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UPCOMING EVENTS

Craig Carton is Making The Most of His Second Chance, This Time on FS1

When Craig Carton was sentenced to a minimum of 42 months at a federal prison in Lewisburg, PA on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud and securities fraud, the future of his media career carried a sense of doubt. As he served his time, he thought about returning to WFAN in the future, yearning to reconcile his relationship with the audience.

Carton completed a nine-month, 500-hour cognitive behavioral program that curtailed the length of his sentence while also receiving good time credits that led to his early release. The thought of combining his work on the radio with a morning television show on a national network was inconceivable then, even though he had spoken with FS1 head of content Charlie Dixon before entering the federal penitentiary.

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Dixon informed Carton that he had always wanted to work with him and had appreciated how he went about building his career and attaining success. In their meeting, he made Carton a promise that if he was released from prison and the timing was right, he would entertain a conversation about potentially working together.

Several years later, The Carton Show commences the network’s weekday programming lineup from 7 to 9:30 a.m. ET. The auspicious change in fortune and perception has re-energized Carton; however, the avenue of television was not of serious consideration until he made it back and succeeded at WFAN.

“I always dreamt and hoped that I’d be back on the radio,” Carton said. “Obviously the FAN was always the goal with no guarantee that it would happen, but that dream is what kind of kept me going, especially on dark and lonely nights where you’re sitting there, legitimately all by yourself, staring at a mattress six inches from your nose.”

In making it back to afternoon drive and finding success, Carton considers himself fortunate and does not take a day working in the industry for granted. The fact that he even had a decision to make between radio and TV is a testament to his natural talent, commitment to hard work, and professional connections.

Out of school, Carton took a role with WGR 550 AM, the radio home of the Buffalo Bills. Unbeknownst to him, the radio signal from Buffalo was a straight shot to Cleveland, Ohio, which opened the door to his next stop at WWWE. After becoming the nation’s youngest host working full time in sports radio in a major market, Carton would move on to Philadelphia and Denver, before receiving the call to finally return home to New York City.

His first full-time radio hosting role in “The Big Apple” was on WNEW-FM. It was there where he fostered a friendship with his board operator, Chris Oliviero, who ended up working on the corporate side of CBS Radio as a programming coordinator beginning in 2004. Oliviero quickly ascended up the ranks to become the senior vice president of programming and helped lure Carton from a successful afternoon program on New Jersey 101.5 to WFAN to host the morning show with CBS NFL analyst and former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason in 2007.

“I never would have gotten to WFAN if Chris wasn’t an executive with the company – he made that happen, and he made it happen independent of anybody else’s voice,” Carton said. “A lot of people like to take credit for it now, but me getting the job and ultimately being partnered with Boomer – that’s why we call him ‘The Architect’ – he is responsible for it.”

The Boomer & Carton show succeeded Don Imus, who had been fired after making derogatory and insensitive remarks. Carton had been in discussions at the time with Infinity Broadcasting to replace Howard Stern on terrestrial radio after he inked a contract with the Sirius Satellite Radio Company, and he also spoke to Free FM, an upstart talk format cluster of stations, about joining the entity.

Carton ultimately decided to join WFAN, joining a known quantity and debuting a new product in the prime morning slot. Among Men 25-54, the program precipitously found a home at the top of the quarterly ratings book, leading MSG Networks to reach a deal with CBS Radio to launch a simulcast.

“I will be the first to admit that Boomer & Carton was special unlike anything else on WFAN since Mike and the Mad Dog,” Carton said. “We, for whatever the reason was – the big brother-little brother; the athlete-non-athlete – everything we did just worked, and our relationship on the air worked. I think Boomer & Carton will go down as one of the great shows in New York City radio history.”

Boomer and Carton’s rise would come to a crashing halt on a September morning in 2017 when the WFAN morning man was approached by an FBI agent and placed under arrest. Carton had solicited investments in ticket resale enterprises that purchased and redistributed concert tickets for a substantial profit, according to an SEC filing.

Shortly afterward, he resigned from WFAN and was convicted on charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, and securities fraud. Despite the negative publicity and feelings of despondence and betrayal being perpetuated, Oliviero remained a friend and trusted confidante.

“He made a pledge to me that depending on when I got out of prison, if I got my life in order and I was in a good place, he’d be willing to have the conversation, but nothing was ever promised,” Carton said. “All he said to me was, ‘You call me and tell me when you’re good and you’ve got your life back in order, and I promise we can sit down and discuss the possibilities of not just working at the FAN, but working in radio,’ and he was true to his word.”

Oliviero visited Carton in prison and engaged in deep discussions with him upon his release after just over a year. Eventually, the door was opened for Carton to return home to his former radio employer, and soon a successful afternoon drive-time venture was formed with Evan Roberts. Roberts was known for his encyclopedic sports knowledge while Carton bolstered the program through his antics and hijinks. In reflecting on their time working together, he says Roberts added an ethos to the show that made people interested, and their camaraderie and chemistry was evident throughout the show’s 31-month run.

“There’s only two guys that have ever been No. 1 in mornings and afternoons in New York City, and that’s Howard Stern and me, and I take great pride in that,” Carton said. “The reality is that I also couldn’t have done it if Evan wasn’t a great broadcaster and [if he] wasn’t willing to take a leap of faith that he could trust me and that the show ultimately would succeed with him having to also evolve as a broadcaster.”

In the fall of 2022, Carton added a morning television program with FOX Sports to his plate, resulting in a strenuous work schedule that provided little time for him to spend with his family. Even though radio is in his blood, he knew that he couldn’t do both jobs in perpetuity, meaning he had a choice to make.

When his WFAN contract expired in November 2022, he was working by the month while contemplating his future. Nine months later, he announced that he was leaving WFAN to join FOX Sports on a full-time basis, citing a desire to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.

“I have a 12-year-old at home, and I missed enough of his life,” Carton said. “I wasn’t willing to miss any more of it, and I was presented with this opportunity where I’m home before he gets home from school so I can pick him up every day from school. It’s allowed me to rebuild a relationship with my family and have the time to do it.”

Carton is grateful that both WFAN and FOX Sports were patient with him as he examined the potential benefits and ramifications associated with the move. Today, he is in the midst of his second year on the network’s airwaves.

“I’m having a blast doing the show,” Carton said. “It’s been reenergizing and I’m invigorated every day I get up to go in to see what we’re going to come up with for the next day’s show. I feel like we’ve built on TV in a short amount of time what I’ve been able to build on radio, and that is compelling content.”

His focus may now be on creating a winning television program, but that doesn’t mean Carton doesn’t keep up on the latest developments in broadcasting. Especially as it pertains to the New York City sports radio scene.

While on the air at WFAN, Carton made no secret of the satisfaction he took in defeating ESPN New York. The outlet recently announced plans to decline the renewal of its lease on 98.7 FM and will shift to 1050 AM and digital platforms after August 2024. The move comes just seven months after Michael Kay agreed to a contract extension to continue broadcasting his afternoon program, The Michael Kay Show, which directly opposed Carton & Roberts.

“98.7 was a joke – always has been a joke,” Carton said. “They never took being local seriously. They believed in one local show, and that show isn’t very good and never was. If you had to build your [station] around a failed afternoon show, I don’t know how you could ever expect to be successful from 6a to 7p.”

Carton remains on WFAN in a limited capacity as the host of Hello, My Name is Craig, a half-hour Saturday morning program that focuses its conversation on gambling addiction. It has been over five years since the last time Carton wagered, and he knows that by sharing his own experience and implementing guests, he is humanizing people’s suffering.

“It’s probably the most important content I’ve ever put out – not the most entertaining necessarily – but I think it’s among the most compelling content I put out because my story played out so publicly,” Carton said. “I am a compulsive gambler, and I’m blessed now to have come out the other side, and I’m doing really well.”

After two successful stints on WFAN, Carton is now tasked with trying to replicate his local success on a national level. The program maintains a Northeast focus while utilizing self-deprecating humor, vivaciousness, and sanguinity to attract and retain an audience. He says the audience may notice he does more sports talk per se but still approaches things in a similar manner to how he’s always performed.

“I know for a fact we do a really good sports show, but we just do it differently than everybody else,” Carton said. “We laugh at ourselves [and] we laugh at sports; we enjoy sports [and] we talk about sports the way real people talk about sports. I’m not sitting up there all stodgy trying to break down a 3-4 defense because that’s not how sports fans digest sports.”

Carton did not launch the show with a regular co-host but has since added David Jacoby in that role. Jacoby, the former co-host of Jalen & Jacoby on ESPN2, had been working on The Carton Show as a producer and assumed the additional responsibilities shortly before football season. Additionally, the production regularly utilizes former Jets offensive guard Willie Colon as a contributing analyst, someone whom Carton has known for several years and regards as a great broadcaster and personality.

“I’ve never viewed myself as a guy that works alone,” Carton said. “I’m far better working and playing off of other people…. I think the three of us together being there consistently every day is one of the reasons the show has grown so well.”

His current routine involves an early-morning wake-up call between 2 and 2:15 a.m. and arrival at the studio by 4 a.m. After a pre-show meeting at 4:30 a.m., Carton starts thinking about what he will present on the air so he is ready once the cameras are live at 7 a.m.

“You have to be much more succinct than you are on radio,” Carton said. “In radio, you can meander a bit and you can get to a point. If a punchline doesn’t work, you can come back around and massage it and get to the laugh that you’re looking for. In TV, you have to be very focused and very, very clear on what you’re doing [and] what you’re trying to do.”

Since Carton is no longer hosting the afternoon drive program on WFAN, he has found new ways to utilize his time. He is now regularly exercising and walking five to 10 miles a day, along with chopping wood and picking up his son from school. Moreover, Carton makes sure to spend time with him and the rest of his family and enjoy each and every moment.

“It’s been an amazing couple of years for me and certainly the last few months since I resigned from WFAN, it’s been like an awakening where I have all this free time now and I’m trying to figure out how best to use it,” Carton said. “It’s been really rewarding for me to reconnect with, not just my family, but other people who’ve been very supportive of me in my lifetime, and I’m just blessed.”

The interesting twist for Carton is that he finds himself in an underdog role after spending years as the favorite on local radio. While WFAN routinely won its head-to-head ratings wars with ESPN New York 98.7 FM, FOX Sports 1 finds itself in the challenger’s position, hoping to grow its audience and chip away at ESPN’s lead on television.

Driven by competition and the challenge of turning an upstart into a mainstay, Carton remains bullish on his ability to make an impact for FS1 while understanding how lucky he is to have been given a second chance. He carries with him some insecurity about his own performance but remains fueled by the doubt and those who have caused him difficulty during his career.

Just several years after his release from prison, Carton is utilizing the lessons he has learned and his inherent, shrewd media intellect to reach the audience through a new means of dissemination, all while staying true to his style.

“When I do look back at my career, it’s been pretty special, and it’s very unique in the level of success I’ve had in multiple major markets and now doing this TV show,” Carton said. “I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish, and I think it speaks for itself.”

Derek Futterman
Derek Futtermanhttps://derekfutterman.com/
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on X @derekfutterman.

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