Even if handshakes are still a thing in the post-coronavirus era, Michael Kay won’t be extending one to Mike Francesa.
Kay has overtaken Francesa in the ratings, but the New York sports radio rivalry remains fiery between the longtime afternoon drive voices of ESPN New York and WFAN, so much so that Kay said he would not shake hands and make peace with Francesa if he ran into him in 10 years.
“I wouldn’t,” Kay told NJ.com’s Bob Klapisch in an extended Q&A. “Look, I never threw punches at the guy, I just returned them. He said I started all this, the day I threw that Diet Coke in the garbage. That was just a counter-punch after he’d said I was controlled by YES. There’s nothing more insulting that you can say about a journalist than he or she is being told what to say or write. So if I had to do it again, I would do it over and over and over. I mean it when I say I have no personal animosity toward Mike. I know he’s got a wife, children, a life. But for me to say hello first – no.”
Francesa’s days of ruling the ratings are over as “The Michael Kay Show” — with Kay and his partners Don La Greca and Peter Rosenberg — has come out on top of the last two books for the coveted afternoon listenership of men aged 25-54. That includes the fall book, Francesa’s last before heading back into semi-retirement in December.
The 66-year-old Francesa now does a daily online-only show from 5-6 p.m. before appearing on WFAN from 6-6:30 p.m. WFAN recently added Francesa to a four-hour slot on Sunday as part of its coronavirus plan.
“Well, first of all, it was important to beat Mike decisively before he got out (from his afternoon slot),” Kay said. “It was very gratifying. I knew it was a matter of time and if he had stayed on we would’ve continued to win. I don’t know if one guy pontificating on his throne was as attractive to listen to anymore. When he came back (to WFAN briefly in 2018) it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t fun to listen to. It wasn’t even fun for him. I think that resonated with listeners.
“We skew younger towards pop culture on our show. We’re the sports version of Howard Stern – not that blue, of course, but we pull right up to the line. The guys I work with, I would hang out with them. We have a blast and listeners pick up on that.
“I will say this about Mike, though: I have the utmost respect for what he did for the sports talk industry. But it became personal, he was derisive towards me, which I would never do to him. He was nasty and rude throughout the battle, which gave me incredible satisfaction to win and continue to win.”
In the fall book — the last time both had regular afternoon-drive shows — Kay (7.4 share among men 25-54) crushed Francesa (5.5) in the Nielsen Audio Ratings.
In October, after it was reported that Kay beat Francesa in the first month of the fall book, Francesa tried to downplay the change in guard.
“I have been in afternoon drive since 1989 and have never finished behind another sports program,” Francesa wrote on Twitter. “Never. The other station celebrating a success now would be the same as spiking the football after finally scoring a TD in a game that is 77-0!”
“You know why? Because 63 of those points don’t count,” Kay said. “All that matters is the game you’re playing right now. Of course Mike wasn’t gracious about it, he was never gracious about anything, so why would he change now? He was nasty and vicious until the end. I give ESPN credit: they stuck with us when the odds were against us. We had a national show (hosted by Stephen A. Smith) leading into us and New York is not a national show town. We were climbing up a greased pole but we finally got to the top.
“But there’s still one thing that should be repeated about Mike. He was iconic, he’ll be remembered for a long time. He and Chris (Russo) re-shaped the industry and made it possible for a lot of people to find jobs. But Mike hasn’t distinguished himself by the way he’s acted.”