After 19 years, Russo leaves “Mike and the Mad Dog”
BY NEIL BEST
8:31 AM EDT, August 15, 2008
WFAN abruptly ended the 19-year-old show late yesterday afternoon when it announced to the media that co-host Chris Russo has left the station, leaving Mike Francesa to carry on without him.
Russo had hoped to do a farewell show, but WFAN opted to part ways immediately after releasing him from a contract that would have run through next spring.
The announcement was made after Francesa left the air yesterday, but he said he will answer all questions about it on today’s show.
The news did not come as a surprise; Newsday first reported June 22 that the show likely would end before Labor Day. But it still was an emotional moment for the longtime duo.
“It’s kind of a sad day,” Russo said last night. “It’s a very strange day in my life.”
Said Francesa: “I think it has to sink in. It’ll be very different when I finally get back in the fall.”
He will be on solo today as scheduled; Russo is on vacation.
The reasons for the breakup are multi-faceted, and somewhat murky.
Operations manager Mark Chernoff said all parties agreed “the show has kind of run its course.” But Russo said that was true only to a point.
He said he could have carried on but was motivated to explore other opportunities.
“Basically, I’m looking for a different challenge in my life,” Russo said. “I’m 48 years of age. This might be the last chance I’m going to get for a challenge if I want to take it.”
Russo swore on his children’s lives that he has no firm agreement or contract, but industry sources say he is likely to land at Sirius Satellite Radio for a lucrative deal worth up to $15 million over five years.
“I have four or five options,” he said. “Sirius would be one of them … Obviously, I’m not stupid. I’m not going to leave FAN unless I have something relatively secure.”
Because there will be no farewell show, their final joint appearance was an Aug. 5 remote at Giants camp in Albany. Other than that day, they had not spoken for weeks until Wednesday.
“I told him if I don’t re-sign [with WFAN], it has nothing to do with him and I,” Russo said.
Francesa said the two agreed to talk again when Russo cleans out his office next week.
The hosts’ relationship has been strained in recent months, and at least to some extent, they apparently were ready to move on from each other as well as the show.
“I think the relationship was part of this,” Francesa said, “but I think in the end this was probably more of a different vision about what the future may hold.”
At the same time the station announced that Russo was leaving, it announced a new contract for Francesa, whose deal was believed to be expiring around the end of the year.
Francesa said he will have control over the new-look show, which will unfold in the coming weeks. He will not have a co-host, but he will not sit alone for 5Â½ hours a day.
“I expect nothing less than to be successful, but I understand it’s a great challenge,” Francesa said. “It won’t be a co-hosting situation. It will be my show, but I want to have personalities and other opinions and other voices.”
Francesa and Russo were the undisputed stars of WFAN after Don Imus was fired last year. Chernoff tried his best to keep them together.
He sat them down in May and again in July before the All-Star Game, the latter time “to see if things were OK. I thought they were, but obviously, there were things that made it tough.”
He said he is confident that Francesa can succeed without Russo.
“Mike’s a strong personality who brings an awful lot to the table,” Chernoff said.
Said Russo: “I’m going to miss the station, the heartbeat, the day-in-and-day-out buzz of New York sports.”
Said Francesa: “I would expect as we get distance from it, we’ll be very proud of what we built and accomplished. But I do also look forward to this [new show].”
Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.