The threat of Mike Valenti moving up and out of the Detroit sports-radio market appears about to get serious.
Valenti is scheduled to host a show on WFAN on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, as the New York City radio behemoth continues its long, meticulous search for a replacement for the retiring Mike Francesa.
Valenti long has been rumored to be a target since Francesa announced in January 2016 that his show was coming to a close when his contract expires at the end of 2017.
But the idea wasn’t initially considered realistic, given Valenti’s comfortable place atop the sports-talk landscape in Detroit.
Some things have changed, though — not in the ratings, mind you, but in The Ticket (97.1-FM) offices in Southfield, as Valenti’s longtime partner, Terry Foster, abruptly retired in April following some complications after a pair of strokes last year.
The Ticket hasn’t hired a co-host for Valenti, and there is speculation he doesn’t want one, since essentially his entire professional career has been spent alongside Foster, first on 1270-AM and then on 97.1. They’ve been the highest-rated sports-talk show in Metro Detroit for years, amassing among the best local ratings of any show in the country.
The Ticket and WFAN both are owned by CBS Radio, hence the seamless “loan” of Valenti to the New York City airwaves this week.
The Ticket said on air Wednesday that Valenti is "on vacation." Valenti's agent, Mort Meisner, did not return a message seeking comment.
Valenti, 36, is a native of New York, before arriving in Michigan to attend Michigan State. He’s been here ever since, and while he remains a big follower of New York sports, he’s immersed himself into the Detroit sports scene with the pointed takes of a non-fan — except when it comes to his beloved Spartans.
This isn’t the first opportunity for Valenti to move up on the national scene, but he’s long been hesitant, given his rosy view from atop the mountain here in Detroit. He also likes living here, as does his wife, and he remains a season-ticket holder for Michigan State football.
He’s also among the best-paid in the business, at least locally, as the voice of the long, undisputed ratings champion in this market. He’s quite polarizing, but his fans can’t miss him, and his haters can’t tune him out, either.
That said, any move to New York certainly would provide a substantial financial windfall.
WFAN will be trying out possible Francesa replacements throughout the summer, with the hope of having a successor picked out by Labor Day.
Brash New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gave us sports-talk chops a shot Monday, and mixed it up in several heated interactions with callers, according to the Associated Press. Christie, a New York Mets and Dallas Cowboys fan, has previously filled in for Francesa. Term limits prevent him from seeking another term as governor.
Valenti would be a loss for The Ticket, no question, but maybe not as big as one might think. The station’s bananas ratings are, in no small part, tied to the popularity of Tigers broadcasts, and the station also carries Red Wings and, again this year, Pistons games. That said, with the Tigers’ popularity dwindling and a possible fire sale coming, the Tigers might not help The Ticket as much in the next few years. That said, The Ticket remains the only sports-talk game in town, following the format flip of 105.1 (WMGC-FM) a year ago, and WDFN (1130-AM), hardly a factor anyway, no longer has any locally produced sports programming.
Meanwhile, WJR (760-AM) remains mostly a news and political outlet, outside of its rights to Lions games and Michigan State football and basketball and some occasional specialty shows.
Neal Ruhl has re-upped for a fifth season as the lead voice for Oakland basketball, and this season will call his 300th Golden Grizzlies game — including his days on the microphone alongside previous announcer Mario Impemba.
... Jake Chapman, out as Pistons pregame and postgame host with the team’s move from 105.1 to 97.1, continues to do some work for Pistons.com hosting web videos and podcasts.