Radio Alert: It’s Now Mike Minus Mad Dog
By RICHARD SANDOMIR
Published: August 14, 2008
Martin and Lewis broke up, and so did the Beatles.
And on Thursday, WFAN’s “Mike and the Mad Dog” became just Mike, when Chris Russo left the station abruptly, ending a nearly 19-year partnership with Mike Francesa that had made them perhaps the most formidable duo in sports-talk radio.
Russo’s divorce from the station came in the early evening, leading WFAN to swiftly name Francesa the sole host of the popular afternoon drive-time show, starting immediately. For now, it will be called “Francesa on the FAN.”
Russo’s departure marks the second time in little more than a year that one of the station’s stars has left: Don Imus’s long-running show was canceled by CBS, which owns WFAN, after he made racially insensitive remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team in April 2007.
Russo and Francesa have had an occasionally fractious personal relationship, but Russo insisted that his decision to leave had nothing to do with the friction.
“The idea that we hate each other and I had to get out, trust me, that’s not true,” Russo said. “I’m 48 years old. It’s time for a change, and I’m looking for a new challenge.”
He said he had no other jobs waiting for him.
He and Francesa have had rocky moments as a team. Russo said the most recent one lasted from late February to mid-May until station management asked them “to get along better because we’re important to the fabric of the station.” Francesa called the recent period “our first prolonged stretch of ugliness in about eight years.”
There had been speculation that either Russo or Francesa might not work through the end of his current contract. Russo and his agent, Sandy Montag, had been negotiating a possible extension beyond the March expiration of his contract.
But Russo was unwilling to commit to five more years and WFAN officials needed to plan for the post-Labor Day period, when the football season starts and the baseball pennant races and postseason heat up.
“We mutually agreed today that if he were going to leave, now would be the time to do it, from both parties’ standpoints,” Montag said.
Russo’s sudden departure means that he will not have a farewell show. He had been on vacation this week, but admitted he would have liked to say goodbye to his listeners.
“I’ve learned this,” Francesa said. “You only get a goodbye show when you retire. No company gives you a goodbye show unless you’re no longer going to be a competitor. And we all know that Dog will work again.”
Both men know that some listeners and critics have noted that they were better as a team. Each faces a future in which his efforts will be compared with the partnership.
Francesa will surround himself with other personalities, but his plans are evolving.
“I don’t think anyone wants to hear one voice for five and a half hours,” he said.
Russo said: “I’m not sure I’ll take another partner on, but before Mike, I was solo. I can do a talk show. Solo, partner, anything I’m on, I’ll do a good talk show.”
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