If you love Sports Radio and live in the Tri-State area you have two choices when it comes to the afternoon drive – WFAN’s Mike Francesa or ESPN Radio’s Michael Kay Show. Here at The Empire Writes back we are going to get to the bottom of exactly which show you should be listening too, and which one can be taken off your presets in our 3 part series, New York Sports Radio Face off.
The Michael Kay Show
Michael Kay and co-host Don LaGreca’s place amongst the New York City Radio Elite is undeniable. The fact that over the last ten years they have competed with local radio legend Mike Francesa for control of the afternoon drive is impressive on its own. Although their opinions are very different the dynamic between Michael Kay and co-host Don LaGreca is very similar to the one Mike Francesa used to share with former co-host Chris Russo back in the Mike and the Mad Dog days, with Kay taking on the role of the excitable host, while LaGreca plays it cool, and attempts to bring a calming, rational voice to the broadcast. Although Michael Kay’s access into the New York Sports world, particularly when it pertains to the New York Yankees provides great radio the captain of the ship in my opinion is Don LaGreca. LaGreca has a voice and cadence that makes him a natural on the airwaves.
As far as coverage of local sports goes I think its safe to say this duo are on top of the mountain. That is not to suggest they have the best show, but with Michael Kays connection to the Yankees, coupled with Don Lagreca’s knowledge of the NHL, which is undoubtedly unmatched in this radio market, the two have a great connection to the teams they cover. Unlike some other shows Kay & LaGreca do not seem out of place when covering topics outside of their areas of expertise, like the NFL and NBA. It’s difficult to be critical of Kay and LaGreca seeing as they have built such a strong following in the New York market and generally produce great show, but is it enough to unseat New York sports radio Godfather Mike Francesa? We’ll see.
Knowledge of overall sports landscape: A-
Knowledge of local sports scene: A+
Mike Francesa is not only a radio legend, he has been doing it since the beginning. After joining WFAN during their first year on air in 1987, Francesa quickly built a following hosting weekend shows. By 1989 WFAN was looking to replace controversial afternoon drive host Pete Franklin, but thought Francesa was too dry to carry the stations most important time slot on his own. This led to Francesa being teamed up with the vibrant Chris Russo, who had a lighter and more entertainment focused style which was a perfect match to go along with Francesa’s hard hitting serious tone. Mike and the Mad Dog remained the most popular radio show in the New York market until in 2008, after nearly 20 years together co-host Chris Russo left the show. The fact that Mike Francesa was able to stay atop the New York radio world, while Russo more or less fell into obscurity, hosting a show no one listens too on Sirius XM Radio is a testament to just how deep of a connection Mike Francesa has with the listeners around the Tri-State are.
Since going solo in 2008 Francesa has managed to stay relevant, going blow for blow with his ESPN counterparts every step of the way. While Francesa’s knowledge of the current sports landscape and particularly sports history is incredibly impressive it is in areas outside of the world of sports that make him the king for many. A great example would be in the wake of superstorm Sandy, which devastated large stretches of the coastal regions in New York and New Jersey. In the days following the storm Francesa took it upon himself to turn his show into a forum for callers to voice their frustration at the incompetence and mismanagement of the utility companies that many believe were unprepared to deal with the disaster. Even though the aftermath of Sandy had nothing to do with sports it is Francesa’s involvement on civic issues such as this that endears him to locals who feel he is at times a powerful voice of the people.
Francesa’s critics will say he is too stubborn in his positions, stutters his way through segments, and shows extreme biased towards his teams, mainly the New York Yankees. His fans will tell you this is part of what makes him great, and I tend to agree.
Knowledge of overall sports landscape: A
Knowledge of local sports scene: A+
This was without a doubt the most difficult call in our New York Sports Radio Face off. On one side you have Michael Kay & Don LaGreca, who have without a doubt created one of the best shows in our region. On the other side sits Francesa, a local radio legend. For me both shows are a must listen, as I regularly find myself flipping back and forth during commercial breaks to see how topics are being covered by each show.
I think a lot of the younger generation will disagree with this but at the end of the day Mike Francesa has to take the crown. When considering things like longevity, his place in New York Sports culture, and his reach beyond the world of sports it is difficult to side with anyone but Frnacesa. He may not be perfect, at times he may seem too irritable, but he is the the voice in New York Sports radio, and denying that would be a difficult argument to make.