man Jerry Recco filling in most days, it was No. 1 in the autumn ratings book.
That fact was one source of friendly ribbing from the holdovers for the new guy, who spent the past three seasons working mornings down the hall for CBS Sports Radio’s national network.
In video segments shown during breaks on CBS Sports Network’s simulcast, Giannotti’s new colleagues urged him not to mess up.
“We’re like the Patriots,” producer Al Dukes said. “Just don’t screw it up.”
Recco recalled Esiason greeting him when he joined the show nine years ago with four words: “Don’t screw it up,” a sentiment he reiterated for Giannotti.
“My kids are still young; I need to pay for college,” Recco said. “Good luck, Gio; don’t screw it up.”
Finally, Esiason chimed in: “Don’t screw this up. It’s been going on for 10 years. Basically, it’s on you now to make sure that it continues being as great as it always has been. Good luck, Gio.”
Will it be as great as it always has been? In ratings terms, there will be a scorecard, with the first quarterly figures due out in April. Beyond that, it will be a matter of taste.
Carton’s personality was a force of nature, and he did far more of the talking than did Esiason, whose role was as a straight man of sorts reacting to Carton’s jokes and pot-stirring.
With Recco, and now with Giannotti, Esiason does a much higher percentage of the talking.
That made particular sense on Tuesday, with three big topics being the NHL Winter Classic, what the local NFL teams should do next and what went on in the college football semifinals Monday night. Esiason is a former NFL MVP and an avid Rangers fan.
But moving forward, Giannotti presumably will be encouraged to assert himself more.
Giannotti opened with a pointed crack about new Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, whose introductory news conference on Friday was marked by tough talk – and a heavy Boston accent.
“The Giants have hired, basically, Whitey Bulger to be their general manager,” he said, referring to the convicted organized crime boss from Boston.
Giannotti assured listeners who are fans of Recco that he remains a “huge” part of the show and acknowledged Recco’s work in bridging the gap from Carton’s departure Sept. 6 to now.
“I don’t like touching the money; I don’t like to ever get lazy,” Esiason said early in the show. “It’s going to be up to us to keep the ratings strong and do the show the way we’ve always done it.”
He added of Gray, Scott and Carlin, “You know we’re going to be poking fun at the afternoon show. You just know it. I love those people. I love Maggie, Bart and Chris. I just want to say to all three of those guys that anything we can do to help them or make fun of them – or anything they can do to help us make fun of them – we will certainly appreciate.”
There were some gentle jabs during the morning, with Giannotti jokingly suggesting the show be called, “Hey, it’s not Mike!” and Esiason commenting on the size of Carlin’s head.
“I’m just happy he’s here, because he legitimately has a bigger head than I do; I mean, physically,” Esiason said.
Giannotti called Carlin “the fattest new hire” and said of his head, “It’s bigger than your standard pumpkin.”
The relationship between the morning and afternoon shows in the Carton/Francesa era was toxic.
Mostly the show stuck to sports basics, with Esiason praising Gettleman’s demeanor, and both hosts questioning Oklahoma’s strategy in its double-overtime loss in the Rose Bowl.
Esiason took strong issue with presumed new Raiders coach Jon Gruden being allowed to work a wild-card playoff game for ESPN against a future division rival in the Chiefs.
But there was time for other matters.
There was politics: Esiason, who usually leans right politically, complained about the federal tax revision that will cost many people in high-tax states such as New York money because of fewer deductions.
He accused Republicans of trying to “screw all the liberal states” and said of Donald Trump, “He just created even more of a swamp.”
During a nervous moment in Esiason’s rant, Recco said, “Say something funny, Gregg,” a nod to former afternoon co-host Chris Russo, who at awkward times often would say, “Say something funny, Mike.”
There was guy talk: Commenting on New Year’s Eve performances, Giannotti lamented that Britney Spears is not able to move as well as she did when she was younger and said, “When I was growing up she was the thing to look at.”
He also was not a fan of fellow Long Islander Mariah Carey’s performance or attire on Sunday night. “I don’t need the cleavage hanging out at 15 degrees now, when you’re, like, 45 years old,” he said. Carey is 47.
There were voices: Giannotti did some of his well-known impressions, including midday co-host Joe Benigno. He imagined an interview between Benigno and Jets coach Todd Bowles, doing both voices. He also did Bowles uttering famous movie lines in his trademark monotone.
There even was a Carlin impression, complete with lisp. Giannotti said he had done the lisp when talking to Carlin directly, and that he didn’t seem to mind it.
There was Long Island talk: The co-hosts got mileage out of their shared background growing up on the South Shore of Suffolk County, although in a recorded video Giannotti made a Long Island faux pas by mistakenly saying Jim Brown is from Massapequa rather than Manhasset.
Esiason starred as a quarterback at East Islip; Giannotti mostly was a backup guard for Bellport’s football team.
Esiason questioned the sanity of Giannotti’s 2 ½ -hour round trip commute from Bellport, a trip he has made each work day for the past two years. Giannotti said he usually is home by noon.
The first call, late in the first hour, came from “Lena in Lake Grove,” who welcomed Giannotti to the “power chair,” then informed him that the afternoon show’s nickname, “CMB,” is a nod to the Cash Money Brothers gang from the 1991 movie “New Jack City.” Giannotti had said he is not a fan of that name for the show.
There were some things on which the co-hosts agreed, such as the nature of Flyers fans.
Giannotti called them “barely human . . . That’s de-evolution that’s going on with those people.”
Esiason said he has noticed in his recreational league hockey games against players from Nova Scotia and Philadelphia a common trait: “There is a gene that is missing from their DNA,” he said.
As the show drew to a close, Esiason said of the new lineup, “A lot of things in flux over here, but everything is going to settle down and we’re going to have a great crew of guys.”
He added, “Gregg, congratulations; it’s awesome. So happy for you, man, and happy to have another Long Islander here in the studio.”
As he removed his headphones when the show was over, Esiason’s lips could be seen on the simulcast turning to Giannotti and saying, “That was great, man.”