While no one tunes into a game to listen to the announcers, the men and women in the sports media are a key part of the experience. Whether it’s Jim Nantz welcoming you to the broadcast or Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth breaking down a key play, certain sounds always ring true. For generations of New Yorkers, one of those sounds is Mike Francesa holding court on the radio.
While sports talk radio was once considered a foreign concept, Francesa helped take the medium to new heights, becoming an icon in the process. Unsurprisingly, that status also came with a nice paycheck.
Mike Francesa’s rise to the top of sports radio
These days, Mike Francesa is a larger than life figure. Long before he became the Pope, however, he cut his teeth behind the scenes.
Francesa got his start at College and Pro Football Newsweekly, before making the jump to CBS Sports, where he served as a researcher. There, he became known as “Brent Musberger’s brain;” despite that title and his eventual role as an on-air analyst, his transition into the spotlight didn’t happen overnight.
When New York’s WFAN launched, Francesa tried to land a spot on the air; he was told, however, that the network was looking for bigger-name talent. Eventually, he got his foot in the door as a part-time host. With each passing appearance, though, his reputation grew.
In 1989, everything changed. WFAN needed to fill it’s afternoon drive timeslot and decided to pair up Francesa with Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo. The pair initially mixed like oil and water but, before long, they turned into a radio juggernaut. If you were a sports fan, you knew to turn into Mike and the Mad Dog.
Mike and the Mad Dog lasted until 2008, when Russo left WFAN; the show then became Mike’s On, with Francesa taking center stage. There have been some additional changes over the years—the show bounced between TV simulcasts, Francesa retired then mounted a comeback, and the show eventually moved to a mostly online format—but Big Mike still stands as an iconic figure.
Becoming a larger-than-life figure, for better or worse
When you’re in the public eye for more than three decades, it’s almost impossible to avoid becoming part of popular culture. For better or worse, Mike Francesa has experienced that reality first hand.
For generations of New Yorkers, Mike Francesa came to represent sports. No matter what happened in the world—barring his summer vacations—he took to the airwaves every weekday; if you had a question or an opinion, you knew where to turn. Francesa might have been bombastic and curt in equal measure, but he played his role to a tee. Like a grumpy grandpa or an old-timer in a bar, he was there to tell you what he thought, whether you liked it or not.
At the same time, though, Francesa was far from infallible. As the Internet made knowledge more accessible, cracks started to emerge in his facade. The seemingly all-knowing host didn’t know everything; that reality, however, didn’t stop him from claiming he “never said that,” reminding listeners that “he was there,” and handwaving away those who he disagreed with.
Mike Francesa turned his radio career into a sizable fortune
Whether you love listening to Mike Francesa or think he’s become less relevant in an era of Twitter and analytics, it’s tough to argue with his success. Not only did he transform sports radio, but he made plenty of money doing it.
While it’s impossible to know exactly how much money Francesa made during his media career, we do have some numbers. Before his first retirement, which began in December 2017, he was reportedly earning roughly $4 million per year; according to the New York Daily News, his salary was cut to $2 million when he returned to the station. While he occupies a much smaller role on the air these days, the host is still under contract with Entercom for three more years.