(above : an obscenely well compensated entertainer whose best work is decades behind him. And on the far right, Sir Paul McCartney)

While I’d never deny Mike Francesa’s role in reshaping sports talk radio in New York City (if not the entire industry) —- recall if you will, that WFAN’s original bright hope for the afternoon drive was the late Cleveland mainstay Pete Franklin, who failed to resonate with a NY audience — after decades of semi-faithful listening, I rarely find myself tuning in.  It’s not that Francesa’s local or nation competition in the same time slot is especially compelling ; most of ’em are anything but.  But between major sports media sites, blogs, Twitter, being able to hear other programs on demand, etc. there’s fewer and fewer reasons to put up with Francesa’s condescension, impatience and generally grim world view.  I won’t deny that he still has a large role in shaping conversations (in New York, anyway), but the program seems to be greater resource for whatever remaining percentage of sports fans who don’t have internet access (judging by the timeliness of the calls, that might sum up much of WFAN’s audience).  I’m at a point where the primary reason I’ll listen to Francesa in real time (as opposed to finding highlights of gaffes and/or the host passing out on Bob’s Blitz) is to compare and contrast the real thing with the inspired work of Mike Zaun.

Former CSTB contributor David Roth considers Francesa’s spot on top of the ladder and gamely attempts to make sense out of a program that “has either evolved or devolved from something ostensibly about sports to a bit of avant-garde endurance theater whose subject is the successful and important and extremely confident radio personality Mike Francesa.” From Capitol New York.com :

The callers that Francesa scoffs at and talks over and dismisses—the simulcast reveals that he doesn’t even look at the touch-screen as he disconnects them—are calling to have that very interaction with him. Francesa’s opinions about sports are not any more relevant to his command of the audience than Rush Limbaugh’s thoughts on public policy are to his. It is, in both cases, a matter of style and performance.

Style, and old-fashioned managed scarcity. Francesa is famously dismissive of the internet; in the words of Bill Buchanan, who stars in the popular YouTube series “Mike Zaun,” which imagines Francesa’s commentary at various stages in world history, “The way [Francesa] views the Internet is—he literally views the Internet as one person, and that one person has made fun of him, and he does not like that one person.”

It is safe to say that Francesa will never tweet and it is difficult to imagine him podcasting; recordings of his show are unembeddable and mostly unavailable. Off the air as on, he is inaccessible.

In this sense, Francesa has leveraged the thing that makes televised sports the last great money-maker in broadcasting—what he does can only be experienced in real time, and it starts when it starts and ends when it ends. We do not wait for the morning edition of the newspaper, and DVR and streaming and other technologies make network TV schedules more of a hopeful suggestion. But Mike Francesa is only on when he’s on.