Mike Francesa returned to the WFAN airwaves Tuesday with great fanfare and intrigue. He celebrated by delivering staid, New York-centric radio for a well-established audience and did nothing to build a bigger tent. It was vanilla, lackluster stuff for a man who envisions himself a visionary and carries myopia reflective of the city from which his opinions emanate.
And it was just what diehards have been missing in the torturous 4 1/2-month break since Francesa hung up the microphone after a not-ridiculous-at-all 18-month victory tour. It was also the exact embodiment of the argument heard from everyone west of the Hudson River who has openly wondered why so much ink has been spilled celebrating the legacy, forecasting the future, and dissecting the Francesa-related drama.
The product on Tuesday did not match the hype. That is a bad sign, considering the fount of material to work with to make an interesting show. Francesa largely punted on addressing most of the so-called juicy stuff, opting to pat himself on the back and speak vaguely about the hot new world of apps.
Imagine for a second being a complete outsider, unfamiliar with Francesa’s broadcast but with a working knowledge of the drama surrounding his departure and WFAN’s two-year succession plan which came undone. You’d have to be listening in thinking “what’s all the fuss about?”
And this has been the point of contention many non-New Yorkers have had with Francesa and, to some extent, the breathless Mike & The Mad Dog gushing. Yes, they were visionaries and helped birth a replicate format. That was long ago and the years have been paved with countless facsimiles spread from coast-to-coast actually speaking to local audience proclivities.
The Francesa infatuation is a product of a few factors. First, the aforementioned New York bubble. Then there’s the fact that it happens to be where most high-profile media writers reside and many grew up. And finally — and this is controversial — the misguided belief that Francesa and Chris Russo, because they were a NYC radio show, were analogous to Howard Stern.
It’s my contention that the duo are put in the same category as the King of All Media, but they do not belong there.Yes, they dominated the afternoons as Stern did the mornings. But Stern’s success was built on the ability to resonate with listeners from everywhere around the globe, to speak to their shared experiences. Russo, to his credit, adroitly adapted to his national show. Francesa still speaks loudest to New Yorkers.
He can spin it any way he likes. The truth is that he returned to WFAN because he couldn’t find a better suitor. This is not a triumphant a return. It’s a marriage of convenience and one day in, it doesn’t seem to have much passion.