The last time Craig Carton left WFAN, it was after being arrested by federal agents at his Manhattan apartment at 3:45 in the morning.
This time it will be on his own terms - to focus on a new career in television and to continue working on his personal life, complete with an accolade-filled final week.
But, as different as the circumstances are between Sept. 6, 2017, and Friday, there is one thing Carton’s farewells have in common: They left gaping holes in WFAN’s on-air roster.
Say what you will about the guy – and many people have strong opinions on him – but he delivered ratings and attention, which is pretty much the job description.
When WFAN turned to him and Boomer Esiason in the morning after Don Imus’ ignominious departure in 2007, the duo reinvented that time slot.
They soon drew sizable audiences - ones younger than Imus’ listenership and more in tune with the rest of the WFAN broadcast day.
Their success has continued in the post-Carton era, with Gregg Giannotti alongside Esiason, so credit the morning show gang for keeping that ship afloat, given the shock of what went down in 2017.
But Carton has produced again since he joined Evan Roberts in afternoon drive time in November of 2020 – shortly after Carton was released after a year in prison.
That success brought stability after a tumultuous period in afternoons following Mike Francesa’s first retirement in late 2017.
Maggie Gray, Bart Scott and Chris Carlin had a brief stay, then Francesa returned, then Francesa left again, then Roberts and Joe Benigno moved in from middays.
As Joe Girardi might have put it, it’s not what you want.
Chris Oliviero, an executive at Audacy, WFAN’s parent company, and a longtime friend of Carton, knew what he could do and took a chance on him.
Roberts was not the first choice as his partner. Scott was one favored candidate, but he opted to stay at ESPN.
But, in short order, Roberts adapted to a drastically different partner vibe, and Carton was back to his pot-stirring, light-on-sports-specifics shtick.
And here we are, with WFAN’s regular ratings blowouts of ESPN New York in the afternoon – and every other time of day – no longer newsworthy.
Will Carton succeed on TV? Who knows? Most of his New York-centric listeners will not watch “The Carton Show” on FS1 in the morning, even if they like Carton.
The rules of the debate game on national TV are that football and basketball rule – period. Baseball merely is tolerated, only if there is no avoiding it.
So Carton will have to adjust his own sports attention, as well as adjust to having less attention on him from New York-area fans, much like Chris “Mad Dog” Russo did when he moved from WFAN to satellite radio in 2008.
But Russo’s case is instructive for Carton. He's still on SiriusXM, he's on MLB Network, and he has a lucrative, high-visibility weekly gig on ESPN’s “First Take.”
So yes, there is life after WFAN, even if it will be different for Carton and for the station.
Will Tiki Barber fill in for him as seamlessly as the morning crew did for Carton in the autumn of 2017, and that Giannotti has done since joining them that January?
It will not be easy. Like him or not, Carton’s personality is a force of nature.
He blew into town like a gale in 2007, blew out in an even bigger storm in 2017 and returned, still brash and on brand, in 2020.
This time everything is quieter and more peaceful. Good for him. As for the station . . . what’s that they say in the radio business? Oh, right: Stay tuned!