Pesca first appeared on radio as a ten-year-old caller to a local New York City sports program, offering his opinion on the New York Jets. In 1997, Pesca got his first job in radio, as an intern at the station working on New York & Co, which would later become The Leonard Lopate Show.
Pesca went on to work as Producer-At-Large for the WNYC and NPR program On the Media (OTM). He had a recurring segment on OTM called "Mike's Pockets", in which he would "disgorge little bits of media fluff" he encountered. In late 2005, he became the first NPR reporter to have his own podcast, On Gambling with Mike Pesca on which he discussed topics related to gambling. He served as a reporter for NPR and Slate's mid-day show Day to Day, on which he also occasionally filled in as host. Other public radio programs he has guest hosted include The Bryant Park Project, Talk of the Nation, On Point, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! and The Brian Lehrer Show.
Pesca is currently the host of Slate's daily podcast The Gist. Prior to joining the Slate staff, Pesca served as a National Desk correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR). Pesca's reports can be heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. He covered mainly sports and pop culture for the network. In the past he has covered a wide range of topics including politics, economics, and the arts, to all of which he typically brings his own irreverent attitude. He also appears on the WBUR-FM/NPR program Here and Now as well as CNN, PBS NewsHour, and MSNBC. He is a regular contributor to the NPR program Weekend Edition Sunday.
He has also written for Slate and the Washington Post.
In addition to his weekly duties as a panelist on Slate's Hang Up and Listen podcast, Pesca has appeared as a guest on many popular podcasts including NPR's Planet Money, Slate's Culture Gabfest, Luke Burbank's Too Beautiful to Live, The Sporkful and Maximum Fun's Jordan, Jesse, Go!.
In February 2014 Pesca announced that he was leaving NPR to join Slate magazine. In announcing the hiring, Slate podcasts executive producer Andy Bowers called Pesca "one of the most interesting, exciting on-air personalities working today." Pesca has also filled in as host of the NPR radio program Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me when Peter Sagal was away.
In his podcast, The Gist, Pesca has described himself as "the son of a Catholic and a Jew" and as someone who "grew up Catholic, a little bit." Pesca attended Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and served as vice-president of the school's intra-fraternity council. He graduated from Emory in 1994.
Pesca has two sons with his ex-wife, Robin Dolch, a public relations executive. He is a fan of the New York Jets, New York Mets, New York Knicks and St. Johns Red Storm. In 2006 Pesca appeared as a contestant on the game show Jeopardy!, where he led going into the Final Jeopardy round only to finish in third place.
Pesca is a two-time Edward R. Murrow Award winner. The Murrow awards are presented by the Radio Television Digital News Association (formerly the Radio and Television News Directors Association) for excellence in electronic journalism.
He most recently was awarded the 2010 Murrow for audio sports reporting in the Radio Network/Syndication Service category. He received the award for the season-long weekly series, Friday Night Lives, on "the phenomenon of high school football" which Pesca created with NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. The series aired throughout 2009 and 2010 on All Things Considered.
Pesca previously won the 2001 Murrow Award for Best Radio Feature Reporting. The award was given for his report, "Cracker Jack," the premise of which is that the product's inclusion by name in the song Take Me Out to the Ballgame amounts to the "most successful product placement in history". The report aired on On the Media on August 4, 2001.