Mike and the Mad Dog Rev Up for a Radio City Reunion


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Mike Francesa, left, and Christopher Russo at a New York Rangers game last month at Madison Square Garden.

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Earl Wilson for The New York Times

Sports comebacks have always made for great theater, but next month at Radio City Music Hall, a great theater will make for a rather unusual sports comeback.

Mike Francesa and Christopher Russo, former sports-talk radio partners who ruled the format for nearly 20 years on WFAN in New York before parting for solo careers in 2008, are reuniting to host a live-broadcast one-night performance on March 30.

The event sold out within 24 hours after tickets went on sale in December. “The idea that we sold out nearly 6,000 seats in such an incredibly famous venue is overwhelming,” said Mr. Francesa, sitting with Mr. Russo, better known as Mad Dog, at a recent Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.

“There has always been a very large reaction to everything that Dog and I have done, and there’s always been a clamor for us to get back together,” said Mr. Francesa, who has hosted his own show on WFAN since the breakup and is known to many of his fans as the Sports Pope for his brash, know-it-all-style. “People like the idea of reunions, especially if it involves entertainers who have influenced their lives.”

The “Mike and the Mad Dog Reunion Show” will benefit the Garden of Dreams Foundation, which coordinates events to grant the wishes of New York-area children facing obstacles. That it sold out quickly indicates that Tony from Queens, Larry from Brooklyn and a legion of other surname-less fans still had Mr. Francesa and Mr. Russo on speed dial.

Always eager to add their two cents to a sports conversation, those callers contributed to the debating, ranting, venting, joking, analyzing and predicting radio-fest that helped make “Mike and the Mad Dog” a cultural phenomenon. The show turned Mr. Francesa and Mr. Russo into celebrities who sometimes seemed as well known as many of the athletes they were covering.

“Right up until the time they went off the air, Mike and Chris were first in our demographic of males, ages 25 to 54, and that’s what made their breakup so heartbreaking,” said Mark Chernoff, vice president for programming at WFAN and CBS Radio in New York. At their peak — thought to be from the late 1990s through 2000, the year the Mets met the Yankees in the World Series — the pair’s weekly cumulative audience was two million, he said. “They set the tone and brought sports-talk radio to a whole new level,” he said. “So many other duos began emulating them.”

But very few talk hosts have come close, including Mr. Francesa and Mr. Russo after their split.

“Since we broke up, neither of us has been able to find a replacement for the other— what does that tell you?” said Mr. Russo, who now hosts “Mad Dog Sports Radio” on Sirius XM.
“It tells me that we had a once-in-a-lifetime chemistry.”

That rapport was evident when the two met before the Rangers game to discuss a potential format for the reunion, which will be broadcast live on MSG Plus television and on WFAN and Sirius XM.

Mr. Russo, wearing a grin that widened with each step he took toward Mr. Francesa, began fulminating before he was close enough to say hello: “Hey Michael, I don’t know about you, but I thought that Panthers-Cardinals playoff game really stunk,” Mad Dog barked, referring to the N.F.C. Championship face-off on Jan. 24. “What a waste of time.”

They were soon discussing their reunion with Barry Watkins, executive vice president and chief communications officer at the Madison Square Garden Company, which owns the Knicks, Rangers and Liberty, as well as Radio City Music Hall and the Beacon Theater. Mr. Watkins is also chairman of the Garden of Dreams Foundation, MSG’s charitable arm. ESPN, the radio broadcaster of Knicks and Rangers games, signed off on the reunion show even though its rivals — MSG and WFAN — would be carrying it. That earned a big thank you from Mr. Watkins. “It was an amazing gesture,” he said.

Mr. Francesa hinted at what the audience might hear on March 30.

“We’re going to morph back into our old selves and do the stuff that made our show great and kept us on top all of those years,” he said. “When people go to see a favorite group perform, they don’t want to hear anything new, they want to hear the greatest hits.”

At one point in their meeting, Mr. Russo, whose contract with Sirius XM expires in August, raised the subject of getting back together on a regular basis with Mr. Francesa, whose contract expires at the end of 2017: “Hey Michael, is this reunion show a final farewell to Mike and the Mad Dog, or the start of our resurgence together?”

Mr. Francesa put his old partner on hold.

“You know me better than anyone, Dog,” he said. “I always keep my options open.”

Correction: February 9, 2016
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article provided an outdated title for Barry Watkins, a Madison Square Garden Company executive. He is executive vice president and chief communications officer, not executive vice president for administration and communications.



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