Francesa, 63, whose contract expires in December, helped build sports talk radio into the monster format it is today. He began at WFAN as a weekend host, then a fill-in for absent, bigger-name colleagues, until finally teaming with partner Chris “Mad Dog” Russo on the long-running “Mike and the Mad Dog” show, quickly establishing it as a must-listen in drive-time radio for sports fans. The show ran from 1989 to 2008, when Russo split for a new lucrative deal with Sirius XM.
Francesa continued as a solo act. The radio broadcast was simulcast on the FS1 and Yes Network. He also spent time as a studio analyst for CBS Sports, and also hosts a weekly radio show called The NFL Now, which has originated from WFAN since 1987. It eventually became syndicated and at one time was simulcast on MSNBC and later was webcast on NBCSports.com.
Francesa spent his final five hours on WFAN taking calls from fans, including a surprise from his wife as the final caller. He ended with a 20-minute soliloquoy that featured thank-yous and remembrances of his long career.
“I’ve had the best job in the world for 30 years. I’ve never wanted another job. I’ve loved this job and still do,” Francesa said. “I think it’s the right timing. It was always important for me to exit before someone telling me to. It was always important for me to exit while I still had something on my fastball.”
When WFAN debuted in 1987, its all-sports talk format was considered strange by many. But it quickly grew into an influential medium, and was widely duplicated across the country.
“In the old days, it was the columnist,” said Francesa “For awhile, it might’ve been the guy who did the 11 o’clock news. For now, it is the guy who does the drive-time sports. The bottom line is it’s the guy who does sports talk,” Francesa said, acknowledging kids nowadays grow up wanting to be in his shoes. “I’m proudest of that, that we kind of changed the way sports talk is perceived and we changed it as a destination and an occupation.”
Francesa is not retiring. He has hinted that there will be a next step to his career, but has not revealed what that may be. He promised to unveil it in the new year.
The trio of Chris Carlin, Bart Scott and Maggie Gray will take Francesa’s afternoon drive-time slot.