Sports

ESPN may leave local radio business as WFAN dominates

As the Mike Francesa Era ended for a second time in the summer of 2020, ESPN New York had finally made major inroads in WFAN’s historic ratings lead. New York felt, more than ever, like a two-sports-radio-station town.

Now, not so much.

WFAN owned the Nielsen Audio spring sports radio book, starting with “Boomer & Gio” in the morning and ending with “Carton & Roberts” in the afternoon. 

The indifference that ESPN has shown to New York’s schedule continues to be a factor, and soon, ESPN in Bristol may bow out of the business aspects of local radio.

There have been serious talks between Craig Karmazin’s Good Karma Brands to take control of both ESPN’s New York and Los Angeles stations, The Post has learned. ESPN and Good Karma already have a similar deal in Chicago.

ESPN would make such a move to reduce the head count on Disney’s books, which is near 40 people. In New York, it would also alleviate some of the massive cost that ESPN pays to Emmis to lease the 98.7 FM signal. 

This would effectively put the local business sales and marketing in Good Karma’s hands, while ESPN would retain oversight of the station’s content, according to sources. 

In essence, what you hear may not be much, or at all, different with Karma involved, but change is afoot.

ESPN’s commitment to radio has waned over the years. It has become apparent it values its long-term podcast business more strongly as compared to its radio platform.

Regardless of who owns the station in New York, the numbers don’t lie that FAN is now back to being the owners of this sports-radio city after Francesa relinquished the title at the end of his reign.

WFAN has also been in transition, but Chris Oliviero, who leads Audacy’s New York stations, has brought stability to the FAN, even as Mark Chernoff, its longtime lead programmer, stepped down. This has left Chernoff’s replacement, Spike Eskin, with a pretty clean slate to work with, only leaving the question of if he will make a change in mid-days, though it rated fine there, as well. Eskin also must still replace John Jastremski’s full-time role, though Sal Licata has already made a good run for the job.

Boomer Esiason and Gregg Giannotti have proven to be the anchors of the station, finishing second in the market, only behind 106.7 Lite FM.

Even when ESPN makes some inroads in the morning — its local show, “DiPietro, Canty & Rothenberg” were fifth from 5-8 a.m. with a 5.1 — the momentum is quickly erased as “Keyshawn, JWill & Zubin” dropped to a 3.6 from 8-10 a.m..

ESPN radio WFAN
Don La Greca, Michael Kay and Peter Rosenberg of ESPN New York’s “The Michael Kay Show.”
Jeff Skopin/ESPN

Zubin Mehenti has been out dealing with a medical condition related to diabetes. Alan Hahn has been working as his replacement. 

Mehenti is liked and respected throughout Bristol, but when he comes back he and ESPN may decide it would be better for him to have a more normal schedule, leaving Hahn in the mornings. It already feels like Hahn and Chris Carlin host every ESPN show most days.

Meanwhile, in afternoons, Oliviero’s decision to bring Craig Carton back to afternoon has resulted in better ratings. “Carton & Roberts” beat “The Michael Kay Show.” C&R was third in the market with a 5.7 share, while Kay was seventh (4.1). C&R trailed 97.9 WSKQ and Lite FM.

In middays, Marc Malusis and Maggie Gray had a 5.3 share for third, while the combination of Mike Greenberg and “Bart and Hahn” were eighth (3.2) in the market from 10-2.

TNT NHL roster

For the start of its NHL studio coverage next season, TNT has already signed Wayne Gretzky as it tries to create a show with buzz akin to its highly successful “Inside the NBA.” For the role of host, TNT has shown interest in NBC’s Liam McHugh, according to sources. No deal is done yet, but McHugh could be in the Ernie Johnson seat as the conductor of what will likely be called “Inside the NHL.”

Clicker Books

In the 65 book reviews that Papa Clicker has done, the highest score out of five clickers has been a 4.6 — until now. L. Jon Wertheim’s “Glory Days: The Summer of 1984 and the 90 days that changed Sports and Culture Forever” receives the first 4.65 since the review began. Wertheim ties in Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, ESPN, Hulk Hogan, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Donald Trump, the Olympics, Vince McMahon and Michael Jordan, among others, to make for a great read. In the process, Wertheim has made Clicker Books history.

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