Craig Carton will be the headliner when WFAN gets around to announcing its new-look afternoon show, which should be any time now, with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts having teased on their show Tuesday a big announcement coming late Wednesday afternoon.
That announcement presumably will be Benigno’s retirement, soon to be followed by Carton’s return. But that was the easy decision for the station, which needs an injection of energy and buzz, and should get that from Carton, the former morning show star who got out of prison in June after serving a year on federal fraud charges.
The trickier element of the equation has been identifying a suitable partner, who likely will be Roberts, according to three people familiar with the process.
Is this a good idea?
That is the great unknown, and will be the most intriguing thing about Carton’s return — assuming his tribulations over the past three years did not fundamentally change his radio m.o.
Roberts certainly is a safe choice, in that he already is under contract, already is working afternoon drive time and is a well-established personality for listeners.
The question is whether he can adapt his radio game, from being an old soul sports geek working with a guy three decades his senior to rolling with the Carton tide of personality-heavy shtick.
In theory, it could work. Roberts, 37, is 14 years younger than Carton and has a stronger pop culture game than often is evident when he is working with his longtime partner, soon-to-retire Benigno.
In an ideal world, Carton will tone down his morning mania a bit for an afternoon sensibility while Roberts will dial things up in the other direction for a meeting in the middle and a pairing that clicks for the long term.
It’s not going to be easy, but it is not impossible.
And if it doesn’t work? Well, the first priority for the station was to get Carton back into the fold, so if future tweaks are needed, at least the station will have options.
(For the many of you who have asked: Those options do not currently include a morning reunion with Boomer Esiason. The station and Esiason both are happy with Gregg Giannotti in that spot.)
The more interesting play for Carton was the one that WFAN first aimed for, which was partnering him with a former jock, the formula that worked with Esiason for a decade.
But the idea was to find someone younger than Esiason, ideally someone who also could address the station’s lack of racial diversity.
Bart Scott likely would have been the answer had the station not let him get away after last year and had ESPN not been able to give him TV work in addition to his radio gig there, something WFAN obviously does not offer.
Putting Scott and Carton together would have provided a potentially combustible show to regain attention and listeners from the current ratings leader, Michael Kay’s ESPN New York program.
Former Jet and native New Yorker Willie Colon also would have fit the bill, but it is unclear how close that idea ever came to fruition.
So Roberts it most likely is.
Carton faces a difficult balance in maintaining the radio character that made him a success while also showing some level of humility in the wake of his transgressions.
And then there is the matter of handling the numerous gambling advertisements that are keeping much of the sports media industry afloat these days. (Carton’s gambling addiction was a big driver of his legal problems.)
Should be interesting. Hey, our local football teams are 1-13. This will surely be better late-autumn programming than that.