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Tuned In

Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo Lands ESPN Contract Extension

  • Russo will continue to team with Stephen A. Smith on ‘First Take.’
  • Sports radio legend started appearing on ‘First Take’ in 2022.
Chris Russo
Photo by Phil Ellsworth / ESPN Images

Chris “Mad Dog” Russo is having a career renaissance at age 64.

The sports radio legend has landed a multiyear contract extension to continue on First Take, sources with knowledge of the deal tell Front Office Sports.

Russo’s weekly appearances on the top-rated morning show have introduced him to millions of television viewers unfamiliar with his current 15-year run on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio. Or his nearly two-decade-long partnership with Mike Francesa at WFAN that ended in 2008.

Russo’s manic “What Are You Mad About?” segment has become the personal favorite of First Take moderator Molly Qerim. During these segments, Russo rants and raves about his pet peeves in sports and pop culture.

I caught up with Russo during Super Bowl week as he was about to begin his SiriusXM show. He said he was thrilled to reach younger audiences on ESPN after more than 40 years in sports radio. His ESPN appearances also help drive conversation on SiriusXM.

“I love the First Take gig. I’ve had a renaissance. It’s because of Stephen A.,” he told me.

Smith grew up in Hollis, Queens, listening to the Mike and the Mad Dog show. He’s probably the only guest on First Take able to pick on the ESPN megastar, calling him “Stevie.”

“I do think I’ll be with ESPN. I can’t give that up; it’s too good. If they’ll have me. We’re on a roll,” he said. “That’s money in the bank. It’s Wednesdays. It’s not that difficult. I love the guy. We have a very good relationship. Why would I want to leave Stephen A.?”

As for retirement, that’s out of the question. Russo says he learned a good lesson from his old partner, Francesa. Namely, when you finally decide to retire, you need to stay retired because hanging around part time is not good for you or your successor.

“I’m hot. When you’re hot, why would you give it up?” he asked.

In January, First Take had its most-watched month in the 16-year history of the show, averaging 680,000 viewers. That was up 21% from last January.

Fans aren’t the only ones responding to Russo. Peter Schrager of NFL’s Network’s Good Morning Football told me he could only shake his head with envy at Russo’s impact on First Take.

When he started appearing on First Take in early 2022, Russo admitted to Howard Stern that ESPN was paying him $10,000 per show over 40 weeks. 

ESPN declined to give details on his new deal. But it’s safe to assume he’s getting a raise.


Michael McCarthy’s “Tuned In” column is at your fingertips every week with the latest insights and ongoings around sports media. If he hears it, you will, too.

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