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Craig Carton shows exactly why WFAN brought him back in first show of return

Craig Carton on air on the first "Carton

Craig Carton on air on the first "Carton & Roberts" afternoon drive show on WFAN in the station's Manhattan studios on Nov. 9, 2020.  Credit: Entercom/WFAN 101.9 FM/660 AM

In bringing back Craig Carton, WFAN did what sports executives long have aimed to do when making draft picks: It grabbed the best available player.

Like him or not – and both positions certainly are valid – Carton is a talented, attention-generating, pot-stirring radio personality, and adding him to the lineup made it better.

The rest is details.

Will his partnership with Evan Roberts, unveiled on Monday, be a long-term solution for a time slot that has been in flux for three years?

Perhaps. The premiere showed enough promise for cautious optimism.

It was more interesting than what it replaced – Roberts and the now-retired Joe Benigno – and Roberts seemed capable of holding his own against a guy whose autobiography correctly was entitled "Loudmouth."

Roberts’ microphone time of possession was way down from his days with Benigno, as expected, but he managed to get in a reasonable number of words, especially about sports.

But even if this pairing and this schedule do not work out over time, the key move was getting Carton into the fold after he was released in June following a year in prison.

He instantly provided what he was hired to provide – a jolt of energy to a station that had grown a tad stale.

"It’s Day One, hopefully of thousands of days," Carton said shortly after the five-hour marathon began at 2 p.m. "It’s a thrill for me to be back personally and professionally, and to be working with you."

The "you" was Roberts, who urged Carton to take 10 seconds to soak in his return after a 38-month absence. But he made the mistake of reminding Carton he was in a studio named for his old WFAN archenemy, Mike Francesa.

"See, now why did you have to go and do that?" Carton said. "I’m having a kumbaya moment on request and you had to go and ruin it like that."

A key ongoing question is how the show will balance sports and non-sports talk. On Monday, the hosts quickly got to the Giants’ victory over Washington but soon veered off in many directions.

"A lot of it is sports," Carton said. "Obviously, a lot of it will be non-sports as well."

Often, it is a bit of both, as in a stunt reminiscent of Carton’s morning show days in which he had Roberts direct message Mets owner Steve Cohen on Twitter requesting an interview.

Later, Carton kiddingly told producer Tommy Lugauer to set up an interview with former Jets coach Rich Kotite.

"Vinnie in Staten Island" was the first caller and said, "You guys are taking out (ESPN New York’s) Michael Kay! You guys are the best."

To which Carton cracked, "Did that happen already?"

Boomer Esiason, Carton’s former morning partner, left him a stuffed pony as a welcome gift, a reference both to the pony Esiason had as a child and the fact Carton has said part of his therapy was talking to a horse.

That therapy resulted from a gambling problem that contributed to his legal troubles, and which Carton addressed during the show.

"I was a knucklehead," he said. "I was full of myself and I was out of control in my private, personal life . . . I’m a long way away from being even with people I hurt. I own that and I recognize that."

Before Roberts read the day’s first ad for a gambling site, Carton explained that he will not be doing such reads or talking about point spreads and odds at all.

"It doesn’t mean I’m leaving the room; it doesn’t mean I’m against it," he said. "You should be allowed to enjoy that and not feel weird about it because I’m sitting here."

Gregg Giannotti, who took Carton’s place alongside Esiason, tweeted best wishes, and Carton responded with a tweet that read, "Look at this two shows getting along. Nice. Thanks GG."

There was talk about WFAN softball, legalizing recreational marijuana use, celebrity Instagram feeds, Harry Truman, Italian deli meats and the shocking news that Roberts never has seen "The Godfather," "Goodfellas" and other classic movies, which Carton called "embarrassing."

Will this partnership be enough to reclaim WFAN’s former afternoon ratings crown? Maybe. Will Carton and Roberts still be together 10 years from now? Maybe.

Was it good to have Carton back on the air? Yes.

New York Sports