WFAN will replace Mike Francesa in afternoon drive time in the most seamless way possible: by sliding its longtime midday team of Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts into the slot Francesa left for a second time on Dec. 6.
They have been together since January 2007 and were considered the favorites for weeks, but it was not until 5:30 p.m. on Monday that they confirmed on the air that they are the new drive-time team.
The deal had been held up by contract details, but they are believed to have gotten new three-year deals — with raises — that would replace their contracts set to expire at the end of 2020.
Maggie Gray and Marc Malusis will be the new midday team. Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti will continue as the morning hosts. The new lineup will debut on Thursday, the first day of the winter ratings book.
On Jan. 6, Francesa is slated to begin a daily 6-6:30 p.m. show that will follow Roberts and Benigno.
The new, realigned schedule will feature shows from 6-10 a.m., 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 2-6 p.m.
Roberts, 36, who grew up in Woodmere, and Benigno, 66, figure to serve as familiar comfort food for Francesa listeners as WFAN seeks to retain his audience and perhaps add to it with younger listeners who enjoy Roberts.
But by opting for Roberts and Benigno, executives eschewed more outside-the-box options.
Susan Larkin, regional president for Entercom, WFAN’s parent company, has said there are priorities to develop younger hosts and to attract younger listeners.
Entercom did not own WFAN in 2017, the last time the station was faced with replacing Francesa.
There had been extensive internal discussions in recent months about various potential teams — most of which included Roberts — but Roberts preferred not to leave Benigno.
Longtime WFAN executive Mark Chernoff is believed to have been in the Joe-and-Evan camp.
Benigno has spoken frequently of wanting to retire soon. If he does leave in the near future, it will give WFAN flexibility to pair a younger host with Roberts.
The last time Francesa left, two years ago, WFAN replaced him with Gray, Chris Carlin and Bart Scott, a plan that lasted only 4 1⁄2 months before Francesa returned and that trio was pushed to 1-3 p.m.
Carlin was let go in September and Scott has left WFAN for ESPN New York. WFAN sought to keep Scott, but ESPN’s ability to offer him regular television work was a powerful lure.
The station explored a pairing of John Jastremski and Gray in middays, but Gray and Malusis have a long-standing relationship from their days together at CBS Sports Radio and are comfortable with one another.
Jastremski will remain on the overnight shift for now.
The promotion to drive time represented a turnaround for Benigno, who in the summer of 2018 was accused in a lawsuit by a former WFAN employee of making inappropriate remarks of a sexual nature. He took some time off, but the station stuck by him and he returned to the air that September.
Benigno first appeared on WFAN as a caller and later was the overnight host before moving to middays beside Sid Rosenberg in 2004.