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Review: When Mike Met the Mad Dog, Sports Talk Livened Up

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Mike Francesa and Chris Russo, who hosted the “Mike and the Mad Dog” radio show for 19 years, taking to the airwaves of WFAN in New York in 1989.

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ESPN Films

“Mike and the Mad Dog,” the latest offering in ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is more of a trip down memory lane than an in-depth documentary, but it’s an enjoyable excursion for fans of the longtime radio partners Mike Francesa and Chris Russo.

If you’re in that club, it’s already hard to remember what life was like before those two took to the airwaves of WFAN in New York with their sports-talk show in 1989. Yeah, there were athletes and sporting events before that, but does anything truly exist if it’s not being jawed and bickered about all day in a public forum?

The film, which airs Wednesday, recounts the origin story of the “Mike and the Mad Dog” show (Mr. Russo’s being nicknamed “Mad Dog”) and of WFAN itself, a delightful reminder that ideas that today seem like no-brainers begin with a leap of faith and no guarantees.

“I thought it was going to be just a fantastic success,” Joel Hollander, an early general manager of WFAN, says of the idea of sports-talk radio. “It was a miserable failure at first.”

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It took the station a while to find voices that worked.

“The problem was they had all these national people on there who knew nothing about New York and what made sports fans tick in New York,” says Suzyn Waldman, the Yankees broadcaster, who was a WFAN host and reporter from 1987 to 2002.

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