The “and the” disappeared in 2008 when Chris Russo decided to end his famous pairing with Mike Francesa and start his own Mad Dog network on SiriusXM.
Yet they will be forever linked. For 19 years at WFAN 660, they were sports talk radio’s most powerful duo. They owned New York and beyond, while helping to define the new genre.
Last week, Russo was reunited with Francesa during the station’s 25th anniversary show. It was a fun segment, reliving old times.
Given all the attention on the big birthday, here’s an interview I did with Russo a while back in which he discusses his famous pairing with Francesa.
How did it start?
I got there in ’88. During that seven-month period, I worked for Imus. Imus said, ‘Listen to this guy. He’s nuts, put him on.’ (Afternoon host Peter) Franklin was having issues. He and Imus hated each other.
So they put me and Mike on.
How well did you know Mike?
It was, ‘hello, how are you?’ We saw each other around. I wanted to do it solo. I thought I could do it by myself. I had a job in Orlando. But I was 29. It was a job I had to do take.
The show took off quickly. Why?
If we had started in ’87 when (WFAN) just began, who knows? We were able to come on the station two years after it got its feet wet. That helped a lot.
I think there was the fact that Mike and me, we’re both Long Islanders. I think it was the dymanic of both personalities. There was a lot of anti-Franklin. We got to the station at the right time. Imus was situated. We had the Mets. We had the Giants. The station was beginning to find its footing.
Talk about your on-air chemistry with Mike.
It took a while for us to develop a friendship, a kinship. Mike and me.
Mike is a lot funnier than people think. Very funny. Very quick mind. I’m more the radio guy. I knew how to do the mechanics of the show. Move the show along. That combination seemed to work.
People identify with radio show hosts much more than TV guys. TV guys are polished. The hair is combed properly. Radio is out there. A little more naked. You’re doing a show for five hours every day. There is a kinship that develops with your audience.
What about your relationship with Mike?
I had a good relationship with Mike. There were some ups and downs. Absolutely. We’re both dynamic personalities. You have to know each other’s whims. If Mike in a bad mood, I have to handle it. If I’m cranky about something, he’s going to handle it.
There was some tension. We had about four periods in the relationship where we didn’t talk at all for about a three-month period.
From the standpoint of our relationship, it probably wasn’t a bad time to leave. We had been together for so long. We had a lot of fights in the spring.
Listen, you put two guys together for 20 years, you’re going to have some issues. There’s no way around it.
When did you realize you guys were big?
To me, it was early. In the Buffalo-Giant Super Bowl in ’91, I picked Buffalo 49-13. There’s no way the Giants win that game. Buffalo scored 51 against Oakland. Bill Parcells was all pissed off at me. He told Mike, ‘How does your ham and egg partner think our team will give up 49 points at the Super Bowl.’
You began to sense you could have an impact with what you said.
Throw in (Jets coach) Bruce Coslett. We both said if he doesn’t win his last game, he will get fired. He got fired two days later. We had a good relationship with him, but he didn’t do anything. We influenced the Jets to do something in that situation. So many people were screaming their heads off.
We got (Mike) Piazza here. The Mets were not going to trade for Piazza. We screamed and yelled. (Mets owner Nelson) Doubleday heard it, and got Piazza traded to the Mets.
These guys listen. GMs listen. Players listen. They put on FAN.
Why did you decide to leave in 2008?
When a man of (Mel Karmazin’s) stature said, ‘I’m going to give you a channel’…Well, I don’t know when that opportunity will come again. If I ever was going to leave, this was my parachute to leave.
You’ve mention that you were surprised by the intense reaction to the break-up. Why?
When I left, it was a much bigger story than thought it would be. Fans were hurt that I left. They felt I was part of their family, part of their routines for nearly 20 years. I broke up the routine. That bothered a lot of fans. But it was a move I had to make.
And here’s an interesting aside. Russo, in an interview with the New York Daily News’ Bob Raissman Sunday, didn’t rule out a more permanent reunion. From Raissman’s story:
Now, with one year left on his Sirius/XM contract and the radio business changing quickly, would Russo consider going back to WFAN to team with Francesa if the pontiff blessed the move?
We asked the question over the telephone. For once, Dog didn’t have a quick response for this longtime listener. There was silence, then an “uhh.” Then Russo said he “can’t” answer the question. Then he did.
“You never want to say never. You know how the radio business is. So, you never say never, but I haven’t thought about it in my crystal ball, let’s put it that way,” Russo said. “But I’ll tell you right now, if Mike and I did shows together we would have no trouble picking right up where we left off.”
Let’s just say that’s a story for another day. Perhaps Russo posturing a little bit as he goes into a free agent year.