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Craig Carton nearing a return to WFAN, sources say

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 Manhattan on June 22, 2017. Credit: Corey Sipkin

It has been a weird year in New York sports talk radio, which has gone from nothing to talk about to too much to talk about and now back to a bleak couple of months with little but a couple of bad football teams to latch onto.

But change is on the horizon, if not in the sports end of the equation then at least in the talk part.

Barring a late contractual glitch, WFAN likely will rehire Craig Carton in the coming weeks and install him in afternoon drive time, by early January at the latest and perhaps sooner than that, sources said.

The station has been working toward that since shortly after he was released from prison in June after serving a year on federal fraud charges, which resulted in his arrest and resignation from WFAN in September 2017.

Talks have been simmering for weeks and should come to a boil soon, according to three people familiar with the process.

Chris Oliviero, who oversees WFAN for Entercom, its parent company, is personally close to Carton. While he has not said anything publicly about him lately, shortly before Carton’s release in June he confirmed his potential interest to Newsday.

"If a time in the future came where Craig had gotten his life back on track, fulfilled all that was asked of him and was in a position to resume his career, of course we’d talk and discuss," Oliviero said then.

This is a no-brainer for WFAN.

Carton’s return would turn many people off, and given that it was a gambling addiction that led to his downfall, it will be awkward to return to an environment in which sports betting has become a huge driver of ad revenue.

But no matter. He is exactly the kind of lightning rod that drives interest.

In a post-Mike Francesa world, there is no livelier lightning rod in local sports talk than Carton.

Having him back would revive the ratings wars and trash talk that marked Francesa’s battles with ESPN New York’s Michael Kay, which have been missed during the kinder, gentler afternoon drive reign of Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts.

Speaking of which, Benigno is likely to retire soon from full-time work, something he has spoken about openly for years, which could open the door for Roberts to return to middays if the station does not partner him with Carton.

Pairing Carton and Roberts would be the most seamless move, but WFAN also is eyeing more creative ideas such as going the retired athlete route, which worked for Carton with Boomer Esiason in the morning.

Bart Scott would have made for an intriguing option, had WFAN not let him get away to ESPN earlier this year.

Scott left in part for television opportunities, but if somehow Entercom could pry him away from his ESPN contract, WFAN likely would strongly consider that option.

All of this should be resolved in the coming weeks, along with Carton’s own situation.

The only question is whether he can transition to afternoons, given his style is a better fit for what traditionally has been considered a morning vibe. (A station in Philadelphia has sought him for its morning show.)

But Carton is smart and talented enough to figure it out. The fun for the rest of us will be listening to him try to do it, especially in an era in which the local sports landscape is littered with on-field losers.

New York Sports