Several years ago, I found myself across a table from Chris "Mad Dog " Russo and Mike Francesa wearing headphones and speaking into a microphone about baseball. The setting was their annual charity fundraiser and our company was involved in online fundraising, but for a moment or two Russo and I got into a bit of patter about his beloved San Francisco Giants and my New York Mets (as I recall, Bonds & Company had just left town after losing two of three at Shea). The friendly sports banter - I think I actually said the words, "first time, long time, Dawg" - was enjoyable and the duo kept it moving along.
In truth, Mike and the Mad Dog, which ended its 19-year run on WFAN in New York last week after Russo left for satellite lucre, was a fixture in the daily lives of thousands of listeners like me - background spoken-word sports song over five or six hours every day - so when I sat down across from them, I knew the drill. Besides, how shall I put it ... Francesa and Russo are, ah, without evident talent. That's not to say they're not good. They are. But it is to say, they come across as regular sports fans - the guy you argue with on the coffee line, the guy in the seat next to you. They are approachable; a bit more versed in statistics and match-ups, sure. But in general, not stars.
Yet together, they formed the highest-rated sports talk show in radio, virtually inventing the form over their sometimes rocky partnership. They were a habit: Russo, the scattershot nasal whine, and Francesa the dese and dems New York growl. Their best moments were either interviews with newsmakers, their effective double-team in play, or when they talked about subjects unrelated to sports - often with hilarious results. Who can forget, for example, Russo's earnest questioning of Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer, who he repeatedly referred to as "Jose."
Undoubtedly, as many commentators said last week, they won't enjoy the success separately that they did as a team. But it's okay. Nineteen years is a good run. And besides, my media habits are changing - the order is rapidly fading.
At WFAN, Imus referred to Francesa and Russo as "Fatso and Fruit Loops," and it was the I-man who fell from my dial first. After his disastrous rant last spring, I lost the habit of cranky and offensive morning humor - leavened with grasping, ass-kissing media and political figures - and didn't lock in his new slot on WABC. Maybe it was the incessant promotional spots for Rush and Sean Hannity. Or maybe I was sick of the shtick and my own willing blinders. The habit faded.
Next up was MSNBC, long the favored cable outlet of liberals. But a clear bias against Hillary Clinton in her historic run for President, a gleeful rooting against the most prominent woman politician of our times, and repeated sexist jibes had an eventual effect on my clicker. Chris Matthews' spittle-flecked lips and Keith Olbermann's clownish and unhinged Edward R. Murrow imitation had their inevitable effect. The habit faded.
The Times op-ed page is now fading fast. Time was, that was real estate worth investing in. But the paper's right-wing sex columnist Maureen Dowd proved far too offensive over the long haul, and Frank Rich grew theatrically cartoonish in growing into a mere Clinton-hating imitator of Dowd. Then they hired William Kristol. I still look for Krugman and the occasional Gail Collins. But the habit is fading.
So I spend time with memeorandum and the blogs, more time with recorded music and less with radio - except for the brilliant In Our Time with the BBC's Melvyn Bragg. For the longest time, I ran my media consumption vehicle through the same rutted lanes every day. Then, things shifted and I went off road. And we're back.