At this point, Chris Carlin likely wishes he had just stayed in Philadelphia.
It’s been four months since Carlin left SportsRadio 94.1 WIP to join former Jets linebacker Bart Scott and SI Now host Maggie Gray as part of a three-person team tasked with replacing retiring sports radio legend Mike Francesa.
But in a move that has shocked sports media pundits and taken the sports radio industry by storm, Francesa is reportedly returning to WFAN and will reclaim his seat hosting afternoon drive time on the station. He’ll even be recording his show each day from the Mike Francesa Studio, which WFAN renamed on Francesa’s second-to-last day at the station.
On Tuesday, WFAN would only confirm that it is having “ongoing discussions” with Francesa about returning, with Newsday’s Neil Best reporting the move could happen as early as next week. A source with knowledge of the situation said the current plan (which could change) is for Francesa to return to his former drive-time spot, hosting from 3 or 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Carlin, Scott and Gray would be bumped to a lower-rated timeslot, hosting from 1 to 3 or 3:30 p.m.
“We are very proud of our current lineup at WFAN and that any potential future engagement with Mike will not result in any talent departures,” WFAN said in a statement.
Carlin and Francesa didn’t have a great relationship to begin with, with Carlin admitting he hadn’t spoken to Francesa since 2010. Last month, Francesa and his former WFAN partner, SirusXM Radio’s Chris Russo, mocked WFAN’s ratings struggles under the new three-person team. According to multiple reports, that evoked a strongly worded text message from Carlin to both men, something Russo addressed on his show Tuesday.
“You’re 45 years of age, let it roll off your back,” Russo said of Carlin, who started his career as a producer working for both Russo and Francesa on Mike & the Mad Dog. “That’s completely out of line. I didn’t care. It didn’t bother me… Mike didn’t feel that way.”
Regardless of the content of the texts, Carlin took the high road on his show on Tuesday.
“This is a business. You’re talking about someone in Mike who was widely successful for 30 years. So it only makes business sense to welcome something like that into the fold,” Carlin said to open Afternoon Drive on Tuesday. “Is it awkward? Of course it’s awkward.”
“We’re going to keep doing our show, whenever it is,” Carlin added. “There is room for all of us here, and we’re all going to be here.”
Carlin, Maggie and Bart Show Open https://t.co/W23OHGHC8S
— Afternoon Drive with Carlin, Maggie and Bart (@CMBWFAN) April 24, 2018
But longtime New York sports media critic Bob Raissman wrote in Wednesday’s New York Daily News that no one should believe the comments coming out of WFAN that Carlin, Scott and Gray are just moving to another time slot.
“After two years, someone/ones will be out the door,” Raissman wrote, claiming the station is “burying” Carlin, Scott and Gray’s show and that Francesa’s decision to return to the station in such a manner was “pathetic.”
It’s worth pointing out that in the latest ratings book, Carlin, Scott and Gray lost in the ratings to ESPN’s Michael Kay, something that never happened during Francesa’s tenure (which led to a bit of gloating from ESPN’s PR team). On his show Tuesday, Kay compared Francesa to Jay Leno stealing back The Tonight’s Show from Conan O’Brien and called WFAN’s actions “disgraceful.”
Carlin was hired by WIP in November 2016 to replace outspoken host Josh Innes, who was fired after sharing a photo of a performer in blackface in response to a controversy over a fake caller at 97.5 The Fanatic. Carlin was paired with Ike Reese, and though the duo was able to increase WIP’s ratings during the year they hosted together, they were never able to overtake The Fanatic’s Mike Missanelli (Reese and new co-host Jon Marks did defeat Missanelli in the latest quarterly book, thanks in no small part to the Eagles’ Super Bowl win).
Raissman and Kay weren’t the only people to criticize Francesa’s decision to return. Russo said it was a bad look for Francesa to crawl back to WFAN looking for just “60 cents on the dollar.”
“If you change your mind [about retiring], you look like a horse’s fanny,” Russo said Tuesday. “When it’s time to go, just sense in your own gut and go.”