RADIO WARS: What We Learned About Mike Missanelli’s 97.5 the Fanatic Departure

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When a relationship ends, sometimes there isn’t one specific thing to point to, but a number of issues that begin to coagulate over the years.

That’s pretty much what happened when Mike Missanelli departed 97.5 the Fanatic abruptly last Tuesday, according to more than a dozen local radio and media sources we spoke with over the past week.

The honest truth is that there does not seem to be much of a singular story at all. No smoking gun. This was presented to us as a series of snowballing headaches which eroded the talent/management relationship and made a personality who was once untouchable become ultimately expendable.

For background, Missanelli completed a five-year deal that began in 2016, then worked a one-year contract that took him through 2021. Though Beasley was ready to part ways after that, both sides eventually agreed on a short-term extension that brought us to this summer. Now Mike is out of the P.M. drive slot, with Beasley Media Group working on a trio of Tyrone Johnson, Hunter Brody, and Ricky Bottalico to replace him. Jen Scordo is expected to stay on in some capacity, though replacement show details have yet to be finalized.

Here’s what we know about the series of events that brought us to the point of separation, plus some other relevant nuggets:

  1. Mike’s political and social talk, which ramped up during the Donald Trump years, was a point of contention.
  2. Combative social media behavior created issues that sometimes crossed into legal territory. This includes direct messages and also emails sent to listeners.
  3. Ratings were down and the show consistently finished behind Marks and Reese at 94 WIP.
  4. Mike knew the end was near and was not caught off guard by anything at all. To say he was “fired” is not correct, and he himself apparently decided that May 31st would be his last day, whereas the original belief was that he’d ride out the contract to completion. He even hinted at this when he said last week, quote, “I think today is just time to get up on out of here.”
  5. Prior to all of this, Mike had been dropping hints and telling people for weeks and months that this thing would not go beyond the summer of 2022. He was threatening to quit, screw Beasley over, etc.
  6. Keep in mind that management had to work on a new show and get something in place, so that might help add context to the timeline here. Why kick the can down the road if you’re ready to be done with it? Likely because the replacement show wasn’t set in stone yet. It’s close to the finish line, apparently.
  7. I got conflicting info on whether or not Mike received an offer before this ended. One source said there was an offer with a significant pay cut (i.e. they lowballed him) and another said that wasn’t true, so I’ll have to “effort” more on that. Looking at the nature of the one-year deal and then short-term contract extension, you can pretty safely extrapolate that the two sides weren’t even close to being on the same page. If a long-term contract hadn’t been figured out during that first 12-month window, then it certainly wasn’t going to happen in 2022, when Beasley was planning the future of P.M. drive.
  8. To that point, neither side had a clear thought on how Mike’s departure was going to look, which is why it ended up turning into a weird rush job. The whole thing ended very quickly, when the truth is that Mike probably should have gotten a Ray Didinger send off after the amount of time he spent at 97.5. He really was the cornerstone and face of that station for many years. When we asked about this topic specifically, people were very guarded and very hesitant to talk about it (it was like breaking into Fort Knox), though sources overwhelmingly agreed that the failure to execute a proper send off for a guy that meant so much to the station made both sides look really bad. That said, one of the things to consider is that when a relationship ends with two parties on separate pages, you can’t be totally sure that doing a legit farewell is going to go smoothly. Usually you just cut ties outright and move on. This happens in all high level, contract-based gigs. One day you’re the main anchor of the 6 p.m. news, then the next day security is intercepting you at the front door (true story).
  9. Some folks at Beasley think it makes sense to work with Mike in some capacity moving forward. Mike has to take care of what he called a “messed-up foot” in his farewell address, and once he gets back to 100% health, maybe the lines of communication reopen, or at least he’ll start looking at what comes next. Mike does have the annual golf outing, for instance, so it might be smart on the sales department side to keep doing that and keep him connected to Beasley in that way.
  10. The amount of bullshit and gaslighting and obfuscation surrounding this story was ridiculous. People really wanted nothing to do with this, which usually tells you something.

To point #1, which we’ve covered over the years –

Mike has always leaned left, and has never been afraid to attack issues of politics, race, and society on his show, but like a lot of media people, those topics were much more prevalent during the Trump presidency. There was a lot of political talk, and if you look at any Twitter or Facebook thread that stems from a Mike story you will see numerous instances of “get woke, go broke,” “stick to sports,” and similar messages.

For what it’s worth, CEO Caroline Beasley has a history of political donations to Republican candidates and organizations, which is heavily focused in Florida, where the company is headquartered. But we’re told that on the local levels, the company doesn’t necessarily care about political stances as long as hosts don’t go overboard. Mike started to enter this territory shortly after the Riley Cooper thing happened, and then it became cumulatively more pervasive from there.

RE: point #2, Mike was always on Twitter and email battling with people, getting tangled up in petty exchanges.

A couple of recent examples:

On the surface, calling people boneheads and idiots isn’t exactly incendiary. Howard Eskin successfully trashed his own listeners for decades, but in this case Mike is estranging a portion of possible listeners via pointless political kerfuffles, and nothing about this approach does anything to benefit 97.5 the Fanatic, Beasley, or The Mike Missanelli Show. Mike will tell you that he felt it was important to take a stand, which is commendable and what a lot of media members did during the Trump era, but doing so came with a price, which was the loss of conservative and some moderate listeners who just wanted to hear sports talk on a sports station.

Mike has had many adventures with nonsensical squabbles. There was that one period of time where he removed mentions of the Fanatic from his profile and changed his handle as well. That, we’re told, was an instance where lawyers had to get involved. He also went on Twitter to clarify that he wasn’t calling for violence against then-Vice President Mike Pence, whom he referred to as an “empty suit Vanilla Bean creep.” Most people knew it was just a metaphor at the time, but why go there in the first place? That’s the question to ask regarding that incident, the homophobic email suspension, the Beth Mowins comments, the Victor Cruz flap, and various other transgressions.

Another thing that’s been documented over the years is the decline in ratings. Mike has been consistently defeated by Jon Marks and Ike Reese at 94 WIP in the coveted men 25-54 demographic. It was originally a pretty tight battle when Marks and Reese began after Chris Carlin’s departure, but now WIP consistently wins from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and it hasn’t been particularly close. It’s almost a dozen straight wins for WIP.

It’s not totally clear how much ratings ground is made up with the NBC Sports Philadelphia simulcast, which we’re told was another point of contention RE: contribution and compensation, so there’s outlier data that we just don’t have here and probably never will.

This all piled up, and Beasley began to tire of the routine, but the real question is one of timing. Why did the parting take place now if these issues go back years?

The answer, we think, is that Mike was untouchable. Ratings were good. He was the face of the Fanatic and the most consistent day part there. He had solid sponsors, some tied specifically to him, and moving on always seemed like a non-starter. Contract extensions were no-brainers with little negotiation being required, because Mike was Mike. He was a radio alpha in this market. A lot of TV and radio personalities come with varying levels of baggage, but if they win books and make money and pull listeners, then more often than not the good outweighs the bad and the bosses look the other way. Eventually that began to change, and the various headaches made continuing with Mike not worth the trouble. The juice was no longer worth the squeeze as Mike approached retirement age anyway.

Plus, sources say the level of Missanelli buy-in and motivation wasn’t what it used to be in the early days of the Fanatic. There was a grievance filed by a co-worker and numerous instances of things that had to be smoothed over behind the scenes. The Fanatic at one point WAS Mike Missanelli, and he was the foundation on which 97.5 was built, but now it’s also the station of John Kincade and Anthony Gargano, both of whom are respected radio veterans who know how to work with sponsors and sell regardless of what the Nielsen numbers say. Mike at one point saw himself as the singular engine running the station, which was absolutely true when the Fanatic first debuted on the FM dial. He himself was the brand.

If there’s any lost money from departing Mike sponsors, Beasley likely will make up the revenue in salary reclamation via the cheaper Tyrone/Brodes/Ricky Bo trio. Missanelli made good money over the years and certainly doesn’t need the cash, though the days of people like him and Angelo earning the big bucks is pretty much winding down. Plus, when you reach a certain level, the thought of taking a step back or a pay cut is a slap in the face and matter of pride (or ego), regardless of whether the ask is practical or not. And walking away is hard. When your personal identity is defined by your media career, you can go from somebody to nobody in an instant. That’s why you see a lot of people in this industry ride it out well beyond retirement age and/or waffle, because radio is what they do and what they know and it’s been that way for decades. For the longest time, people joked that Angelo would croak on the anchor desk, which is somewhat morbid, but a reasonable bit of dark humor at the same time.

In the end, the story appears to be straightforward. From a macro-level perspective, the relationship just sort of deteriorated. It would appear as though the chickens slowly came home to roost. Maybe there was some denial in there as well, regarding the inevitability of the situation. When you’re at or near the top, sometimes the idea of not being there is unfathomable, but everybody who is untouchable eventually reaches a point in their career where that is no longer the case. It’s just a matter of recognizing and accepting it before your justified send off turns into a goofy rush job.