Mike Francesa’s Influential Impact on Sports Talk Radio

Sports Pope, who turns 65, has had lasting effect on industry.

Mike Francesa
Mike Francesa turns 65 on Wednesday. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM)

While technology has altered the landscape of sports talk radio beyond the simplicity of the handheld transistor or mammoth home unit, the tradition of listening to a game called over the airwaves remains a major part of fandom.

Today, the rise of podcasts and satellite radio has enabled many an analysis junkie to take their passion out of the car or living room and into the gym, office or park. We know how popular new tech has made these programs thanks to ESPN Audio, which boasts a 60% hold on the sports radio market, as Sports Illustrated reported.

One of the biggest and most well-known shows in the history of sports radio is Mike And The Mad Dog — the program hosted by Mike Francesa and Chris Russo that was launched in 1989 on WFAN. It’s a show that was described by Sports Business Daily as responsible for launching a “genre that WFAN essentially invented.”

Russo left Francesa’s, or the Sports Pope’s, side in 2008 to start his own satellite radio channel, but Francesa has been entertaining hordes of longtime listers and first-time callers long after the “Mad Dog” defected.

Francesa signed off WFAN himself in December 2017 after nearly 30 years as a host on the New York City sports station, but he returned soon after in April 2018 to a weekday solo show.

But before the pair split, Francesa and Russo instituted a now-common and often replicated practice among those on the radio, and elsewhere, with opposing opinions — they yelled at each other.

A lot.

Though “drive-time duos with one regular person and one loud person weren’t invented by Francesa and Russo,” as NPR once noted, the show’s format was “certainly personified by them.”

Mike And The Mad Dog’s, and especially Francesa’s, style can be seen in action on other talk shows even beyond radio — like the sometimes volatile clashing of opinions on The View, most cable news hours and every singe reality show on TV.

So to celebrate all of what Francesa has given us (for better or for worse), on this, his 65th birthday, here are his six most outrageous moments from the airwaves:

1. It’s an indicator of how well-known a famous person is — be it a radio personality or not — if he can be instantly known by a catchphrase; like Edward R. Murrow’s “good night, and good luck” sign-off. For Mike Francesa, that soundbite is him screaming “Wait a second!” to layman callers and expert analysts he disagreed with.

2. While discussing the NFL matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams in 2018, Francesa utterly butchered the name of announcer Matt Vasgersian — who didn’t call the game.

“I think that was Ver–, wasn’t that Vergas–, Ver, Ver, how do you say his last name? He was filling in for Buck. Versasian? Vergasian? How do you say the guy’s last name? Vergasian? Isn’t his last name Vergasian? The announcer? I’m pretty sure that’s who was on the game yesterday. You guys don’t even know. Who was doing the World Series?”

3. Not all of Francesa’s ranting and raving had to do with sports. Take, for example, his 2016 rambling on Harambe the gorilla.

“Can you imagine if that was your child in there?,” he said. “You’re going to have people who are going to say, ‘Wait a second, I’m worried about the gorilla?’ When your kid’s in there, basically, maybe seconds from having his head crushed? We live in a world now where you are going to be more concerned with the gorilla than you are the little boy? What is wrong with you people!?”

4. There’s that moment in 2014 when the Pope went off about his snowblower, too.

“I can do rows really fast because I’m good with my snowblower,” Francesa gushed. “I use my snowblower all the time. I love my snowblower. I love to do the driveway with the snowblower, it’s one of my favorite things; to get a lot of snow and do the snowblower. I have a great, great snowblower. I don’t know what the make is, but it’s a great machine, it really is. It’s powerful, it shoots that stuff a mile… I’m out there as soon as we get enough snow. I’m out there and I do the whole driveway, I even go into the street, the whole thing. I love it, it’s one of my favorite things… People don’t realize snowblowing is an incredible workout cause that machine, it’s heavy to push. Real snowblowing guys know you gotta shift it and shoot it here, shoot it there. It’s an art.”

5. In a time-stopping moment, Francesa once spilled a Diet Coke all over his desk, mid-broadcast in 2013.

“I can’t go back to the phones for a while,” he said after covering his desk in soda. “I can’t. I can’t. I can’t go there anymore, that’s it, I’m done. I cannot do it, so.”

6. And in a moment both Francesa’s haters and fans won’t soon forget — there’s that time in 2012 when he said almost nothing because he fell asleep.

Win the Ultimate Formula 1® Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix Experience

Want the F1 experience of a lifetime? Here’s your chance to win tickets to see Turn 18 Grandstand, one of Ultimate Formula 1® Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix’s most premier grandstands!