Mike Francesa ‘50-50’ on Renewing WFAN Contract in Two Years

Whether you call him arrogant, curt, opinionated, argumentative, abrupt, or intolerant, Mike Francesa agrees.

However, as we conclude our celebration of WFAN’s 25th anniversary, the longtime afternoon host was nothing but open and candid during our wide-ranging, sit-down interview.

Francesa, the station’s signature talent, an afternoon mainstay for 23 years, is starting to think about retirement.

“My contract will expire in two years from right now. For the first time ever, we’re not going to negotiate until a year from now,” Francesa admits to FishbowlNY. “… When we’re a year out, we will have a conversation, Dan [Mason, CBS Radio, president and CEO], Mark [Chernoff, WFAN operations manager]. Les Moonves [CBS, president and CEO], if he gets involves. He did last time.

“…Two years could be enough. It would be 25 years. I don’t know. It depends on a lot of things… Right now, I’d say it’s ’50-50,’ it could go either way.”

Francesa, 58, realizes that any decision about his future would be made for him once he stopped being a revenue generator.

“I am an economic realist. I’ve understood from the beginning this is a business,” Francesa says. “And that’s why I feel blessed that I’ve been able to be here in this position for 25 years.”

Of course, the bulk of those years Francesa shared, sometimes contentiously, with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo. Their 19-year partnership ended suddenly in 2008 when Russo (“Mad Dog”) bolted for Sirius XM.

“I didn’t begrudge him leaving for one second. I never had an issue with that,” Francesa says. “It just wasn’t handled properly, which I think he now understands it and would readily admit.”

Francesa says he and Chernoff got word through back channels of Russo’s plan three months before it was made public. But Russo kept quiet until the end. Russo declined to be interviewed for this piece.

The success of Mike and the Mad Dog is unparalleled; the duo even ushered in a new standard nationwide, the two-host sports show.

But Mike and Dog had to be teamed up dragging and clawing. Each strong-willed persona wanted only to be a solo host. Russo joined WFAN in late 1988 as a fill-in host, while Francesa was in the building shortly after the station’s inception in 1987.

Francesa, a big horse racing, baseball, and football fan (his hosting of The NFL Now on WFAN predates Mike and the Mad Dog), had worked full time for CBS Sports, first as a researcher and then as a studio analyst.

The station in its earliest stage was a national sports format. Francesa applied and interviewed. Francesa persisted, which led to a “try out” weekend show three weeks after WFAN debuted.

Francesa became a valuable utility player, working various dayparts, but primarily middays. Due to his health issues, afternoon host Pete Franklin was unable to join the station at the start, and a variety of talent filled the slot. The majority of shifts went to up-and-coming host Francesa.

Although he didn’t bring much radio experience to the table, Francesa was confident from the get-go about his talents and aspirations.

“I knew right away that I could do it as soon as I sat in,” Francesa says.

However, his first solo stint was filling in for Franklin on the traditionally quiet, Thanksgiving Day, 1987.

“It is not the day to break in,” Francesa recalls. “You wind up being petrified.”

Less than two years later, the highly acerbic Franklin was out. Francesa was offered the gig. It was a completion of a dream for Francesa since day one at the station—to host a show in afternoon drive, permanently. However, fulfilling dreams came at a price.