By Mike Steffanos
I stopped listening to Mike and the Mad Dog in early 2006 after spending years listening to hours of the duo. I work at home spending hours a day on my computer, and for many years that show would keep me company, droning on in the background.
What finally got me off the show for good was simply that the show stopped entertaining me. I didn't listen to the show to be informed. Any real die-hard Mets fan who follows the team year-round knows more about the team than Francesa and his former partner. What I did enjoy was the banter and the interviews and the sense of connection to New York sports while toiling away in that quite, empty house.
The day came, though, when it just got tiresome. The duo had a shtick that involved baiting Mets fans with outrageous misstatements about their team which apparently goes on under Francesa alone. The act barely changed year after year after year, until what once seemed like friendly company in the background of my work became an annoyance.
Still, more out of habit than anything else I listened to hours of that show long after it fulfilled any real positive role in my life, simply because there wasn't a replacement that had any real focus on New York sports, other than Michael Kaye's even more annoying show on ESPN radio.
Every once in a while over the ensuing years I would turn the show on, particularly if I was driving during those afternoon hours, but it wouldn't be long at all before I was turning the dial. Other than listening to some Mets-related interviews online, WFAN sports talk had ceased to be a part of my life.
Friends who still listen in filled me in on all of the "controversy" between Francesa and David Wright. To me, it sounded like it was based in the tired old MATMD ploy of baiting Mets fans by making outrageous statements about top Mets players like Wright. The players were interchangeable over the years, but the tired shtick was the same. It's made Francesa and his former partner millionaires, so it's tough to argue with.
If you are someone that loves the show, more power to you. The loss of Chris Russo doesn't seem to have hurt the ratings much, so Francesa will be rolling out that old tired shtick for a long time to come. Perhaps if Sirius/XM goes down the tube you'll even see a reunion of the duo. (Any animosities can easily be overcome by throwing mo' money at them.)
Still, there are more and more alternatives for folks tired of listening to the Same Old Sh*t (and 30 minutes of commercials every hour) on "the flagship station of Mets baseball".
A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Mike Silva and his dad at Dana Brand's book launch party. Mike is part of the growing world of internet radio, which is providing a real alternative to traditional media like WFAN. His NY Baseball Digest is a terrific example of the genre -- an intelligent, professionally done show.
Mike also shares his thoughts in written form, and I thought this piece, Radio is Broke and How It Can Be Changed, brought up some valid points:
... the top line, five hour, all sports format needs to change because the listeners are moving past the hosts in knowledge. With the advent of 24/7/365 information known as the internet, fans are able to become subject matter experts on the games they enjoy. It's unacceptable for someone getting paid to talk sports to not keep themselves as current, or better, than the listeners. It's as if you ran a business and people walking in your store knew more about your product lines then you. How long would you be able to keep your doors open? Again, it goes back to how do you hold someone accountable to know everything when there is only 24 hours a day? The answer is segmented radio content. ...
Where does the segmented content come into play? First, you need to start hiring those that have personalities and knowledge of the sport they talk about. Plenty of hosts already employed have certain sports expertise over another. WFAN is screaming for a niche show about hockey. Why haven't then done it yet? They have it for baseball (Ed Randall) and football (Francesa's NFL Now). In business they are called subject matter experts or SME's. Radio needs to understand that a good show combines calls, guests, and thought provoking content. They are long on the calls, ok with the guests, and short on original ideas. Rather than conjure up mindless debate why don't you give the listener something to think about? Won't that generate just as much call traffic? When you don't know your topic that becomes impossible, thus forcing the host to resort to contrived debate.
As stated, I don't have a problem with anyone who still enjoys the traditional sports talk radio, including Mike Francesa, but I do feel that there is opportunity for folks smart enough to fill in the gaps and provide those of us looking for content that is more challenging, more focused, and more intelligent.
The costs involved with traditional broadcast radio dictate going after the most generic and widest possible audience. Being able to reach out to listeners at much lower cost over the internet allows the segmented content that Silva is calling for.
In the same way that the proliferation of blogs allows for many divergent styles and types of writing, both excellent and dreadful, to fill in gaps left by the mass media, I suspect the internet is the future of much more focused discussion and entertainment. While it is now mostly the stomping grounds of well-meaning amateurs like myself, I suspect professionals will increasingly utilize the relative low cost of reaching consumers through the internet to do some real cool stuff in years to come.
In Silva's piece linked above there is a link to his interview with Neil Best from Newsday, where Silva and Best discuss the plan to charge for online access to the paper's content. They also discuss the future of the traditional print media in general.
I strongly suspect that newspapers as we now know them will not survive in the current form very deeply into this century. What I believe will happen is a sort of synergy between broadcast and print mediums that blurs the lines between each. A current example is ESPN, which began as a television network and now also puts forth a tremendous amount of written content.
Contrary to what some in the print media believe, there are no bloggers of any real intelligence and understanding who believe that we will replace those who report the news which we comment on. What I do believe, though, is that we will have an impact in shaping the future of how information and opinion are disseminated.