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WFAN counting on volatile Craig Carton to bring stability to its programming lineup

Craig Carton speaks during WFAN's 30th anniversary celebration

Craig Carton speaks during WFAN's 30th anniversary celebration live show at Grand Central Station in NYC, on June 22, 2017. Credit: Corey Sipkin

"Stability" would not be anyone’s first thought upon hearing the name "Craig Carton" in a word association game.

But here we are, 38 months after his arrest and resignation began a period of turmoil at WFAN, and the station’s hope is that his return will begin a period of schedule tranquility.

We shall see. The experiment starts on Monday.

The first step toward normalcy will be morning co-host Gregg Giannotti’s return to WFAN’s Manhattan studios to rejoin Boomer Esiason for the first time since March.

Then, at 2 p.m., Carton will join Evan Roberts on a retooled afternoon show, with both in-studio for the first time. (They had on-air test drives on Oct. 29 and when Carton called into Roberts’ show on Saturday.)

The goal is to draw big ratings and revenue, of course, but also to obviate the need for further changes anytime soon in afternoons.

Since Carton’s arrest, Mike Francesa retired, was replaced by Chris Carlin, Maggie Gray and Bart Scott, unretired, then left again, replaced by Roberts and Joe Benigno, who retired effective on Friday.

Not ideal, even more so given that along the way ESPN New York’s "The Michael Kay Show" overtook WFAN, first against Francesa and then by an even wider margin against Roberts and Benigno.

Carlin was let go and landed at ESPN, then Scott departed, too, choosing ESPN in part because he was unhappy with how WFAN had handled "CMB."

When Roberts and Benigno took over afternoons on Jan. 2, Roberts said this regarding Carlin, Scott and Gray: "In fairness, can I say this? I don’t think those guys were given a fair shot."

So there was messiness all around, none of it good for business. Enter Carton, a proven ratings generator for a decade on the morning show and a Francesa-esque love-him-or-hate-him lightning rod.

Scott might have been his partner had he not left, but Roberts it is, in a pairing that seems like an awkward fit between two lead dogs who must learn to work together.

But barring some sort of ratings or personality cataclysm, Entercom, WFAN’s parent company, should give these guys plenty of time to figure things out. That does seem to be the plan.

Chris Oliviero, New York market manager for Entercom, said, "Growing up as a fan of FAN and then getting the honor to work with FAN for 20-something years now, if I was to pick one word that was the hallmark of the station’s legendary success, it was ‘stability,’ especially in mornings and afternoons."

Don Imus led the morning show from 1988 to 2007, followed by Esiason and Carton. Francesa and Chris Russo worked afternoons from 1989 to 2008, then Francesa carried on alone.

"That type of stability in Market One for 30 years is unheard of," Oliviero said. "I mean, no other station in any other format comes close to that. So, yeah, stability is something we think works well for FAN. Familiar names, familiar partnerships, work for us."

Assuming WFAN can re-sign Maggie Gray, Oliviero indicated last month there are no current plans for a change in middays. He listed the daily schedule starting with the 5 a.m. "warm-up" show," then said, "That’s our lineup."

Regarding Gray and Marc Malusis, he said, "They did and have done a great job anchoring middays, especially during the pandemic, no doubt about it. It was tough, especially for a show like theirs that was only a few months old, then to have this shift to where there was no sports for a few months."

The station has had longtime fixtures John Minko, Francesa and Benigno leave in 2020. Appearing on Benigno’s final show on Friday, Francesa said that is as it should be.

"Our time is done," he said. "We’ve had our day. I had 35 incredible years there. I’m done. Now it’s your time, Evan . . . [WFAN] is always my home, but it’s not my station anymore."

Francesa also endorsed the need for stability, saying, "If there’s anything that has to happen for FAN, it has to come up with a lineup and stay with it, because radio is repeat listening."

Carton is at the heart of that strategy — and hope.

"It would appear that you’ve now got a solidified answer to that question: Who’s doing morning, who’s doing afternoons?" Carton told Newsday. "Fingers crossed we both do that for a very long time."

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