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Keyshawn Johnson gets a new beginning with ESPN as he joins team replacing ‘Golic & Wingo’ on morning radio

2020-07-25

Keyshawn Johnson could have exited the media business after ESPN suits booted him from high-profile gigs on “NFL Sunday Countdown” and “NFL Monday Night Countdown” following the 2015 NFL season. Already a successful businessman, money wasn’t a be-all, end-all issue.

Yet, give-me-the-damn-microphone Johnson, a former Jets wideout, found another platform for his opinions. He became a preacher inside the Valley of the Stupid. Outspoken as a player, Johnson found his big mouth useful as a talkie on ESPN’s Los Angeles radio affiliate.

When it finally dawned on the Bristol Faculty that “Golic & Wingo” were not going to get them out of a three-year ratings hole, that was accompanied by big declines in advertising revenue, they went to old No. 19, who the Faculty had banished from the Magic Kingdom nearly five years ago.

Johnson, who will team with the thought-provoking Jay Williams, and steady rocking anchor Zubin Mehenti, has his work cut out for him.

While the ratings bar has been set low by “Golic & Wingo,” ESPN’s radio wing will be looking for Johnson & Co. to start fast and make an instant impression when the show begins in August. They will be on a short leash.

And a fast start is no given. It’s made even harder during a time when the sports-world operates under a cloak of uncertainty as the coronavirus continues ravaging most of our country with no end in sight. Johnson will also be asked to turn up his personality in a TV role, appearing twice a week on “NFL Live” as well as appearances on “Get Up” and “First Take.” Johnson didn’t need the grind of a daily morning show that starts at 6 a.m. plus the TV work. He could as easily have slipped into a more manageable pro or college game analyst job.

“Keyshawn is a competitive guy. That quality never left him,” one of Johnson’s associates said. “He comes from a background where you don’t give up.”

He will now have all the competition he can handle. Locally, in morning-drive, he will be up against another former Jet, Norman Julius Esiason. NJE, and his WFAN partner Gregg Giannotti, have produced solid ratings. Still, ESPN-98.7 has made major ratings in-roads — especially in afternoon-drive — on FAN. If Johnson & Co. can put a dent in FAN’s morning-drive ratings it will be a major accomplishment.

Johnson is now in a good position to resurrect his national broadcasting career. Remember, when Stephen A. Smith returned to ESPN in 2011, after a three-year hiatus, he was brought back as a radio host before working his way up the food chain to where he is now, making about $12 million per year.

Johnson has a twisted road to navigate before he can reach those heights. At least he’s in the game. He’s also breaking some ground.

The microphones in the world of morning-drive, sports talk radio have traditionally been dominated by white male voices. ESPN Radio’s new morning team breaks that stale formula.

For Johnson and his crew this is a fresh start. The start of a new beginning.

Are NBA play-by-play voices “essential workers” who the league cannot live without inside the Orlando bubble?

Sure looks that way. While Turner Sports and ESPN have not officially announced anything concerning the itinerary of their hoop’s voices (they are expected to next week) viewers can expect to see the usual suspects calling these games at their own risk from the arenas and gyms in Orlando (wonder if they had to sign a release letting the companies off the hook if they end up on a ventilator). The voices were all given the option of not working or going to Florida, an area of the country that, as Marv Albert (he’s opted out) would say, is “on fire” with the coronavirus, and decided to make the trip.

The prevailing thought, according to NBA TV sources, is that having voices call games from a remote studio in Atlanta or Bristol, Conn., will be pitted with an inordinate amount of potholes from a technological standpoint. Watching ESPN’s leaky early morning telecasts of Korean (KBO) baseball was all the evidence anyone needed.

The sources also claim it is safer for voices — like Ian (The Bird) Eagle, Brian Anderson, Kevin Harlan, Mike Breen and Scheky Van Gundy — to stay in a resort where stringent protocols are practiced, rather than flying back and forth between their homes to remote studios and staying in hotels.

Nonetheless, considering the number of games being played early in the sked, ESPN and TNT will be forced to have a Taxi Squad of voices working from remote studios. Expect some glitches on these telecasts, where court vision is limited and the play-by-play Gasbags will have a tough time judging the speed of the game off a TV monitor.

At least Joe Benigno is telling the truth, as he sees it.

While most of his WFAN colleagues are busy over-hyping bogus stories — my favorite is that Freddie (Skill Sets) Wilpon is going to take less money for the Mets because Jeff (Mini-Sets) Wilpon prefers J-Rod to Steve ($2.6 billion) Cohen — Joey B. is being, well, Joey B.

Instead of forcing false happiness, the man, like most of us, has a bad case of the COVID-19 Blues. On Wednesday, flying solo, an unusually somber Benigno said: “There are days when it’s not easy to come to this microphone and be upbeat. It’s very difficult to talk about sports when there is nothing to breakdown.”

Benigno is real-dealing, speaking from the heart. Much more compelling than him playing moldy John (Pa Pinstripe) Sterling home run calls.

Hey son, you are on the clock.

How long is it going to take ESPN boss James Pitaro to figure out he should deep-six “College GameDay” live remotes this season?

Think about it. During these times of coronavirus, is it a good idea to assemble 10,000 students, some who had been swapping spit on Friday night, as background noise for the Gasbags who work for you on Saturday morning?

Pull the plug on this show now. Not only to protect the cast and crew, but the kids you would be encouraging to gather in close proximity — without masks.

While they will be working remotely from Atlanta early in the NBA Playoffs, look for Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson, to be Bubble bound in the final rounds (if the tourney makes it to the final rounds). ... SNY will not be airing any Mets games on Ch. 11 this shortened season (if there is one.) The Mets will return to PIX next season (if there is one).

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DUDE OF THE WEEK: JAY WILLIAMS

Easiest thing for a former player is to support and coddle the current galaxy of stars. The soft approach might help with the access, etc.

ESPN’s Williams opted for a different technique. He took some of the early arrivals at the Orlando bubble (like Joel Embiid and J.R. Smith) to task for complaining about the food. Chew on that.

DWEEB OF THE WEEK: WNBA

It’s literally terrifying that the league would make a gifted individual like Elena Delle Donne twist in the wind, and play games, regarding whether her compromised immune system entitles her to salary if she chooses not to play this summer.

DOUBLE TALK

What Aaron Judge said: “Still not 100%, but good enough to play.”

What Aaron Judge meant to say: “Bet you all thought I was headed back to the IL. Fooled you, didn’t I.”